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Farmers Will Be Doomed If Ban On GMOs Is Lifted

Abdhallah Ngesta, a maize farmer at Kisite area in Msambweni Kwale County. as the Cabinet debating on whether to allow importation of GMO maize under strict rules on labelling. Photo/ELKANA JACOB
Abdhallah Ngesta, a maize farmer at Kisite area in Msambweni Kwale County. as the Cabinet debating on whether to allow importation of GMO maize under strict rules on labelling. Photo/ELKANA JACOB

It is disheartening to see the government opening its doors while others are fast closing and sealing the gaps that led to the introduction of Genetically Modified Organisms.

First, it should be noted that many people are not against biotechnology in totality since it has been with us for a long time: beer-making, bread-making, yoghurt production, grafting, hybridisations and more recently, tissue culture.

Many farmers are not against any of these forms of biotechnology, which they say should be continued and improved. However, many are against genetic engineering or genetic modification of crops.

Lifting the GMO ban may spell doom to Kenyan farmers as it is a known fact that pollen grains can be spread a long distance through open pollination (wind or insects).

GM crops can therefore never co-exist with non-GM crops of the same species without the risk of contamination. This contamination of non-GM crops by GM crops will affect local farmers as they will lose their indigenous seeds. African farmers have endeavoured to save the seeds they “trust and know” over centuries.

In addition, farmers who may be found with GM crops growing on their farms may be prosecuted for violating the law of patents.

In the US, there are many cases in court of farmers accused of having GM crops through no fault of their own, especially if the crops enter their farmers via open pollination. Due to the patents law, these farmers are being fined heavily.

GM crops do not necessarily have higher yields. South Africa is touted as a country where GM industry is doing well.

However, the famous Makhatini Bt cotton in KwaZulu Natal province is a case in point. This project had an initial of 3,000 farmers who were heavily supported through credits and subsidies.

With time and due to the high costs of the Bt cotton seeds and the inability of the farmers to repay loans, the support was withdrawn and many farmers dropped planting the cotton crop. Currently only 300 farmers are planting the crop.

It is also on record that recently, Burkina Faso, one of the few countries in Africa to embrace GM cotton, is reducing GM cotton production as farmers continually seek compensation for low yields and bad quality cotton.

Over the last few years, about 20,000 farmers in India have committed suicide because of indebtness and dependence on GE seeds. Such people commit suicide because they are hopeless and helpless.

All GM seeds are patented by the large multinational companies and it is estimated that more than 97 per cent of the agricultural patents are owned by corporate companies in the west.

GM seed is also protected by Plant Breeders Rights. Patents and PBRs always require the users to pay royalties for the use of GM and transgenic crops. Thus, the GM seeds are very expensive and farmers pay heavily every time they want to use them.

After 20 years’ experience with these crops, the problems associated with GM crops are emerging.

For example, the first Bt maize made available in South Africa has been withdrawn as maize borers have adapted to the poison the crop makes.

The company that introduced it had to compensate farmers for extensive crop damage when the technology failed. Yet the same crop, which failed several seasons ago in South Africa, is the one set to undergo field trials in Kenya.

The way forward is that the government should make sure that the ban is still on. It should also organise a meeting for all stakeholders so that we explain our case with facts and figures on why GMOs should be banned in Kenya, in Africa and in the whole world.

The author is the chairperson, Kenya Biodiversity Coalition, which brings together more than 60 CSOs working with millions of small-scale farmers in Kenya.