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Pros and cons of Agricultural Biotechnology

By Alex Wachira
Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation officials inspect Genetically Modified cassava at their Mtwapa station in September last year. Such crops are better suited to fight common diseases that compromise yields. [File, Standard]


The Agricultural biotechnology adoption rate in Kenya is reportedly at 11 percent most of it by small-scale resource farmers.
The cost of accessing biotechnology limits many farmers as it is not yet generally affordable to most farmers.
Kenya still has a great potential to grow crops bio technically like Africa top countries namely South Africa, Ethiopia, Malawi and Burkina Faso; who grow biotechnology crops on a huge commercial scale.
Kenyan farmers fear risks that can be experienced from the growing and rearing of genetically modified plants and animals which has been the major inhabitant and limitation to fully embracing biotechnology.
Controversy surrounds the use of or production of genetically modified crops in the country.
Some countries that have banned GMOs include 28 European countries, Japan, Mexico, some states in USA
The Kenya GMO timeline dates back to 2009 when the biggest milestone was the passing of the National Biosafety Act of 2009.
In 2012 Gilles Seralini published a report that had found out that genetically-modified maize fed to rats had adverse effects on them causing two out of three to die.
“Females developed large mammary tumours almost more often than and before control”.
“Males presented four times larger palpable tumours than controls which occurred up to 600 days earlier”. He linked genetic modification to cancer.
This led Kenya to placing ban on GMO commercialisation on 2012.
In 2013 the Seralini Report was widely discredited and expunged and removed from quite a number of scientific journals on grounds the rats used on research were prone to cancer anyway forcing the scientific community and different countries to ask, what determines how safe or unsafe is GMO food?
In 2014 the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology commissioned KEMRI and a number of experts formed a committee and look into GMO.
Deputy President William Ruto’s statement on the National Bio safety conference on 12th 2015 hinted on the introduction of GMO, lifting the ban.
A consumer lobby group threatened to go to court if the government did not present sufficient evidence to prove transgenic crops are safe for humans and the environment slowing down its implementation.
The pros of genetically modified organisms is that they are resistant to pests and diseases and do well in drought.
GMOs can be the solution to promoting food sustainability thus ensuring food security with the growing population.
Farmers benefit economically from the growing of GMO crops and they do not have to spray excessive pesticide as they used to.
Some local scientists have been asking for a lift of the GMO ban but some farmers still do not support GMO implementation saying it should stay in place as Kenya has not thought through the implications and risks properly yet.
Issues raised include that producers of GMO seeds own their patents, denying farmers the right to own and share seeds. Thus whoever controls the seed, controls the food.
The cost of BT seed is also higher than traditional seeds.
The National Biosafety Authority has not approved any product in the market for either environmental lease or placement in the market.
All approvals done so far are for contained use for the experimental phase.
The government was recently put on the spot with accusations that it was planning to adopt genetically modified crops despite the current 2012 legislation against them.
The country public engagement on whether it is ready for biotechnology has not been heard.
This followed President Uhuru Kenyatta’s recent directive to the Ministry of Health, Agriculture and Trade to develop a quick mechanism to revive the production of the cotton sector, including the possibility of farming GMO, BT cotton.
GMO is also heavily fought back with Renee Olende the Senior Campaigns Manager at Green Pace Africa saying that research shows that Kenya can be able to feed itself without GMO.
Layla Liebetrou, project lead of the Route to Food Initiative, a civil society group says that, “We are opposed to the Government lifting the ban on GMOs for two main reasons. Firstly, because an objective discussion on the technology has not been facilitated and not included all Kenyans. Secondly, because the biosafety regulations do not cater for redress should the technology fail our farmers or cause harm.”
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