By; JACOB ONJEWU DICKSON
The African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) has welcomed the Government of Kenya’s decision to lift the ban on open cultivation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the importation of food crops and animal feeds produced through biotechnology innovations.
AATF Executive Director, Dr. Canisius Kanangire thanked the President, H.E. Dr. William Ruto and the Cabinet, for lifting the 10-year ban, saying it demonstrates the Government’s commitment to supporting adoption of technology for food, nutrition, and financial security.
Speaking in Nairobi, Dr Kanangire, said the decision also allows Kenyan scientists and research institutions to develop and deploy impactful crop varieties for the benefit of Kenyan farmers and communities and sets the country on a path to regain its regional leadership in the field of crop science and technology and innovation.
“This decision is consistent with Kenya’s National Biotechnology Development Policy of 2006, the Biosafety Act of 2009 and the institutional framework that the government has put in place to guide the safe and responsible use of GM technology,” said Dr. Kanangire.
“We look forward to working with the relevant government regulatory agencies under the guidance of the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) to enhance this progress and ensure that GM crops continue to meet the highest food, feed, environmental safety, and efficacy standards.”
In a landmark statement on October 3, the Cabinet said: “In accordance with the recommendation of the Task Force to review matters relating to GMOs and Food Safety, and in fidelity with the guidelines of the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) on all applicable international treaties including the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB), Cabinet vacated its earlier decision of 8th November 2012 prohibiting the open cultivation of GMOs and the importation of food crops and animal feeds produced through biotechnology innovations; effectively lifting the ban on GMOs. By dint of the executive action open cultivation and importation of white (GMO) maize is now authorized.”
The Cabinet considered various expert and technical reports on adoption of modern biotechnology, including reports of Kenya’s National Biosafety Authority (NBA), World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), United States of America’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
The Cabinet said this was a strategic and progressive step towards redefining agriculture in Kenya by adopting crops that are resistant to pests and disease.
This is the second time the Kenyan government is taking a major step towards adoption of biotechnology. On December 19, 2019, the Cabinet approved the commercialization and production of Bt Cotton Hybrid in Kenya that is resistant to African Bollworm, the most destructive and pervasive pest in cotton farming.
“The earlier approval by Cabinet sought to revamp production of textiles, apparel, feed, and oil-industries towards the realization of the industrialization; and today’s Cabinet decision builds on it and also extends its benefits to other agricultural and manufacturing sectors,” the statement said in part.
Dr. Kanangire thanked partners who have been working on different GM projects for their patience, consistency, and resilience during the years that the ban was in place. He further thanked the Government for having allowed research and development of GM products during the ban period.
He cited the TELA Maize Project – a public-private partnership that is working towards commercializing insect pest-protected Bt maize varieties to enhance food security in Africa. TELA was granted authorization for environmental release of its Bt maize by the NBA in 2016 to permit evaluation of suitable varieties by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS).
“Despite the ban, the regulatory system permitted TELA partners to conduct national performance trials (NPTs) which resulted in the recommendation of three superior hybrid varieties pending approval for cultivation by farmers,” said Dr. Kanangire.
With this approval, he noted, the TELA partners in Kenya, who include a coalition led by Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), AATF, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and Bayer, can move forward with making the seeds available to farmers. “Successful commercialization of TELA maize varieties will mean that these varieties will be available for use by the Kenyan farmers to mitigate some effects of climate change especially losses associated with insect pests such as stemborers and fall armyworm (FAW),” he said.
According to Dr. James Karanja, the Principal Investigator for the TELA Maize Project, the Bt maize was developed from a commonly found soil bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis, which has long been used to control insect pest in crops by organic farmers. The Bt protein contained in the Bt maize is also found in the Bt sprays which are used widely in organic farming in Kenya.
“The TELA Bt maize reduces the number of the chemical insecticides sprayed, saving on cost of chemicals and sprays, and making maize farming safer and friendly to humans, livestock and the environment,” he said.
Dr Karanja said TELA partners were preparing local seed companies towards getting the seed to the Kenyan farmers. “We are engaging with seed companies to introduce the product to farmers and provide them with an opportunity to plant demonstration plots to create awareness for farmers.’
With the ban lifted, farmers in Kenya, like in the rest of Africa including South Africa, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Eswatini, Ghana, Sudan, and Malawi, will have an additional technology option including access to GM technology, to increase their yields and tackle food insecurity. This will help them harvest enough to feed their families and get a surplus which they can sell to increase their household incomes. The ban was imposed in 2012 following safety concerns about GM products raised by then Minister for Public Health.
Founded in 2003 to address Africa’s food security prospects through agricultural technology, AATF believes that the agricultural sector is a key foundational pillar as Africa consolidates its economic growth and carves out its new position as a major global economic powerhouse and the next growth market in the world. It was formed in response to the need for an effective mechanism that would facilitate and support negotiation for technology access and delivery and formation of appropriate partnerships to manage the development and deployment of innovative technologies for use by smallholder farmers in SSA: