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Government plan to lift ban on GM crops in Kenya raises debate.

Sep 10, 2015 During the 4th Annual Biosafety Conference, Kenya’s vice president William Ruto recently announced that within two months the ban on Genetically Modified Foods will be lifted. The announcement re-igniting debates over biosafety in a country where 75 percent of its population rely on agriculture for sustenance.

Kenya had set up a biosafety authority in 2009 which approved several applications for the import of genetically modified crops. However in 2012, the government imposed a ban on GM crops, citing potential health risks.

Stephen Pulei, a farmer in Kiserian, a town 30 kilometers southwest of Kenya’s capital Nairobi, commented on the use of artificially modified seedlings saying:

“As an organic farmer I can say that organic agriculture is the best way to go about and let’s embrace it and stop using a lot of those seeds which are not good; which have been artificially manipulated,”

Although there is no evidence of health risks from genetically modified foods, some Kenyans have argue that lifting the ban will puts too much power in the hands of the firms that develop them.

Up until 2008, South Africa was the only African country that allowed the commercial cultivation of genetically modified crops, such as maize, cotton and soybeans. Later that year, Egypt started growing small quantities of altered maize while Burkina Faso tried its hands on genetically modified cotton.

Other African countries, keen on reducing hunger, have begun to reassess their objections to genetically modified crops.

While commenting on the new trend, Florence Wambugu, founder of Africa harvest, said that genetics is playing a crucial role in improving food security.

“If you’re not going to have a global crisis of food, we really have to increase the food production and not just food but nutrition together and we need every arsenal we can use to increase, we need to push on nutrition on productivity on good quality and resilience in all kind of ways and so I see here biotechnology can play a role,” 

The Consumer Federation of Kenya has referred to the decision as being premature, saying there are not enough structures to manage the effect of GM crops.

“The fact that we have no clear assessment of risk and medication measures; and the fact that again there are no safeguards; we have also not been able to be told what will be the basis for the lifting a ban when there were clearly reasons for which it was imposed in the first place. And what really concerns us most is that we seem to be losing sovereignty of this country, that the people driving this debate are biotechnologists – local or foreign, are funded by people who have no immediate interests in this country, other than making money from this country and they go away,” said Stephen Mutoro, secretary general of COFEK.

Kenyan consumers have also remained divided on the issue.

“I don’t see a problem with that because you know change is a good thing. Especially if you’re going to have more food within a very short time and the food is ok, not harmful in any way. It doesn’t cause cancer or any disease that we are not aware of. Then I’m ok. I’m good with it,” said Evelyn Isigi, a Nairobi resident.

Another resident, Mary Kinyua said:

“There’s quite a lot we can do agriculturally. We have land, we have people. We have technology. I think we should work on that. Let’s just focus on that now before we go into creating vegetables and fruits which we can easily grow,”

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