On Monday, October 3, 2022, the newly elected President, Dr. William Ruto, chaired a special meeting of his newly appointed Ministerial Cabinet, during which a series of resolutions were adopted, paving the way for culture and import of GMOs into the East African nation.
“The Cabinet reversed its earlier decision of November 8, 2012 banning the outdoor cultivation of genetically modified crops and the importation of food crops and animal feed produced through biotechnological innovations; effectively lifting the ban on genetically modified crops,” reads the dispatch from the cabinet meeting. summoned for assess progress in responding to an ongoing drought in the country.
The decision was taken on the recommendation of a working group set up to examine issues relating to genetically modified foods and food safety. The cabinet also authorized the importation of food crops and animal feed produced through biotechnological innovations. This marks a phenomenal policy shift in the country’s agricultural sector and highlights the new regime’s determination to provide science-based solutions to address emerging challenges in its agricultural production.
Kenya’s food production has been hampered by a severe drought that has ravaged 23 of the country’s 47 counties, considered the worst drought in 40 years in the Horn of Africa, affecting at least 3.1 million Kenyans.
Maize production in Kenya has been further hampered by the Fall Armyworm (FAW), a pest first reported in March 2017 in western Kenya, which has wreaked havoc especially in key areas cereals which are considered as the breadbasket of the country.
GMO approval should accelerate the use of pest-resistant GM maize once approved for commercialization, and effectively halt the crippling losses caused by the pest. Scientists have also recommended Bt maize as a solution to the FAW threat in Kenya.
The government reconsidered the adoption of biotechnology to boost its crop production after reviewing various expert and technical reports from authoritative bodies, including the NBA, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Organization of United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
Indeed, it authorizes the outdoor cultivation and import of GMO white maize, at a time when the country is experiencing an acute shortage of the product amid soaring prices for maize flour, the staple food of the country.
Kenya’s decision also follows a December 2019 cabinet decision that approved the marketing of Bacillus Thuringiensis (BT) cotton in the country, a genetically improved cotton variety that is resistant to the devastating African bollworm. The approval of Bt cotton cultivation is expected to revamp the production of the once vibrant textile, apparel, animal feed and oil industries in a bid to bolster its industrialization agenda.
The Kenyan government has also identified drought resistant crops as one of the measures for the country to adapt to climate change, the cabinet dispatch said.
With this announcement, President Ruto joins a growing list of African Heads of State who have expressly endorsed modern biotechnology and GMOs in particular as a proven solution to some of the continent’s pressing food security needs. This is similar to the West African nation of Senegal, where two-term president Macky Sall signed a new biosafety law on June 14, 2022 that effectively repealed the 2009 biosafety law, allowing Senegal to take the leap. maximum benefits of modern biotechnology.
Sall has always viewed science and technology as important tools to improve the well-being of the Senegalese people and he recognized that GMOs can help address current challenges affecting his country and the world. More recently, the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) celebrated retired Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete as one of many African biotech heroes. Kikwete has been recognized for his role in supporting farmers’ rights to access modern agricultural technologies and innovations.
The reversal of the decade-long ban is the final nail in the coffin of the anti-GMO crusade that has frantically called for a GMO-free Kenya. Kenya’s ban on GMO imports in 2012 was based on findings published in a journal by French scientist Eric Séralini claiming that GM maize causes tumors in rats. Various European studies have since totally discredited Séralini’s work.
Amid pockets of weak opposition from anti-GMO skeptics, a cross section of stakeholders including scientists, agricultural leaders and the general public hailed the new development as a timely intervention in agricultural production. struggling Kenya, citing it as a sign that the president is going to use evidence generated by local scientists. The Alliance is working with other advocacy partners in the country, OFAB and AATF, to counter any misinformation that may be triggered by this announcement.
Dr. Joseph Maina is a Lecturer at Macquarie University Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. Joseph’s ultimate goals are to understand and predict the impacts of environmental variability and change on social and ecological systems at local and global scales to support spatial planning and management.
A version of this article originally appeared at the Cornell Alliance for Science and is republished here with permission. The Cornell Alliance for Science can be found on Twitter @ScienceAlly