Robert Ndung'u's post

The new Kenyan Government has lifted a decade long ban on importation and open cultivation of Genetically Modified (GMO) crops in Kenya. The announcement was made earlier today through a statement from the office of the president following a cabinet meeting where the recommendations by the Taskforce to Review Matters Relating to Genetically Modified Foods and Food Safety. The lifting of the ban is seen as a long term response to addressing food insecurity in the country due to frequent extended droughts and emergence and re-emergence of pests and diseases; with the hope that farmers will have access to drought and diseases resistant crops that will ensure good production levels even within the context of ongoing climate crisis. Additionally, it will allow revamping of edible oil, textiles and animal feed industries. Genetically Modified Foods were banned in Kenya in 2012 by President Kibaki following safety concerns by the ministry of health after a study conducted by the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) assessing the link between consumption of GMO food to elevated cancer risk in rats showed inconclusive results. However, reports from WHO, FAO, FDA and EFSA as well as a recent report by Kenya's National Biosafety Authority (NBA) have shown that GMO food available in the international markets have met safety standards and do not pose risk for human health. Furthermore, countries should be keen to ensure that the safety of individual genetically modified food is assessed before and after introduction including keen post market monitoring. This news has been received with mixed feelings; with a section of farmers and scientists thrilled that Kenya is taking a bold step in adopting science to food insecurity. However, as Prof Richard Odour of Kenya University notes, there is great need to engage communities and sensitise the public to understand what GMOs are and why a solution to food insecurity in the region. A good number of Kenyans are also worried by the lifting of the ban citing varied reasons from health fears, displacement of local small scale farmers, disruption of our biodiversity and ecosystems as well as risk of losing indigenous crops knowledge. But also importantly, there are also fears that GMO, just like carbon credits, are used by governments to escape responsibility and commitment to cutting greenhouse emissions which have accelerated climate change and frequency of droughts. The government is also bound to relax any effort that would have gone to support most of the small scale farmers who rely on local varieties and preservation of the indigenous agro practices. And while its true that we need a multi-tier approach to feeding the growing human population sustainably, GMO crops should be seen as only one approach, especially bearing in mind that elsewhere GMO patent holders strongly lobby for control of seeds production and distribution, creating overreliance on narrow variety of GMO crops that ends up killing local food production and indebted farmers to the seed corporations. This is well illustrated in The Seed where a Texan farmer is thrown in jeopardy after a multinational seed corporation penalises him for using his own seeds. And of course in the neoliberal Kenya, these seed corporations will easily muscle out small scale farmers and indigenous communities and wipe out indigenous crop varieties in favour of GMO. I therefore contend that there a lot more work that need to be done with the lifted ban, to not only bring the people around understanding and demystifying GMO's, but establishment policies, structures and standard that; (a) ensures that safety of the individual genetically modified crops is ensured before introduction and monitored continuously through post market phases, (b) Prioritises and safeguard our indigenous crop and agro practices to ensure that local food production systems are not destroyed, diminished or replaced by GMO, (c) guide specific actions to limit greenhouse emissions, and provide diverse solutions to strengthening food production systems without erasure or replacement of local food production systems, (d) allow for participation of farmers and communities at all levels in the planning, evaluation and introduction of various GMOs, as well as ensure that there is no dispossession, exploitation and desecration of the indigenous communities land.

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