Groups concerned with food security, consumer rights, and biodiversity are protesting Kenya’s lifting of a prohibition on genetically modified crops, claiming that the public wasn’t consulted on a matter crucial to the economy and security of the East African nation.
The ten-year-old restriction on the open cultivation and importation of genetically modified crops was officially repealed this week, according to an announcement by Kenya’s new president William Ruto. The American government pressured the decision, claiming that the prohibition impacted food aid and exports of American agricultural products.
The hasty move “basically curtails the freedom of Kenyans to choose what they wish to consume,” the organizations, including the Kenya-based Consumer Grassroots Association, Route to Food, Greenpeace Africa, and the African Biodiversity Network, said in a joint statement on Thursday. They demanded that the prohibition be immediately lifted and an “inclusive, participatory process” be used to examine problems with food security.
The statement stated Ruto entered office last month with a pledge for an open administration. Additionally, it was suggested that introducing genetically modified organisms damages the expanding organic export market and unfairly disadvantages Kenyan farmers, who make up 80% of the country’s total farmland.
Kenya’s economy is mainly driven by agriculture, which employs roughly 70% of the rural labor. Ruto, a former minister of agriculture, wants to boost agricultural productivity.
According to the statement, “GMOs would endanger our indigenous seed and plant varieties,” and “the National Biosafety Authority cannot take on this expansion.” In 2019, Kenya’s Cabinet took a small step by legalizing the marketing of a cotton strain that had been genetically modified to resist the African bollworm pest.
Genetically Modified Crops in Africa
Four African nations—South Africa, Burkina Faso, Egypt, and Sudan—have grown genetically modified (GM) crops. South Africa has been the leading producer of GM crops since 1998, followed by Burkina Faso and Egypt in 2008. In 2012, Sudan produced GM cotton. Other nations are testing and researching crops crucial to Africa with the assistance of foreign governments and foundations. Cotton, maize, cassava, cowpea, sorghum, potato, banana, sweet potato, sugar cane, coconut, squash, and grape are a few of the crops being studied for use in Africa. Some of the research programs concentrate on features essential for Africa, such as drought tolerance and biofortification, in addition to disease, pest, and viral resistance.
After nine years of discussions, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) issued a draught policy on GM technology in 2010. In September 2010, it was distributed to all 19 national governments for consultation. According to the proposed policy, COMESA would conduct a scientific evaluation of new GM crops. All 19 member nations would be permitted to cultivate the GM crop if it was found safe for the environment and human health; however, each nation would retain the final say. Kenya established regulations allowing the production and importation of GM crops in 2011, while Ghana and Nigeria followed suit in 2012. Cameroon, Malawi, and Uganda had authorized the testing of genetically modified crops by 2013.
Genetically modified agriculture is prohibited in many African nations due to worries about potential negative impacts on smallholder farms, current crops, the environment, and people’s long-term health. Due to continued worries about potential health dangers, Kenya had been hesitant to permit the import and planting of GM crops.
However, they are rumored to have several benefits, including increased yields and pest and drought tolerance. Ruto’s government has turned to GM crops to provide more excellent harvests.
A new perspective on agriculture
The government claims it wants to “significantly redefine agriculture in Kenya” and lessen the country’s reliance on water-intensive farming by introducing drought-resistant crops.
Kenya’s economy is based mainly on agriculture, which contributing 20% of its GDP. This choice surpasses South Africa to become the second country on the continent to approve GM food.
Tanzania’s agriculture minister told the local newspaper The Citizen in response to Kenya’s decision that “we will put in place additional measures to ensure that there aren’t any GM-related seeds that enter the country.”
The president of Kenya’s spokesman did not immediately answer requests for a response to the statement from Thursday.