22 Mar

GMO! This is a word that brings mixed feeling and reaction for many Kenyans since many do not know what it is all about. To many they are foods that have been added growth hormones  while to others they are food laced with chemicals.

Talking to various stakeholders and agitators of GM and Anti GM gives a different perspective though it might seem Confucius. During the book launch of Biotechnology in Africa by lead author Dr. Florence Wambugu

Book looks at how science will contribute to biotech, limitations and opportunities

Kenya stands to lose largely in terms of food security due to the varying climatic conditions that are threatening many livelihoods, experts have warned. According to Prof. Marion Mutugi, Deputy VC Kabianga University, “The controversies surrounding GMO in Kenya need to be addressed in a sober manner. GM Crops are being used in many countries example of BT Tobacco in Burkina Faso where farmers are reaping huge benefits from the variety which withstands pests.” Prof. Mutugi advised people to understand that GMO are living things that are products of biotechnology. Just like any other technology, biotechnology is the application of science for the improvement of products and processes for the benefit of human kind.

Biotechnology is a tool that can be used to do different things to different targets, it can be either good or bad, a tool like a panga has no moral value, it can be used to harvest crops of kill someone. So like the panga the moral value of biotechnology depends on its usage” She emphasized.

In a heated debate between scientists and the public where products was the center of discussion, it emerged that a lot of information is still not clear to the people .While some say we need GM crops others think we are in for a disaster. “Kenyans don not need GM crops, for example the improved variety of sweet potatoes has big problems for farmers in western Kenya, where it is a delicacy. We can’t replant that kind of sweet potato yet our indigenous variety could be replanted, we feel cheated and taken for a ride, I think there are people who are in this GM debate for the sake of money”. A civil society activist protested. He cited Monsanto Company, a company in US that has been involved in biotechnology as money making venture that is not interested in the harmful effects that GM crops will have on people.

Dr. Richard Odour the Head of Plants Transformation Laboratory in the Department of Biochemistry and Biotechnology at Kenyatta University cites the lack of good will from the Government has been an impediment to the progress of GM products. Adding that Kenya has many scientists who are well equipped and working on different projects of Biotechnology both at Kenyatta University and other leading Technology Universities in Kenya.

On 8th October 2012 the Kenyan Cabinet under the advice of then Health Minister Beth Mugo issued an executive ban prohibiting importation and consumption of GMO foods in Kenya. This was after the Seralini paper was published showing how rats used during the study had developed tumors and had died of cancer. The report according to Dr. Oduor was flawed and was withdrawn in November 2013 following a report commissioned by the High Council for Biotechnology (HCB) constituting a team of scientific experts commissioned by The French government on 24th September 2012 who expunged the publication citing it failed to establish the relationship between GM foods and tumor.

Dr. Oduor added that “Apart from Scientists becoming demoralized. HIV positive patients use food which is fortified with GMO and they require GMO fortified products”. Renowned Biotechnologist, Professor James Ochanda in reviewing the book, Biotechnology In Africa said the book focuses on case studies of commercialization of GM products which need political will “Hunger in Africa is associated with lack of maize and adopting this technology will help tackle the issue of hunger”.

Meru Senator and Chairman on Agriculture Food security Committee Kiraitu Murungi speaking against the GMO ban assured the Bio- technologists that he would fight to lift the ban and push the government to act and commit “The Ban is unfortunate and we should not deny Kenyans benefit of technology. As Senate Chair Agriculture I will fight to lift the ban”. Kiraitu noted with a lot of concern on food insecurity in the country “I am embarrassed by the food insecurity in many parts of the country. Kenya cannot develop with fear of technology. If Kenya lifted the GM ban we would revolutionize food production

Adding that “Most GM products have passed risk assessment and have been proved not to cause any harm”. Kiraitu was speaking as the guest of honor during the launch urging that Biotechnology needs political will and commitment.  Statistics from Clive James famed as the Clive Curve show the increase of farming land in Africa for Biotech crops for the last 17 years since 1996 to 2013. As both camps pro GMO and Anti GMO continue fighting on the scientific technicalities it is sound proof that Kenya and Africa as a whole needs to reinvent the wheel to fight with food insecurity that continues to take a toll and bite on the economies every single year.

By Mary Mwendwa and Winnie Kamau
Nairobi, Kenya



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