Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), May 2014 Session “Ban on the Importation of Genetically Modified Organisms in Kenya”

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The Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) is a platform that brings together stakeholders in biotechnology, to enable interactions between scientists, journalists, the civil society, industrialists, lawmakers and policy makers. OFAB holds monthly lunch meetings that provide an opportunity for key stakeholders to know one another, share knowledge and experiences, and explore new avenues of bringing the benefits of biotechnology to the African agricultural sector.

The May 2014 session held at The Nairobi Safari Club Hotel was aimed at emphasizing on the need for the government to lift the ban imposed on the importation of Genetically Modified products with a special feature on Bt Cotton. It was attended by more than 200 participants ranging from politicians, industrialists, farmers, scientists, students and journalists to general public. Among the presenters included H.E. Jack Ranguma, the Governor, Kisumu County and Chairman, Governors Council’s Committee on Health and Biotechnology; Dr. Moses Rugut- Ag. CEO, National Commission on Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI); Prof. Dorington Ogoyi- Director, Technical Services National Biosafety Authority (NBA); Dr. Charles Waturu, Centre Director Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) Thika; Dr. Margaret Karembu, Director International Service for Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) AfriCentre and Dr. Jonathan Irungu Waithaka- Director, Crop Management, Ministry of Agriculture. Calvince Onyango from The Scinnovent Centre was one of the participants during the May 2014 meeting.

The context

On November 12th 2012, the then Minister for Public Health in Kenya placed a ban on the importation of genetically modified products based on a publication study by Professor Seralini in one of the science journals. The report, which has since been disproved by the global scientific community and the French Academy of Sciences as lacking in scientific procedures, claimed consumption of GMOs could cause cancer. Following the ban, a task force was commissioned to look investigate and produce a report. Several discussions have been held among the stakeholders on the ban. Citing a drop in the number of cotton ginneries in the country following inadequate supply of cotton, Ranguma stressed on the importance of lifting the ban. He highlighted that the key reason why Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) as formed by the former U. S President George Bush is to help African countries by giving their textile products preferential treatment in U. S and other European Markets. Unfortunately, these benefits are not being enjoyed by Africans and particularly Kenyans since we lack enough cotton to make our clothing, shunning away investors from the trade. This can be solved by adopting new and most current technologies such as Bt Cotton. 

Biotech crops contribute to food security and sustainability by increasing production and providing a better environment as the use of pesticides is minimal. The National Biosafety Authority (NBA) was established to regulate research and commercial activities involving genetically modified organisms (GMOs) with a view to ensure safety of human and animal health and provision of an adequate level of protection of the environment. The authority has since established a transparent science-based and predictable process to guide decision making on applications for approval of research and commercial activities involving GMOs. However, the authority is yet to receive an application for commercialization of Bt Cotton from the developers in order for them to start the approval process. For Kenya to commercialize Bt Cotton, it needs a positive political will and support from development partners, well structured regulatory bodies which are already in place as a result of the National Biosafety Authority Act, 2009, and sharing of information on GM technology by the scientists and stakeholders. It is necessary to offer solutions to the food security problems in Kenya and convey unbiased information to the public on the importance of the adoption of GM technology to maximize food production and agricultural development.

To The Scinnovent Centre, the platform offered an opportunity to meet our focus on understanding the barriers to adoption and use of science, technology and innovation for decision making and wealth creation in the agricultural sector.

This article was written by Calvince Onyango, an intern at The Scinnovent Centre.