By Etaarifa Contributor
Kenya is expected to shake off its suspicious view of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). In two months, the government will lift a ban on the GMOs to create an enabling environment for the growth of the bio-technology innovations and industry.
Kenya banned GMOs in November 2012 citing lack of sufficient information, data and knowledge. Deputy President William Ruto noted that since the enactment of the Biosafety Act of 2009, measures have been taken to ensure that genetic engineering technology is implemented safely.
Research on GMOs in Kenya has been conducted for over a decade with two applications being submitted to National Biosafety Authority (NBA) on Bt Maize and Bt Cotton. These insect-resistant crops contain the gene from the bacterium Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) which produces a protein that is toxic to specific insects. NBA regulates all activities involving GMOs in food, feed, research, industry, trade and environmental releases.
The application of biotechnology is expected to be beneficial to farmers, producers, and consumers. Specifically, it has helped to make both insect pest control and weed management safer and easier while safeguarding crops against disease across countries which have adopted the technology. For example, genetically engineered insect-resistant cotton has allowed for a significant reduction in the use of persistent, synthetic pesticides that may contaminate groundwater and the environment.
In terms of improved weed control, herbicide-tolerant soybeans, cotton, and maize enable the use of reduced-risk herbicides that break down more quickly in soil and are non-toxic to wildlife and humans. Herbicide-tolerant crops are particularly compatible with no-till or reduced tillage agriculture systems that help preserve topsoil from erosion.
Where biotech crops are grown in proximity to related plants, the potential for the two plants to exchange traits via pollen will be evaluated by the NBA before release to minimize potentially harmful consequences, if any. Crop plants of all kinds can exchange traits with their close wild relatives, which may be weeds or wildflowers, when they are in proximity.
Other potential risks considered in the assessment of genetically engineered organisms include any environmental effects on birds, mammals, insects, worms, and other organisms, especially in the case of insect or disease resistance traits.
The NBA has had run-ins with various companies over labeling, the most recent being Unilever on its Knorr Aromat food seasoning, over compliance with the Biosafety Labeling Regulations of 2012. The government plans to create more awareness on the issue to enable consumers understand the technologies involved.
Once the ban is lifted, Kenya will join the likes of South Africa, Zambia and Malawi who have been applying biotechnology to solve food insecurity over the years. Between 1998 and 2012, South Africa realized economic gain of 1.15 Billion U.S. Dollars from the use of genetically modified crops. In 2014, South Africa had grown 2.7 million hectares of genetically modified maize, soya and cotton, ranking eighth in the adoption of GMOs in the world.
Brazil, Argentina, India and Canada are among the world’s top producers of genetically modified crops.