Nelly Bassily | February 23, 2009
After South Africa, Burkina Faso and Egypt, Kenya becomes the fourth African country to permit the production and use of genetically modified organisms or GMOs. On February 13, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki signed a bill establishing a legal framework for the cultivation and use of GMOs. The new law on biosafety will open the door to new field tests for GMOs in Kenya.
Last October, while the bill was being debated in parliament, Kenya’s Minister of Agriculture, William Ruto, said that he believed the best way to eradicate poverty and food insecurity was to adopt the right technologies. Ruto argued that if there is no evidence that GMOs are harmful to human health, they must be adopted because they are supported by science.
Margaret Karembu is the director of the African Center of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications. She says that the new legislation will allow for the rapid advance of a project called Water Efficient Maize for Africa or WEMA. WEMA aims to develop genetically modified maize that is resistant to drought.
An implementing partner of the project is Monsanto, one of the largest agro-business companies in the world and the leading producer of genetically engineered seeds, holding 70-100 per cent of market share in several crops.
The new bill comes at a time when many Kenyan farmers are struggling to feed their families because of the drought affecting the north-western part of the country. It also coincides with the release of a report by the United Nations Environmental Programme which surveys 114 small farmers in 24 African countries. The report concludes that organic farming practices in Africa produce results that are significantly better than agricultural practices that require chemical inputs. According to the report, organic farming improves soil fertility, allows for better water retention, and is more resistant to drought.
Last November, Farm Radio Weekly published an article stating that 53 civil society organizations, led by the NGO Food and Water Watch, opposed the law that allows the production and use of GM crops in Kenya. These civil society organizations mounted a petition to oppose the bill. The group fears that plants and animals that are genetically modified will contaminate other farms, and that patents and licensing fees on seeds will increase the dependence of small-scale farmers on agro-business.
Click here to see the notes to broadcasters on GMOs