Kenya: Import of GM crops legalized (Nairobi Star, Reuters, BBC, AllAfrica.com)

| July 11, 2011

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Kenya has approved laws that allow the importation of genetically-modified (GM) maize. It is the fourth African country to allow GM crops, after South Africa, Egypt and Burkina Faso. The National Biosafety Authority approved a law that ended restrictions on the import of GM maize. The law came into effect on July 1st.

The Kenyan government anticipates a shortfall of nearly 15 million 90-kilogram bags of maize in the 2011/12 season. Drought is the main cause of the shortage. Six flour millers have closed their doors. Pembe Flour Mills Ltd. is Kenya’s second biggest miller. It ceased production of flour for a 12-day stretch. Abdulmajid Mohamed is a local manager with Pembe. He says, “We have a lot of orders pending  … but we cannot supply.” The millers want to import cheaper GM maize to cope with the shortages.

Now that this is possible, farmers and environmentalists are protesting in Nairobi. When news broke that the government was planning to lift restrictions on GM crops, hundreds of people marched in the Kenyan capital. The African Biodiversity Network and Unga Revolution organized the march. Gacheke Gachihi attended the protest. He said, “The importation of GM maize is a ploy by leading millers to kill us – the small-scale farmer.”

Anne Maina is the advocacy officer with the African Biodiversity Network. She says, “We can easily import GMO-free maize from Malawi and Zambia, who had a bumper harvest last season.”

Professor James Ochanda is director of the University of Nairobi’s Centre for Biotechnology and Bio-informatics. He says that GM crops are safe, adding, “The anti-GMO proponents are prophets of doom who are not keen to improve the country’s food security situation.”

Protestors claim that a consignment of GM maize is already sitting at the port in Mombasa. The protestors want it destroyed or returned to South Africa. Mr. John Mututho is chair of the Kenyan Parliament’s agriculture committee. He confirmed that the consignment is at the port, and does not favour the import of GM foods. He said he would inspect the consignment, adding, “We are totally opposed to this toxic product.”

Dr. Roy Mugiira is head of the National Biosafety Authority. He said all GM imports will need permits and will be tested once in Kenya. The permits given to millers will ensure that all imported GM maize is milled and distributed for human consumption. It will not be used as seed. By contrast, in 2002, Zambia rejected GM food aid.