Cabinet keeps Kenyans guessing on GMO verdict

Agriculture Principal Secretary Hamadi Boga. [Standard]

Kenyans are still waiting on the Government’s decision as to whether it will lift the ban on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), almost three months after promising to do so.

The Cabinet was last month expected to give a defining verdict on whether to lift the ban on GMOs that was imposed in 2012 or not following a controversial study that alleged GMOs cause cancer.

All indications were that the Cabinet was likely to give the nod to the controversial technology as the country grapples with continued perennial food shortage.

But the Government now says the lifting of the ban will instead be considered on a case by case basis, with the focus being solely on genetically modified (BT) cotton.

Agriculture Principal Secretary Hamadi Boga said consultations are ongoing on the high-yielding BT Cotton, especially since President Uhuru Kenyatta issued a directive to hasten its commercialisation.

“Consultations are ongoing around BT cotton. While re-launching Rivertex Company, the President directed that we should accelerate the commercialisation of BT cotton. Each case will be considered on its own merit. For now, the focus is cotton,” Boga told The Standard on phone last week.

Since last year, the National Performance Trials (NPTs) on BT cotton have been ongoing.

The BT cotton produces four times more than the standard one and the State is keen to see it adopted.

Boga said that the trials, run by Kenya Agriculture Livestock and Research Organisation (Kalro), have proved successful, and the Government is now only waiting for the final report on the outcome.

“They have almost concluded (trials). Kalro has run two successful trials with higher yields. We are waiting for the final report. The future looks promising for cotton farmers,” said the PS.

Prof Boga said that one of the key benefits of lifting the ban on GM crops would give farmers a strong option in fighting pests.

Scientists say BT cotton is resistant to pests, diseases and has the ability to withstand drought and also produce superior quality cotton. 

“Farmers will have options about tools for fighting pests. The choice is between pesticides or insect resistance through engineered Bt-toxin genes. Also, this has an impact on yield levels, environmental safety and general quality of cotton,” he said. 

Cotton production in the country has been on a downward spiral and the recent revamping of the Rivertex Company is aimed at spurring the local production of the crop.

At the revamp, President Kenyatta projected demand of 140,000 bales of lint per year.

Speaking last week at the Africa Dairy Conference Agriculture Chief Administrative Secretary  Andrew Tuimur said that Government’s position on lifting the ban was not yet clear. 

He, however, maintained that Kenya needed GMO crops in order to be food secure, especially with the population growing at an alarming rate. 

“These are issues we need to start discussing openly; do we need to go that direction? I leave it to you because as the Government, we’ve not made any final conclusion to that effect,” said Tuimur.