Recent events in the nation have prompted me to look critically at the most popular topic in Kenya, which is about allowing or rejecting genetically modified organisms popularly known as GMO. As much as it’s every citizen’s right to seek more information on such pressing matters, the government has a responsibility to provide the sought information through public participation. This gives government an opportunity to educate citizens on the gains we shall make as a nation after lifting the GMO ban.
The Kenya government’s effort at ensuring its citizen are well informed on these matters needs a boost from line development partners, well-meaning lobby groups, institutions, and individuals. It should not relent in its push for the acceptance of GMO technology in the country. The public should exercise patience and seek information on the topic from relevant government agencies like International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the International Potato Center (CIP), Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), and other government departments that deal with agricultural research and food security. These are the custodians of reliable, actionable information which they provide freely and timely.
Going back to the court ruling delivered Monday November 28th by a high court judge in Nairobi, there were a number of issues captured in the ruling which need clarification by relevant government arms and other interested parties to clear the dust raised by anti-GMO lobbyists. As a Pro-GMO activist, I feel the government did well to appeal the ruling and get an opportunity to fill any gaps the current legislation might have left and allowed doubts against the lifting of the ban on GMO products. These factors, if considered by government will greatly improve citizens’ trust for GMO technology. They include;
- The temporary suspension of the importation and distribution of genetically modified crops, products, and materials by government, or individuals directly or indirectly pending a determination in a second lawsuit against lifting the ban on GMO looks like a win for the anti-GMO activists. However, it is a reprieve because it allows the government which suspended the ban sufficient time to present facts in its appeal. It’s an opportunity for government to present all measures it has put in place to ensure public safety and its GMO technology agenda. We expect to see an increased acceptance of the technology amongst its citizens.
- With this suspension of the ban, we expect legal minds to delve into the matter and put checks and balances in place to actualize the governments agenda on food security. I may term the petitioner’s claims that ‘lifting the ban and removal of regulatory protocols imposed in 2012 is unlawful and procedural’ as a shot in the dark, and a blessing in disguise for the pro-GMO team. This is because governments follow up executive pronouncements with actionable work plans the petitioner might not be privy to, and needs to make a follow-up to get regular updates on the progress covered so far. There is a misconception that GMO has come to Kenya after the cabinet lifted the 10 year ban, yet the technology has been in existence on research basis for a number of years.
- The allegation that GMO products pose health risks are farfetched as evidenced in a letter signed by 160 Nobel Laureates in 2016. Using the plight of the poor who struggle to access good quality, nutritious food for self and family as the most vulnerable in imagined health risks caused by GMO technology is a lame excuse to shore up evidence for non-existent consequences. Diseases have been here with us long before lifting the GMO ban. I strongly believe that the solution to incessant hunger and lack of nutritious food in Kenya lies in GMO technology which shall cause farmers to produce more nutritious food to feed their families and have extra to sell and generate income.
- On lifting the ban without public participation, it’s a well-known fact that it’s a requirement of the law in Kenya. For most government projects and programs of such importance to take off, we require national and county government involving citizens through public participation sessions because according to article 1, sovereign power belongs to the people. However it does not bar institutions from engaging in research before their findings are finally presented to the people via public participation forums.
- By cabinet suspending the ban and allowing the reintroduction of GMO didn’t mean a blanket uplift of all protocols controlling the introduction of genetically modified foods in Kenya. This is a misconception on the intent of the Kenya government. A visit to three research centers developing a new GMO potato variety revealed strict rules and observations by all researchers, workers, and visitors to such facilities. There are tight controls on the use, handling, accessing, propagation and disposal of all research materials in those centers. This ensures no material meant for research can be used for seed propagation and multiplication unless the research is about that and the required regulations have all been met and validated.
- Claims that lifting the ban will lead to an end of all indigenous seeds are far-fetched: No sane country can decimate its indigenous seed for GMO or any other seed. The Kenyan government is not trying to force citizens on or sneak GMO material and products into the country using a back door. That’s a matter even a pro-GMO proponent like myself cannot accept. Indigenous crops and products shall be maintained and grown organically and conventionally alongside GMO crops while following stipulated rules. Organic seed shall be made available, where farmers and consumers shall decide what to plant and eat.
- There was a general fear in the petitioner that GMO technology shall run our small scale farmers out of business. I personally think climate change has already made more farms unproductive than we can imagine or mitigate. When provided, GMO seed with all its expected features can help fight climate change and feed the growing population. This shall still be done alongside organic farming. The lifting of the ban is long overdue, was not hurried, and has not violated any farmers and consumers rights any more than what the fear mongers are doing.
As we plan to fight hunger and food insecurity caused by a population increase and climatic changes, we need to be objective and highly selective of the information we consume. Anything bordering on public life and safety has to be factual and from tested, reliable, government sources and international partners who are experienced in the field in question. The misinformation by the anti-GMO campaigners won’t provide us with solutions, but an overwhelming fear for the unknown and non-existent dangers. Let’s not fight GMO technology. Let us embrace it.