by James Kamuye Kataru

When we set off the “GMO FACTS not FEAR” campaign in Kenya, I was apprehensive and did not know what to expect from politically charged and swayed citizen since the minds of most consumers had been captured in the popular “NO TO GMO” voice of the moment.

It was a time when the noisiest of the Kenyan population would hang on anything thrown their way by opinion shapers without questioning the rationale in certain positions even if they predicted the most unfathomable results such as men developing breasts and soft voices as women grow testicles, beards and deep voices as a result of eating GMOs.

This atmosphere is what derived our moderate position and gave tone to our campaign slogan pushing for Kenyans to seek “FACTS” to support or oppose biotechnology instead of being sold raw “FEAR”. Our push involved urging consumers to listen to all that came their way, but use intuition to pour through while separating facts from fiction.

A GMO potato crop at one of the KALRO research stations in Kenya. Photo credit: Kataru Concepts

After engaging Kenyans from different parts of the country, we have noticed an encouraging trend that is helping in the push for the acceptance of GMO and biotechnology amongst rural communities made up of smallholder farmers. These rural folks are peasants whose farms have been ravaged by late blight. Some have given up on a crop that has earned them income since independence.

In March 2024 after our first direct engagement with potato farmers in Mt. Elgon on the benefits of Biotechnology, and how we expected them to benefit from the late blight resistant potato, farmers demanded we provide them with seed immediately! It took some intervention tact to have them understand that the GMO variety could not be released until the biosafety regulator (NBA) had done their due diligence.

I must confess that what started as a simple request for GMO seed by one farmer in Mt. Elgon’s region has turned into what seems to be a National chorus by every other farmer we visit and educate in different regions of the country. It is quite interesting that nobody still believes the myths and lies about GMOs thrown their way a few months ago! The few who still ask questions do it out of curiosity and as a light moment to spice our sessions.

A GMO FACTS not FEAR farmer advocacy meeting in Mt. Elgon, Trans Nzoia county. It was during this session that the first request by farmers to be given GMO seed was captured by my team and mistaken for a usual joke and excitement. The farmers also laughed off the myths that had been spun by the anti-GMO campaigners. Photo credit: Kataru Concepts.

Another joke worth noting has been the belief that for many years most Kenyans have been growing and feeding on GMO farm produce unknowingly! This also first came up on Mt. Elgon region. I had requested for any farmer who had tasted GMO food to come forth and educate farmers on how it looked before preparation and tasted on the plate.

Several hands had shot up, which shocked my team. After the farmer explained how big and tasteless the GMO tomatoes, onions, cabbage, and papaws  that he had eaten were, everybody roared in laughter  as they realized from my explanation that size and taste did not determine whether a fruit was GMO or not. I also explained to the excited farmers that the biosafety regulator had only released three crops for propagation and that tomatoes, onions, and cabbage were none of the three. Everybody present realized that what most Kenyans thought was GMO wasn’t.   As we continue our forays in the central Kenya region, we discover that most Kenyans are no longer driven by myths but by facts in making judgments on GMOs and biotechnology. Efforts by all partners in the game right from research to publicity are bearing fruit helped by the Kenyan government’s unwavering support for the technology. 

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