Let us politic on GMO with facts.

by James Kamuye Kataru

Last week I was discussing with a friend why as a nation, the love for politics lacks value when debating endlessly, but failing to implement policies that would benefit the people, grow our economy, revive the hopes of our farmers and traders, cause our industries to roar back to life, and keep the taxman busy collecting enough tax for development and recurrent expenditure.

We delved further into how the country’s political class can delay technological advancements that I believe are beneficial, and how the press seems to have lost its independence and objectivity, choosing to run on wheels greased with rhetoric conjecture.

In our discussion, the rejection of industrial hemp took centre stage with vivid recollections of how the 2022 presidential candidate’s debate played with one candidate pushing for the acceptance and cultivation of the crop in the country. In his arguments, he laid out bare facts and benefits the country could reap from the plant, but his opponents chose to focus on the effects of marijuana causing the general public to believe that indeed hemp was marijuana!

Back to the debate of the moment that’s causing Kenyans sleepless nights, creative politicians are outdoing each other in painting contrary pictures of GMO technology. I believe the confusion they cause about the technology is similar to the misinformation of the hemp debate leaving most Kenyans confused about the difference between the less potent industrial hemp and the locally grown and smoked cannabis sativa.

In our “GMO Facts Not Fear” campaign, I seek to advise Kenyans and the press not to follow politicians blindly, Governments protect their citizens. Most government directives and policies are always researched before implementation. I believe, no government puts its citizens in harm’s way because“the government’s voice is the citizens’ thoughts”.

I’d love to caution Kenyans against protesting against lifting the ban on GMO technology and products to ask themselves if they are just  taking the word or others or if they are aware of the science behind the technology? Why should we make lots of uncoordinated noise about government lifting the ban on GMO technology understanding it paves way for better regulation? Without lifting the ban, we’ll have no legislation, no control, and no power which is dangerous for the country.

5,583 new births are recorded each morning. This translates to about 232 new births every hour and an average population growth of 1.93 to 1.99 annually. As we increase in number, the acreage of arable land keeps decreasing due to poor farming techniques, environmental degradation, and climate change. The increase in population demands for a paradigm shift in the way we do a number of things that touch on our wellbeing, one of them being food security.

There is a need for large volumes of good quality nutritious food to ensure a healthy nation. Modern technologies including GMO should be used for this purpose to overcome poor agricultural practices, reduce post harvest loses, increase produce shelf-life, and preserve crop varieties.

Since 2010 when Kenya allowed the testing of GMO crops in the country, several organizations have been working in the background researching on the viability of crops like maize, cassava, potato, and cotton. A good example is the International Potato Center (CIP) which has offices at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) Nairobi. The centre has established a number of research units where they’ve been carrying out tests on a number of GMO potato varieties which are yet to be released to the Kenyan grower.

As we do our politics, let’s always remember that this technology wasn’t introduced the day the government lifted the ban, but has been with us for years at research level, and so far, only two crops have been released to the public for propagation, that is BT cotton in Busia, Siaya, Bungoma and cassava in Kilifi counties. Meanwhile, legal protocol is being followed by the government and development partners in anticipation for the release of these crops to the public when the time is right.

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