by James Kamuye Kataru

During the inauguration of Dr. William Samoei Ruto as the 5th President of the republic of Kenya held at the Moi International Sports Centre Kasarani in Nairobi, the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) debate was thrust to the fore of all Kenyan media stations, social media platforms, blogs, institutions, public transport, market centers, and all manner of gatherings. Even church functions and services were not left behind as Kenyans behaved like the proverbial 10 blind men who were let to feel an elephant and give their opinion of what the animal felt like!

In his acceptance speech, which put Kenya second in Africa after South Africa, to allow the open cultivation of genetically modified crops, the newly elected president declared the adoption of GMO technology as a solution to recurring hunger causing deaths in communities across semi-arid areas of the country. The 10 year ban was lifted by cabinet a few days later approving the farming and importation of GMO crops in order to make the country food secure.

My focus in this blog is to delve into the GMO debate and share a few personal insights on the healthy discussion that’s taken the country hostage and seek to dispel rumors meant to make the technology contentious, yet it’s safe for our country and wananchi. But before I do that, allow me to declare that I am fully PRO GMO. I fully support the president’s declaration on the technology, and encourage you to go for the FACTS in the debate, but NOT FEAR! Allow me to also add that genetic engineering has been with us for ages and so it’s not as foreign as it’s made to sound by those opposed to it.

What is GMO?

This is a plant or animal whose DNA has been altered to improve a desired trait. Often these are traits that promote growth, increase yields, provide resistance to pests and diseases, and make the crop or animal more resilient. Humans have altered plants for centuries through conventional breeding used to modify domestic animals, crops, and other organisms. In my opinion, genetic engineering isn’t a strange phenomenon. It has always been there with us. Genetic engineering just lets the process of breeding happen quicker and more efficiently than conventional breeding.

As I mentioned above, genetic engineering has always been used to improve plant or animal productivity. The following breakdown helps explain the benefits such enhancements achieved;

Faster growth of crops and animals: Crops and animals can be genetically modified to grow faster, give higher yields, thrive in low nutrient soils, increase biomass and seed yields, and ensure a steady food supply and reduced prices. Any nation whose population is outstripping arable land like Kenya needs to embrace this technology in order to use the available land to produce enough food to feed its population.

Disease and drought tolerant crops: Due to poor rainfall, lack of expansive irrigation systems, and climate change, disease and drought resistant/tolerant crops and animals are necessary to replace depleted stocks ravaged by drought and hunger across Kenya and Africa. In the past few months, our media stations have been running gory images of entire communities displaced as herds of cattle, donkeys, camels, flocks of sheep, goats, and chicken are wiped out by persistent drought. This proves that now is the time for governments to follow in Kenya’s footsteps and fully embrace GMO technology.

Less use of pesticides and herbicides on farms: Pesticide prices and their effects on human health have been the “new normal” on farms and households. Poisonous components in certain pesticides and herbicides have had them banned from use on certain continents.  The thought of a crop that has a reduced reliance on chemical pesticides since they are pest or disease resistant hence lowering the costs of production, making farmers more profits for their harvest is a welcome idea.

Increased nutrition and taste in foods: Most challenges faced by farmers have caused poor crop quality which can reduce crop nutrition and taste. This can cause the food to lose its original flavor and aroma. Poor quality food contributes to malnutrition and other health challenges. With nutritionally enhanced GMO products, the billions that governments have been spending on supplements might be able to be reduced and these saved funds used on other priority projects.   

Longer crop shelf life: Some genetically modified crops, like certain fruits, have longer shelf life. This is because they delay ripening and spoilage, hence longer storage and shelf life. This enhancement cuts down the farmers post-harvest loses, with families increasing their grocery stocks of “would be perishable stocks” reducing on shopping time. Some of these crops are also enhanced in disease tolerance, stress, cold and heat (abiotic stresses).    

Readers, I want to reiterate that embracing genetically modified organisms will improve our health, economy, and ensure a food secure society while still preserving Kenyan farming traditions. I urge fellow Kenyans to collectively support the president and his government in implementing the legislative framework that improves our genetic engineering uptake as a nation by seeking for facts that dispel the fear for the technology. 

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