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Kenyan varsities urged to do GMO research

NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 12 – Learning and research institutions have been challenged to take the lead and develop genetically modified seeds for commercial production of plants in the country.

Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) Director for Plant Quarantine Station Abed Kagundu argued that such organisations enjoy public trust and they should therefore take up the challenge and come up with varieties that can enable the country to be food secure.

“Universities and organisations such as the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) have generated a lot of varieties and hybrids and people have confidence in them. They should therefore take the lead,” he said.

This, Mr Kagundu said, is one of the ways that the moral and ethical concerns about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) that have been expressed by many Kenyans can be addressed.

Kenya has been planting some varieties of genetically modified crops such as maize on pilot basis for the last ten years, which the officer said was a sign that the country was now ready to move to the next step of going large scale.

“We were already doing trials without an Act (BioSafety Act), because we have other laws such as the Quarantine Act and the National Science Act, so we have some mechanisms which we can help us move on. So it is not an excuse that we do not have laws,” he said.

He told Capital Business that if such organisations embraced the technology, they would pave the way for other private sector players to do the same which would see Kenya join the ranks of South Africa, Burkina Faso and Egypt hat have already started producing genetically modified foods.

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The Plant Quarantine expert however said that although the country has good regulations to support the implementation of this modern biotechnology in the country, there is a need to gazette the regulations of the BioSafety Act which would provide the legal backing needed for governing the process.

Mr Kagundu however decried the lack of commitment and the limited resources investments that the country has set aside for research to generate locally produced products.

He proposed the allocation of more funds by the government in research, training and public sensitisation which would see the country move a lot faster in the adoption of this technology and see the introduction of drought and disease resistant crops that can enable the country to be self sufficient.

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On its part however, the government has shown some commitment towards this end with the inauguration of the National Biosafety Authority and its board which are necessary for the proper administration of the Act.

This is particularly crucial as there are plans to start the commercial production of GM cotton in the next two years to jumpstart the ailing sub-sector.

Whether Kenya will adopt GMOs in the near future is not in question and thus the reason why KEPHIS has pledged to extend its regulation of the movement of plants to GMOs.

Regulating this sub-sector will give assurance to the public and other countries that the organisation is checking all genetically modified crops in the country.

Traces of GM products have in the past been found in some food imports but KEPHIS has assured that it is taking measures to inform the public of the existence of such foods and that it is in charge of the situation.

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According to International Service for Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications Director Margaret Karembu, scientists and regulators such as KEPHIS have a huge role to play to demystify what GMOs are and what impact they can have on the economy.

Lack of proper communication is to blame for what she termed as distorted and sensationalised information that Kenyans have on this technology thus the need to for aggressive campaigns to present accurate facts about GM foods.

Despite this development, many farmers still reckon that Kenya should not go commercial just yet due to the impact that it will have on small-scale farmers.

Charles Ndirangu, a maize farmer in Kiambu argued that the introduction of large scale GMO farming in the country would render most small holders who are estimated to be four million ‘jobless’.

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Mr Ndirangu’s sentiments are also shared by the Kenya Small Scale Farmers forum that has always been against the commercialisation of the technologically produced foods arguing that this might also negatively impact Kenya’s export market.

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