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A man weeds his watermelon at the Kabaa irrigation scheme | Coastweek

MACHAKOS (Xinhua) -- A man weeds his watermelon at the Kabaa irrigation scheme in Machakos County, Kenya, Sept. 13, 2013. The farmers are reaping the benefits of the two year old Kabaa Irrigation scheme project, under Small-Scale Horticulture Development Projects (SHDP, which covers about 240 hectares with a variety of crops under cultivation. The county and national governments are working together to implement irrigation projects in this semi-arid region, so that farmers can get involved in full commercial farming. PHOTO XINHUA: ALLAN MUTURI

Kenya has a low uptake of agriculture biotechnology

By Ronald Njoroge BARINGO, (Xinhua) -- Kenya has a low uptake of Genetically Modified food due to lack of awareness, a government official said on Tuesday.

Ministry of Agriculture Head of Biotechnology Jane Otadoh told a biotechnology forum that adoption of agricultural biotechnology has lagged compared to the rates witnessed in the medical and health sectors.

The immediate benefits of the GM are not evident to consumers and farmers otherwise they would have demanded for it,” she said in Baringo, which is located 350 kilometres northwest of Nairobi.

In 2012, the government banned the importation of GM crops until such time as data is provided to demonstrate that they are safe. She added that biotechnology is a product of research.

So these innovations should be embraced so as to enable Kenya to achieve its development goals,” she said. Otandoh added that safety concerns that have been raised are legitimate.

So, the government has established a regulatory authority to ensure that all commercially available GM products don’t harm the public or the environment,” she said.

We want to increase the mutual trust and credibility of the technology so as to reduce the debate that has surrounded the GMO products,” she said. She said that there has been exaggeration of negative claims of the biotechnology.

This has caused uncertainty among the public who are not knowledgeable about its benefit,” ministry official said, adding that the remedy to the misunderstanding is accurate and meaningful information.

This will enable the public to make an informed decision,” she said. The head of biotechnology said that the government will ensure that when Kenya commercializes GM crops, it will not affect agricultural exports.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, biotechnology is just one of the tools that can be used to enhance food security.

International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) Programme Assistant Kwame Ogero said that biotechnology only complements other tools used to improve crop productivity.

However, there is never risk in any technology. But appropriate decisions cannot be made in the absence of complete knowledge,” Ongero said.

Experience has shown that if relevant questions on the GM technology are not addressed it will affect the public acceptance, “ the ISAAA official said.

Baringo County Governor Benjamin Cheboi said that there a gap between the policy makers, scientist and the public on issues of biotechnology. He noted that biotechnology holds great promise for Kenya’s quest to achieve economic development.

As a result, it has become crucial for sustainable development in agriculture, forestry and medicine,” Cheboi said. He said that the highest possible priority should be given to the sector.

Unfortunately, the adoption of GM crops is undermined as the public is not aware of its application and benefits,” he said.

Kenya Agricultural Research Institute Senior Research Scientists Dr Catherine Taracha said that biotechnology has become an indispensable tool in addressing crop production constraints.

This is demonstrated by the rapid increase in the global adoption of GM crops since they were commercialized in 1996,” he said. “Total acreage has increased from 1.7 million hectares to 170 million hectares last year,” he said.

There are already four African nations planting biotech crops including South Africa, Egypt, Burkina Faso and Sudan,” he said.

KARI Center Director Dr Charles Waturu said that Kenya is making good progress in agricultural biotechnology, research and development.

There is already a functional regulatory framework to guide research and trade in GM crops,” he said.

Waturu, who is also the principal researcher of biotech cotton, said that the crop was originally meant to be commercialized in Kenya in 2014.

However, it is still likely to be the first GM crop that will be commercialized in Kenya,” he said.

University of Nairobi Lecturer of Biochemistry Professor Edward Nguu said that the debate on GM products has led to confusion among the potential beneficiaries.

The acceptance of new technologies is mostly pegged on people’s perceptions which are largely shaped by available information,” he said.

Nguu noted that once farmers see the benefits, they are more likely to adopt the technology.



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