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XINHUA NEWS SERVICE REPORTS FROM THE AFRICAN CONTINENT

 

Scientists urge Kenya to rescind Genetically Modified Organisms

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Scientists meeting in Nairobi have urged the government to lift the ban that was imposed on the importation of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in 2012.

The Open Forum for Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB) said that the ban has slowed down the momentum that Kenya has built in agricultural research.

"Other East African countries are proceeding at full speed to commercialize a number of crops while Kenya’s progress has stalled, " OFAB Kenya Chapter Programming Committee Dr Margaret Karembu said during a meeting to brief stakeholders on a recent GMOs benchmarking trip to Brazil.

Karembu said that Brazil has managed to become a surplus food producing nation due to their adoption of GMOs. She said that GMOs can also play a role in ensuring that Kenya achieves food security.

"The ban on GMOs was not based on sound scientific evidence and this is having a negative impact on agricultural research," he said.

The OFAB official added that biotechnology can be used develop crops that drought and pest resistant.

"The uptake of biotech crops will have a positive impact on farm income especially for the small scale farmers who spend a large portion of their earnings on crops inputs such as pesticides, " she said.

Karembu, who is also the Director of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) Africenter said that South Africa, Sudan and Burkina Faso are among the African nations that have commercialized GMOs.

She said that Kenya is currently conducting or has completed confined field trials on cassava, cotton, maize, sorghum and sweet potato.

Karembu added that globally there has been a hundred fold increase in the acreage cultivated with GMO crops in the last 19 years.

The National Biosafety Authority (NBA) Senior Biosafety Officer Josphat Muchiri said that his organization has approved 19 laboratory and greenhouses studies since in 2010.

NBA is also reviewing the fees, it charges for conducting research on GMOs.

"We want to lower the fees in order to encourage more research in the country," Muchiri said.

NBA charges about 1,800 U.S. dollars for a license for contained use and 8,900 dollars for an environmental release of GMOs crops.
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FEBRUARY 2015:

Kenyan parliament to commence debate on lifting GMO ban

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- The Kenyan parliament will soon commence discussions that will culminate in lifting a ban on commercialization of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), lawmakers have said.

Robert Pukose, the Vice-Chair of Parliamentary Committee on Health revealed there is a bipartisan consensus to fast-track adoption of biotech crops in Kenya.

"Relevant committees will table a motion in parliament to thrash out contentious issues that have derailed the adoption of genetically engineered crops in the country," Pukose said during the launch of the 2014 report on the status of biotechnology globally in Nairobi.

The report reveals that 18 million farmers in 28 countries planted 182 million hectares of biotech crops.

Kenya imposed a ban on importation or commercialization of GMOs in 2012 in the wake of a study by a French scientist that they cause cancerous tumors.

Pukose regretted that conspiracy theories have undermined genetic engineering that heralds food security and wealth in developing countries.

"There is no scientific evidence indicating that GMOs cause cancers or disability.

"We must adopt tools that would enable the country become food secure," Pukose told reporters.

A surgeon by profession, Pukose noted that development of biotech crops involves rigorous adherence to health and environmental safety.

Concerned by growing food insecurity in the country, Kenyan lawmakers were united in their call for adoption of genetically modified organisms.

Pukose regretted that an estimated 1.5 million Kenyans were staring at starvation yet the country had the infrastructure and human capacity to facilitate adoption of new farming methods.

"Kenya has invested in technology and expertise to shift from traditional farming methods that are not sustainable in the face of climate change, population growth and shrinking arable land," Pukose remarked.

He revealed that parliamentary committees will discuss findings of a government taskforce to review the benefits and risks of GMOs.

"Parliament will adhere to constitutional requirements like public participation to kick start the debate on GMOs.

"There is urgency to lift the ban on this technology that promise food security and higher income for smallholders,"said Pukose.
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DECEMBER 2014:

GMO debate polarizes Kenyans, threatens investments in research

by Christine Lagat NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- The debate over the pros and cons of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has polarized Kenyans from all walks of life and threatens huge investments in scientific research to re-invent food production in the country.

While a growing body of scientific research hails the potential of genetic engineering to revolutionize food production, an equally large population of skeptics from the Kenyan green movement warns of its potential dangers.

Scientists, policymakers and green activists who attended a public forum were sharply divided over introduction of genetically modified organisms.

Richard Oduor, Chairman of Kenya University Biotechnology Consortium, said condemnation of genetically modified organisms is not based on science but unjustified paranoia.

The head of biotechnology department at Kenyatta University said Kenya has invested heavily in scientific research, infrastructure and personnel to facilitate the adoption of biotech crops.

"Science is clear that as a country, we cannot afford to employ old methods to produce food and meet huge demands from a growing population.

"No country has ever become food secure through traditional farming systems," Oduor told campaigners.

Kenyan scientists have been lobbying the government to lift a ban on GMOs. Oduor said the ban was not based on scientific evidence and has jeopardized huge investments in research on improved crop varieties.

"The government and development partners have invested billions of dollars to undertake confined field trials on improved maize, cotton, sorghum and potato varieties.

"Such efforts should not be in vain," Oduor said.

Kenya has established an independent agency to regulate GMOs and enhance their safety to humans and the environment.

Oduor noted the enactment of biosafety act in 2009 has strengthened Kenya’s capacity to respond to potential dangers of biotech crops.

"Research is still ongoing to address safety and efficacy concerns on GMOs.

"We need a somber dialogue to minimize controversies surrounding genetic engineering," said Oduor, adding that Kenya risks becoming a perpetually food aid dependent nation unless the government fast-tracks the adoption of biotech crops.

Marion Mutugi, a Lecturer at Kabianga University, cautioned against introduction of biotech crops based on their potential threats to human health and indigenous biodiversity.

Mutugi was a member of a taskforce appointed by the Cabinet Secretary for Health to review the capacity of Kenya’s regulatory and policy environment to facilitate smooth adoption of GMOs.

The taskforce’s recommendation presented to the health minister in April this year will be discussed by the cabinet and will help inform lifting of the GMO ban.

Mutugi is among a large pool of Kenyan scientists opposed to genetically modified organisms.

During her presentation at the public forum, Mutugi said Kenya is not yet ready for large scale adoption of biotech crops based on the fragile regulatory environment.

"We need to address fundamental issues like food sovereignty, protection of natural capital and indigenous knowledge before adopting genetic engineering in agriculture," Mutugi said.

Kenya is among dozens of countries globally that have put a brake on the journey towards adoption of biotech crops.

Mutugi said that even countries that have commercialized GMOs have maintained some caveats to ensure citizens are protected from unknown risks.

"There are moral, ethical and health concerns that should not be ignored.

"Scientists, regulators, industry and consumer groups should address those concerns," said Mutugi.

The Kenyan green movement has conducted nationwide campaign against the introduction of genetically modified organisms.

Wanjiru Kamau, an official at Kenya Organic Agriculture Network (KOAN), warned that agriculture biotechnology threatens Kenya’s genetic diversity and food sovereignty.

"We require a precautionary approach to avert potential risks of biotech crops to our rich biodiversity. Smallholders will be at the mercy of multinational giants pushing for adoption of GMOs," Wanjiru said.
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NOVEMBER 2014:

Kenya Genetically Modified Organisms ban affects biotech research: regulator

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- The current ban on the importation of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) is affecting biotech research in the country, the country’s biosafety regulator has said.

National Biosafety Authority (NBA) Technical Services Director Dorington Ogoyi said the number of applications for GMO research projects has plummeted since the ban was imposed in 2012.

"We used to receive eight applications for experimental research per year but the figure is down to four," Ogoyi said during a forum on Agricultural Biotechnology Investments.

He said Kenya has already developed the legal framework required to ensure that GMOs don’t pose a risk to human and animal health and the environment.

The East African nation imposed a ban on importation of genetically modified foods in November 2012, following reports linking them to cancer.

Cabinet Secretary for Health James Macharia then formed an inter-agency taskforce last year to look into the social, ecological and health impacts of introducing biotech crops.

The taskforce report on GMOs is yet to release its findings, hence the current stalemate on their benefits or hazards.

Experts have warned that the prolonged ban on GMOs will lead to massive loss of funds, food insecurity and poverty at the grassroots level.

Kenyatta University Department of Biochemistry and Biotechnology Senior Lecturer Richard Odour said genetic engineering of conventional crops will increase their average yields.

He said the technology could help develop crops that address production constraints, adding that the GMO ban means that Kenya cannot benchmark with international standards.

Odour, who is also the Chairman of the Kenya University Biotech Consortium, said the ban has affected the speed of biotechnology research in East Africa.

Odour said there is GMO research ongoing on maize, sorghum, sweet potato, pigeon pea, rice, peanut and cotton.

International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) Director Professor Margaret Karembu said the current ban is impacting research as scientists are not motivated.

She said Kenya is a reference point in East Africa as far as science is considered.
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OCTOBER 2014:

Farmers lobby urges Kenya to maintain ban on GMOs

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Kenya’s farmers lobby group have urged the government to maintain its ban on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) food until all safety concerns are addressed.

Kenya Small Scale Farmers Forum (KSSF) Secretary General Justus Kavi told journalists in Nairobi that the country is capable of feeding itself by using conventional seeds varieties.

"The promotion of the technology in agriculture has been done under the guise that GMOs are needed to address food insecurity in Kenya and other African countries," Kavi said.

The government instituted a ban on the importation of GM food in November 2012.

"However, the pro-GMO lobby groups and scientists have engaged in campaigns to urge the government to lift the ban," Kavi said, adding number of research organizations are currently conducting field trials on biotech crops in the Kenya.

Biotechnology experts from academic and research institutions regretted that the ban has undermined the adoption of modern technology and innovations to catalyze green revolution in Kenya.

And there are concerns that the ban on GMOs could affect Kenya’s technological advances.

Kenya Organic Agriculture Network (KOAN) Board Member Jack Rware said the cost of transgenic seeds is beyond the reach of small scale farmers.

"GMOs are owned by foreign multinational seed firm and therefore farmers will be required to pay royalties. Our farmers will be at the mercy of private corporations," Rware said.

He added that GMOs contain terminator genes and therefore cannot be replanted in the next planting season.

"However, most conventional seeds can be replanted," he said, adding that Kenya can achieve food security through use of indigenous plants varieties.

"With enough water on our lands, we will be able to grow more food throughout the year using sustainable and ecological friendly farming methods," he said.
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JUNE 2014:

Kenya maintains ban on genetically modified organisms

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Kenya will not lift the ban on importation of genetically modified organisms (GMO) until regulatory agencies verify they have no negative impacts to the environment and human health, officials have said.

The Cabinet Secretary for Health, James Macharia said that it is only the Cabinet that has powers to lift the ban on commercialization of genetically engineered products.

"As for now, the ban on genetically modified organisms remains in force. If there is any genetically modified product in the country, it is an illegality," said Macharia.

He spoke during the presentation of taskforce report on genetically modified organisms.

Macharia appointed a twelve member taskforce in October 2013 to review scientific literature and data on the effects of GMOs to animal and human health, after the government imposed a ban on importation of genetically modified organisms in November 2012 when a scientific journal linked them to cancers.

"Now that the report is ready, we require adequate time to review it.

"We have confidence in the report findings and will present them to parliamentary committee on agriculture for discussion," Macharia told journalists.

The 12 member GMO taskforce comprised eminent personalities drawn from industry, academia, government and civil society.

Its terms of reference included an assessment on Kenya’s readiness to adopt genetically modified organisms in the light of policy, regulatory and infrastructural safeguards.

The Chairman of the taskforce, Professor Kihumba Thairu said that the 120 page report contained scientific data on the benefits and demerits of GMOs.

           

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