Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Kenyan GM Debate

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

Richard Oduor, Chairman of Kenya University Biotechnology Consortium and head of biotechnology department at Kenyatta University, said condemnation of genetically modified organisms is not based on science but unjustified paranoia. “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,” he said. Kenyan scientists have been lobbying the government to lift a ban on GMOs. Oduor said the ban was not based on scientific evidence, 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. “We need to address fundamental issues like food sovereignty, protection of natural capital and indigenous knowledge before adopting genetic engineering in agriculture,” Mutugi said. “There are moral, ethical and health concerns that should not be ignored. Scientists, regulators, industry and consumer groups should address those concerns.”

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 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.”

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