Kenya urged to speed up the commercialisation of GM foods

A biotechnologist has urged Kenya to speed up the commercialisation of genetically modified foods so as to ease the conflict fuelled by the scramble for diminishing pastures and farmlands which are blamed for food shortages. Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (Ofab) Project Manager Daniel Otunge said food insecurity adversely affected the health of citizens and was a major cause of conflict as communities scrambled for available meagre resources to feed themselves.
“Maize production in Kenya has gone down because of drought which is cyclical and to combat some of these challenges requires the government to fast-track adoption of GM products that are high yielding crops, disease and drought resistant as well as efficient nitrogen users,” he said. Mr Otunge said a highly preferred crop among rural communities, cassava, was now in jeopardy following the outbreak of the cassava mosaic disease forcing farmers to abandon cassava farming. This, he observed, has made families to sink into deeper poverty with children dropping out of school as their health falters.
To ease the widening poverty gap, Mr Otunge said Kenya required urgent measures to be taken urgently to empower residents to feed themselves. “Biotechnology has a solution, if we do not go that way, how are we going to address the problems of our people? “We need to help families remain alive and reserve some food for sale thereby helping improve lives,” he said. Mr Otunge said the potential for GMO crops in Africa was huge since about 300 million people lived under threat of starvation. He said continued reliance on food imports adversely affected the ability of governments to feed their people and provide other essential services thereby exposing the people to risks of death. He said Kenya needed to heavily invest in agricultural innovation to avert hunger and also create a new avenue for Kenyans to improve their incomes by selling foodstuffs to other countries.
“History of agriculture or development in the world shows no one has ever made it without innovation. “Governments must be pro-active in helping communities feed themselves. The risk of failing to adopt GMO in Kenya is huge since the adverse effects of climate change are with us now,” he said.
Kenya recently approved national field trials for bio-tech maize ushering a near-possibility for its commercialisation within the next three years once BT maize certified seeds are commercially propagated for farmers to plant. BT cassava and BT cotton varieties are also under trial and have proven resilience in production and resistance to diseases in the numerous farms they have been grown in by Kenya Agricultural Research and Livestock Organisation (Karlo) farms. Mr Otunge, who has been involved in the quest for GM adoption, said Kenya must lead by example by feeding its people thereby unlocking their full potential to self-improve their livelihoods through agricultural production.