Why GMOs are not the silver bullet for Kenya’s Agriculture

Kenya is one of the most eco­log­i­cal­ly rich coun­tries in the world. The coun­try boasts a wide range of ecosys­tems includ­ing coastal, dry­land, moun­tain­ous and savan­nah grass­land, with exten­sive genet­ic diversity.

These diverse ecosys­tems are con­ducive for crops like mil­let, sorghum, onions, leafy veg­eta­bles, cof­fee, bar­ley, wheat and tea. Do we know the depth of the genet­ic rich­es con­tained in these crops? That knowl­edge begins with the crops’ seeds. Seeds large­ly deter­mine a crop’s genet­ic com­po­si­tion and agri­cul­tur­al output.

The ongo­ing debate about Genet­i­cal­ly Mod­i­fied Organ­isms (GMOs) must take place with­in a holis­tic con­text that includes seed, growth, har­vest and post-har­vest fac­tors. In this regard, GMOs are not the sil­ver bul­let that will mag­i­cal­ly fix our food inse­cu­ri­ty. You can have the best har­vest in the world but if with­out prop­er dis­tri­b­u­tion, that har­vest will rot and peo­ple will still die of hunger.

Indeed, GMOs are just one of the tools in the agri­cul­ture tool­box. The very struc­ture of Pres­i­dent Ruto’s gov­ern­ment attests to this. The Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture and Live­stock Devel­op­ment hosts numer­ous agri­cul­tur­al insti­tu­tions with equal­ly diverse exper­tise. These insti­tu­tions include: Kenya Seed Com­pa­ny; Kenya Plant Health Inspec­torate Ser­vices (KEPHIS); Kenya School of Agri­cul­ture; Com­modi­ties Fund; Kenya Agri­cul­tur­al and Live­stock Research Orga­ni­za­tion (KALRO) and Nation­al Biosafe­ty Author­i­ty (NBA).

GMOs most­ly fall in the dock­et of the lat­ter two orga­ni­za­tions. The Gov­ern­ment should urgent­ly enhance fund­ing to the oth­er insti­tu­tions to ful­ly real­ize their man­dates. That will dras­ti­cal­ly enhance food secu­ri­ty in Kenya.

For instance, the Agri­cul­tur­al Infor­ma­tion Resource Cen­tre (AIRC), which was found­ed in 1966, exists to dis­sem­i­nate agri­cul­tur­al infor­ma­tion to farm­ers, exten­sion work­ers and oth­er stake­hold­ers. The Kenya School of Agri­cul­ture exists to trans­form the agri­cul­tur­al sec­tor through improve­ment of pro­duc­tiv­i­ty, val­ue addi­tion and mar­ket­ing of farm pro­duce. Its man­date entails train­ing in mod­ern and evolv­ing agri­cul­tur­al technologies.

These two insti­tu­tions can empow­er farm­ers to embrace cli­mate smart agri­cul­ture that will deliv­er increased yield and income. This goal will be boost­ed by Pres­i­dent Ruto’s imple­men­ta­tion of the Kenya Cli­mate Change Act which cre­at­ed the Cli­mate Change Coun­cil. The Coun­cil which was not oper­a­tionalised in the last admin­is­tra­tion should play a major role in rev­o­lu­tion­iz­ing cli­mate smart agri­cul­ture across Kenya.

Fur­ther, pet­ty or divi­sive pol­i­tics must not weak­en the quest for food secu­ri­ty. It is in the pub­lic domain that only a hand­ful of big farms asso­ci­at­ed with promi­nent peo­ple, pro­duce the bulk of seed used in Kenya. Such dom­i­nance, while unde­sir­able, should not trig­ger a stam­pede to GMO seed. Rather, the Kenya Seed Com­pa­ny should be suf­fi­cient­ly fund­ed towork with var­i­ous farm­ers to spear­head pro­duc­tion of local­ly owned seed that taps into our immense genet­ic resources. This approach will pre­empt a future where our seed mar­ket will be dom­i­nat­ed by for­eign enti­ties or mys­te­ri­ous players.

Almost two decades ago, I was the Chair­per­son of the Kenya Biodiesel Asso­ci­a­tion and cham­pi­oning grad­ual, informed and local­ly dri­ven tran­si­tion to bio­fu­els. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, our efforts were nipped in the bud by for­eign-owned oil com­pa­nies that have zero tol­er­ance to com­pe­ti­tion in the oil sec­tor. This expe­ri­ence taught me that when­ev­er any play­er dom­i­nates mar­ket share of any prod­uct, Kenyans bear pay the price. As such, if we allow for­eign play­ers to even­tu­al­ly dom­i­nate our seed mar­ket, irre­spec­tive of their seed tech­nol­o­gy, we will remain behold­en to them for a long time.

That’s why our food secu­ri­ty must walk hand in hand with our food sov­er­eign­ty. It is worth not­ing that no seed can be sold in Europe unless it has been sourced from with­in Europe.

Sim­i­lar­ly, we must be the exclu­sive own­ers of our seeds as we stride towards food secu­ri­ty. In addi­tion, we must ful­ly uti­lize all the tools in our agri­cul­tur­al tool­box, not just GMOs. Think Green, act, green!

About Dr. Kalua Green

He is the Chief Stew­ard of Green Africa Group, a con­glom­er­ate that was envi­sioned in 1991 to con­nect, pro­duce and impact var­i­ous aspi­ra­tions of human­i­ty through Sus­tain­able Mobil­i­ty & Safe­ty Solu­tions, Eco­pre­neur­ship & Agribusi­ness, Ship­ping & Logis­tics, Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Ini­tia­tives, as well as Hos­pi­tal­i­ty & fur­nish­ings sectors

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