The hopes of Kenyan maize farmers to produce up to 3.7 tonnes of maize per hectare with genetically modified seeds was recently halted, when the Health Cabinet Secretary Cleopa Mailu rejected the planned trial of the variety in Kenya
This contradicts Deputy President William Ruto’s promise last year that the government was working towards legalizing genetically modified crop varieties in a bid to improve the country’s food security before the end of 2016.
The Deputy President made this promise at the fourth National Biosafety Conference in Nairobi.
Currently, Kenya produces a paltry 1.6 tonnes per hectare which is more than three times below the global average of five tonnes per hectare, this according to Water Efficient Maize for Africa.
If allowed, the genetically modified variety has the capacity to address the country’s maize deficit that currently stands at 13 million bags, forcing the government to import from neighboring countries.
Genetically Modified (GM) maize is likely to increase the country’s annual production to 96 million bags, up from the current 32.3 million.
In a firm statement to the Ministry of Environment, CS Mailu insisted that the ban on GMO imports imposed in 2011 was still in force until a review and evaluation of scientific information on safety of GM foods on human health is undertaken.
“The Ministry of Health, therefore, upholds the directive by the Cabinet to ban importation and placing on the market of genetically modified foods until the Cabinet provides direction,” he said.
Although the country banned GMO foods in November 2011 citing health concerns, many scientists have refuted it as baseless, with some claiming that the GM technology is the perfect remedy for the global food shortage.
This is a major blow to the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) and African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) who had already obtained approval from the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) to conduct field trials for biotech maize.
South Africa, adopted Bacillus Thuringiensis (BT), a biotech maize variety which is said to resist hostile climate, pests and diseases in 2011, and managed to increase its production by 9.5 per cent.
The country is now a leading exporter of maize in the continent.