After a decade, Kenya has lifted a ban on genetically modified, GMO agriculture. Since 2012 you could not cultivate any genetically modified crops in the Country. Moreover, it banned trade where you could not import food crops or animal feeds produced through biotechnology innovation.
The uplifting of the ban is expected to improve food security in the country. The region has had declining food yields due to climate change effects especially frequent droughts and floods. Farming and importation of genetically modified (GMO) crops and products is likely to increase food availability for human and livestock consumption.
As expected, the move has sparked many controversies among the Pro and Anti-GMO groups. On one hand, GMO promises solving many challenges facing Agriculture in Kenya such as pests. On the other hand, many are concerned with its known and unknown risks on health, environment and socioeconomic concerns. In this explainer post, you will learn all you need to know about genetically modified (GMO) Crops in Kenya.
What are GMO Crops
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are organisms whose genetic makeup has been altered or enhanced to achieve a particular purpose or use. The major aims are four;
- Change product characteristics, e.g. make products more durable.
- Improve plant resistance to pests and pathogens.
- Enhance productivity of organisms.
- Increase nutritional value, e.g. Vitamin A content in foods
The major aim for their adoption in farming and trade is thus to improve farmer’s yields and income despite vagaries of weather and pests. The list below are some GM Crops in Kenya and their targeted traits
|Maize||Insect resistance, drought tolerant, nitrogen efficient|
|Cotton||Insect resistance, herbicide tolerant|
|Cassava||Virus resistant (mosaic disease, brown streak), nutritionally enhanced (Vitamin A)|
|Sweet Potato||Virus resistant, weevil resistant|
|Pigeon Pea||Insect resistance|
How are GMO Foods made?
The process of developing and releasing GM crops is complex, expensive and long. The regulations may vary from one country to another. In Kenya, the biotechnology processes of research and approval before the environmental release and commercialization is overseen by the National Biosafety Authority. They have the mandate to oversee the execution of the biosafety (environmental release) regulations that were published in August 2011. It covers all aspects and activities used to release of GMOs into the environment; placing them on the market and their trade.
The regulations were designed to address potential adverse effects of genetically modified organisms, to protect human health and the environment when conducting environmental release tests and availing GM products for use by the public. The regulations can be simplified into a 4 steps process. These may take between 10-15 years
What GMO Foods are grown in Kenya?
Since 2019, the government approved growing of BT GM cotton. Since it is a nonfood crop, it was considered to have lower implications on human health.
There are other GM food crops now undergoing trials in Kenya. They include maize, cassava, sweet potato, Irish potato, sorghum and banana. Elsewhere, there are GM varieties for soybean, canola, potatoes, eggplant, strawberries, corn, tomatoes, lettuce, cantaloupe and carrots etc. In future, Kenya may venture into those and others such as medicines, vaccines, foods, food ingredients, feeds and fibers
GMO foods were first approved for human consumption in the United States in 1994. By the year 2020, the GM crops for Soybeans, cottons and corn in the US were as follows;
|GM Crop||Portion planted||Top uses|
|GMO Soybeans||94%||Used for poultry and livestock feeds|
Making soybean oil.
An ingredients in processed foods
|GMO Cotton||96%||Source of cotton in the textile industry|
Used to make cottonseed oil
Cottonseed meal and hulls are also used in animal feed
|GMO Corn||92%||Used to make processed foods and drinks|
Used to feed livestock, like cows, and poultry,
Pros and cons of GMO Crops
What are the benefits of genetically modified crops? The key reasons for farming GM crops are to achieve higher crop yields, income and enhance people’s health cheaply. On the other hand there are many ethical, unintended and unknown consequences according to anti-GM lobby groups. In this post, we give you both the pros and cons of GM Crops.
Pros of GMOs
There are many benefits of growing GMOs. These can range from fast growing, resistance and tolerance. Some of other benefits include;
GMOs use fewer pesticides
According to a recent study, GMO farmers have reduced pesticides used by over 8.3 % between 1996 and 2018.
GMO crops have been altered to withstand some insects , weeds or pests. An example are the BT corn or BT cotton. They are coded with Bacillus thuringiensis, a naturally occurring soil bacteria. This bacterium has protein that protect the crop from many pest attacks thus reducing the need to spray them with pesticides.
Apart from lowering your cost of growing food, it helps you reduce your carbon footprint.
GMOs are cheaper to grow and buy
DO you know GMO foods such as corn, beets and soybeans cost cheaper by 15-30%?
GMOS are designed to withstand the worst vagaries of weather or pests. As such, a farmer will get same harvests using lesser pesticides, water or land. By a farmer saving on the cost of production, he can lower the price of food.
GMOs are more nutritious
Some GMOs crops such as sorghum, maize and Irish potatoes are genetically engineered to add vitamins and minerals. As such eating GMOs will enjoy more nutrients compared to conventional crops. These can help you alleviate millions of people suffering from hunger and malnutrition in some of the harshest climate and soils to support crop farming.
Food growers and traders can earn more profits from GMO food benefits. These include;
- Increased attractiveness and appearance to consumers, for example, apples and potatoes that are less likely to bruise or turn brown
- Enhanced flavor and nutrients
- Fast maturing plants and animals.
- Longer shelf life, less food waste thus increasing food security
- Easy to preserve and transport them.
Cons of GMOs
There are many risks and controversies surrounding the use of GMOs. These unknown consequences come from altering the natural state of an organism. The key cons are associated with unintended impact on other species, unintended economic consequences and also philosophical or religious concerns including associating GMOs with increased incidences of cancer cases. The specific disadvantages of growing GM Crops are;
- Allergic reactions; the new GM Food crop can carry an allergen from the foreign gene from the other crop or bacteria.
- Cancer; There are concerns that eating GMO foods can contribute to the development of cancer by raising levels of potentially carcinogenic substances in the body. However, according to the American Cancer Society, there is no proven evidence that currently available GMO foods either increase or reduce the risk of cancer.
- Unintended Environmental Concerns. There are many concerns of replacing conventional crops with GM crops. These may include;
- outcrossing, where genes from GMO foods pass into wild plants and other crops
- Creating more weeds or harder-to-kill invasive species
- A reduction in insect biodiversity when crops are resistant to insects
- GMO crops can have foods that are less nutritious
- Fear of the unknown; there is little gathered evidence of GMO organisms on humans in the long term.
- There are many unanticipated effects of GMs effects on other crops or animals stemming from the unintended transfer of genes from one GM plant or animal to another plant, humans or animal not intended for genetic modification
Should we grow GM crops in Kenya?
As the post and research demonstrates, GMOs can benefit Kenya’s food security. This can stem from an increase in the availability and quality of food, medical care, and a cleaner environment. Other benefits are an improvement in economic growth and development from increased domestic and international trade. Finally, GM foods has the potential to alleviate hunger and diseases not only in the region worldwide.
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On the other hand, GMOs full potential cannot be fully realized without due diligence and thorough attention to the risks associated with each new GMO on a case-by-case basis. In addition, there is a need to review GMO regulations and empower authorities and agencies mandated to execute them.