Demand for transparency in Kenya’s adoption of GMOs
We, the Route to Food Initiative (RTFI), Kenya Biodiversity Coalition (KBioC), Africa Biodiversity Network (ABN) and Greenpeace Africa, are gathered here to express our concerns over recent disconcerting developments in the country, that suggests the Government has made a unilateral decision to adopt genetically modified crops.
In his Mashujaa Day speech, President Uhuru Kenyatta directed the Ministries of Health, Agriculture and Trade to develop “a quick mechanism to revive the production of the cotton sector, including the possibility of farming Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cotton”. In addition, the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation, KALRO, has been conducting an online media sensitisation campaign on Bt maize.
Two questions arise:
- Why are we considering the possibilities of Bt cotton farming and profiling yield increases from genetically modified maize when the 2012 ban on GM food imports is still in effect and a public engagement on whether the country is ready for this technology, has not been had? and;
- Why is KALRO promoting research that is skewed in favour of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) while its mandate is to release and promote objective, unbiased research?
We see these actions as an attempt to introduce GMOs into the country despite the current legislative disposition. Additionally, an all-inclusive nationwide discourse through public participation, which addresses whether the technology is appropriate for us, is being circumvented.
We wish to remind Kenyans that in November 2013, the Government, through the Ministry of Health, set up a task force to review matters on genetically modified foods and safety and also assess the country’s readiness for the adoption of GMOs. The report was completed in 2014 but nearly five years later, it has not been released to the public despite numerous requests by KBioC’s lawyers.
We have reason to believe that the “Professor Kihumbu Thairu report” is against the adoption of GM foods and that is why its release is being stalled. The lack of transparency evidenced in the current status of the task force report as well as in the statement by President Kenyatta on Mashujaa Day presupposes public agreement to, and acceptance of, GMOs.
As organisations that are involved in the promotion of food rights and the adoption of sustainable solutions to the problem of food insecurity, we recognise the need to increase food availability and affordability to Kenyans. Indeed, we are involved in various initiatives to boost availability and enable affordability. However, these are not the only considerations. Equally critical are food safety and environmental protection.
Genetically engineered (GE) seeds and crops have been previously presented by authorities and certain corporates as a panacea to achieving food security in Kenya and Africa at large. However, these modified seeds and farm produce represent a corporate take over of our food systems. Overdependence on corporates for seeds and other farm inputs has increased our vulnerability to shocks related to food production. It lures farmers into the use of agrochemicals and stands in the way of sustainable solutions such as ecological agriculture. Burkina Faso and South Africa are both case studies illustrating that GMOs are part of a form of agriculture which throws farmers into long-term dependencies, undermines critical biodiversity and, by promoting large-scale industrial infrastructure, drives millions into greater, not lesser poverty.
A multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder dialogue is necessary before we rush to promote, adopt or commercialise GMOs.
As such, we undersigned demand the following:
- That the Prof. Thairu report be made public in line with Article 35 of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 on the right to information, to facilitate public discourse and engagement;
- Transparency in all Government’s and government agencies’ decisions, agreements or commitments and actions around GMOs;
- An all-inclusive national debate to ensure effective public participation on the GMO issue;
- That KALRO halts its online media campaigns until a consensus on the way forward is arrived at;
- That until such time as a decision has been made by the citizens of Kenya, that the Government apply the UN-sanctioned Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) which informs the Cartagena Protocol that includes the Precautionary Principle. The Precautionary Principle recommends a precautionary approach to all GMOs as food and feed and all new transgenic technologies which include gene drives and synthetic biology.
As Kenyans, we have the Right to Adequate Food (Article 43, CoK), the right of choice and the right to information and without the foregoing, the Government will be in violation of the sovereign will of the people should it go ahead to adopt Bt maize and Bt cotton without public input.
This statement was delivered at a press briefing held on 15 November 2018 in Nairobi.
Cartoon by Victor Ndula.