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The Perception of Kenyans on Genetically Modified Foods

The debate about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) has attracted much attention in Kenya over the past two decades. Three key areas of debate include: whether or not GMOs are safe for human consumption and the environment; the economic viability and sustainability of GMOs; and whether they are indeed necessary as promoted by its producers and pro-GMO actors. As the debate rages on, the two sides have estimated the perceptions and views of Kenyan consumers differently. Promoters of GMOs claim that the Kenyan consumer is willing and happy to consume GMO food, while those opposed to GMOs also claim that the Kenyan consumer does not want to consume GMO foods.

The Route to Food Initiative (RTFI) sought to assess the current situation in regard to the perception of Kenyans about GMOs. RTFI, contracted a research firm, Infotrak Research and Consulting to undertake the research. Over 8000 respondents from all counties in Kenya were contacted for this survey. Quantitative data was collected through Computer Assisted Telephone Interviews (CATI), targeting the Kenyan adult population across all the regions. The data was then systematically analysed. Key issues of focus included level of awareness, willingness to consume and grow GMOs, and access to information on GMOs. These variables were analysed against various demographic aspects of the respondents.

The study sought to determine the level of awareness of GMOs amongst Kenyans. This assessment was at two levels: Top-of-mind awareness (without probing) and overall  awareness (after probing). Top-of-mind awareness stood at 49%, and an additional 36% of the respondents indicated awareness after probing. The overall awareness was 85%, with only 15% of the respondents expressing being unaware of GMOs even after probing.

The survey showed that the majority of Kenyans, 57%, are not willing to consume GMOs. The rest, 43% of Kenyans, are willing to consume GMOs. While this clearly shows that a majority of Kenyans (50% + 1) are not willing to consume GMOs, 43% who are now willing to consume GMOs based on this study show a significant change in perception compared to 10 years ago. These statistics show that the overall perception of Kenyans has changed significantly over the past ten (10) years.

The survey however shows a more worrying pattern showing that Kenyans who have more exposure to food insecurity, with lower knowledge of GMOs are more receptive to GMOs. This clearly indicates that the willingness to consume is a reflection, and unfortunately so, of vulnerability rather than choice and free will. The pro-GMO messages of false hope about ending food and nutrition insecurity, and guaranteeing increased productivity clearly take advantage of the fact that millions of Kenyans have either faced or stare at food insecurity. The collective impact that food insecurity has on the entire population is also a contributing factor to the increasing conviction amongst Kenyan consumers concerned about the food insecurity problem that GMOs are the solution.

Inadequate access to verified information makes the Kenyan consumer vulnerable to misinformation and manipulation by the industry players. According to the survey, only 18% of the respondents recalled receiving information about GMOs from the government. This is a clear indication of failure on the part of the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) whose one of its key mandates is to educate the population on the regulation of GMOs and other biosafety issues. The Authority has also continued to openly promote the use of GMOs, therefore losing its ability to communicate objectively and unbiasedly.

Civil society organisations on the other hand have also not been able to sustain the anti GMO campaign and awareness creation. While a few organisations have strongly come out to protest against the introduction of GMO seeds and food in the country, other CSO actors have largely kept off the debate.

 

Download the survey here.

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