Kenya is the eighth country in the continent to approve the use of Genetically Modified organisms (GMOs). They are currently approved for cultivation in 70 countries around the world. Kenya lifted the ban on Genetically Modified crops and its citizens are giving mixed reactions. They are wondering why the government was in a rush to allow the importation and use of genetically modified organisms when they had not done enough research about it. In 2006, the African Union adopted a solution stating that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were not welcome on the continent. It did not take long before the resolution was shredded after it became apparent GMOs have the potential to redefine agriculture. Despite inherent uneasiness, Africa is becoming the next frontier for GM technology albeit slowly.
Humans have used traditional ways to modify crops and animals to suit their needs and tastes for more than 10,000 years. Cross-breeding, selective breeding, and mutation breeding are examples of traditional ways to make these changes. These breeding methods often involve mixing all the genes from two different sources. They are used to create common crops like seedless watermelons. Modern technology now allows scientists to use genetic engineering to take just a beneficial gene, like insect resistance or drought tolerance, and transfer it into plants. The reason for GMOs is higher crop yields, less crop loss, longer storage life, better appearance, better nutrition, or some combination of these traits.
The leading GMO crops under consideration across different countries (Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana, and others) are GM cotton which is tolerant to African bollworms, GM cassava which is resistant to cassava brown streak disease and GM maize which is resistant to stem borer among many more. Kenya approved the growth of GM cassava in 2021 for open cultivation, paving the way for commercialization after five years of research. This is after the government approved the planting of GMO cotton in 2019.
There are three main concerns about what could go wrong with GMOs. These are unintended harmful effects, food safety, environmental safety, and social attitudes, including fears that GMOs are a case of “man playing God”. In anticipation of these risks, scientists working in the field of GMOs have created a raft of regulations. These regulations aim to evaluate whether GMOs are just as safe for humans and the environment as their conventional counterparts before they can be accepted for commercialization.
Food safety studies including tests of allergenicity are a mandatory requirement for the commercialization of GMOs. Countries have also instituted biosafety authorities with a mandate to regulate the development in Kenya the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) was established by the Biosafety Act No. 2 of 2009 to exercise general supervision and control over the transfer, handling, and use of GMOs. The government must make every effort to address people’s concerns about GMOs. This includes pointing out that humans have modified crops for thousands of years. GM foods have now been grown and consumed for over 20 years in different countries. There is so far no scientific evidence to confirm any of the fears. GM crops have been evaluated to be just as safe for human consumption and the environment as conventional crops.
There is so much fear in people about GMOs and the government an put in measures to ensure that those people who don’t want to consume GMO products can still do it without fearing that the market is infiltrated.