Nyeri residents have expressed mixed reactions to the Government’s decision to lift a decade-long ban on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).
While a number of them have called for cautious optimism in its implementation others have termed the decision as outright suicide.
Others say allowing GMO products in the country might turn out to be the only silver bullet that will sort the food insecurity ravaging close to half of all counties and should therefore be supported.
Titus Karinga, a cereal vendor at the Nyeri open market, has criticized the government’s decision to lift the ban arguing that alternative sources of food should have been sought before resorting to GMO.
He claims that the lifting of the ban on GMO importation may ultimately turn out to be a costly gamble noting that many developed countries have already outlawed such products within their borders.
“Many countries have not lifted the ban on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) due to the health scare associated with them. Turning around and allowing such foodstuffs to get into the country may therefore sound the death knell to the lives of millions of Kenyans in the near future owing to health complications and emergency of genetically induced complications such as cancer,” said Karinga.
However, Joseph Irungu has dismissed those criticizing the State for lifting the freeze on GMO importation saying there is no tangible evidence that such products pose any health risk to consumers.
Irungu a cereal trader in Nyeri town further argues that people have been consuming GMO products ever since without any adverse effects having been documented anywhere.
He, therefore, wants the Government to expedite the process of importing the food into the country saying the move will be a game changer in the fight against the current drought that is threatening the lives of close to 4 million Kenyans.
“We are happy that the government has found a remedy to help address the current food shortage in the country. Those opposed to the importation of GMOs are alien to what is happening in other parts of Kenya. Let the government hasten the process of bringing GMO food into the country since it will also boost agricultural production for the nation,” he says.
Irungu has also challenged the Opposition leaders led by former Azimio la Umoja One Kenya alliance presidential flag bearer Raila Odinga to stop criticizing the government but instead provide food donations to the drought-affected areas.
“Raila Odinga and Bunge la Wananchi should provide a solution to the drought crisis in the country by providing relief food and water to drought-affected victims instead of opposing every decision the government makes,” he added.
The cabinet lifted the 2012 ban on the importation of GMOs into the country last week to help address a severe food shortage that has left 3.5 million in 23 counties on the brink of starvation.
The landmark decision has stirred a storm in the country with leaders and stakeholders in the food chain reading from different scripts in regard to the move.
Already eleven lobby groups have waded into the ongoing discussion in regard to the lifting of the ban questioning the health safety implications of GMO products.
The nongovernmental organizations have faulted the decision by President Dr. William Ruto to allow the importation of GMO products into the country until concerns raised by Kenyans are settled.
The cabinet lifted a 2012 ban on the importation of GMOs into the country to help the country confront a severe food shortage that has left 3.5 million in 23 counties on the brink of starvation.
This figure is expected to hit the 4 million mark this month according to the National Drought Management Authority’s (NDMA) September Report.
But in a statement sent to media houses, the lobby groups including BIBA-Biodiversity and Biosafety Association of Kenya, Route to Food Initiative (RFTI), and Greenpeace Africa allege there was an unnecessary rush in reversing the moratorium and not want a constructive dialogue with both the public and food safety experts before the country can come up with an informed decision on the matter.
“We need to protect our local and indigenous seeds as envisioned in Article 11(3) b of the 2010 Constitution and embrace safe and sustainable food production approaches such as agroecology. We demand that the ban (on GMO) be immediately reinstated and an inclusive participatory process be instituted to look into long-term and sustainable solutions to issues affecting food security and agricultural productivity in the country,” reads part of their five –five-point recommendation.
The lobbyists also want a review of the biosafety policy in the country through setting up a robust monitoring mechanism to aid in redress should the GMO products cause harm to either humans or the environment.
In addition, the group has asked the State to ensure there is a transparent and mutually beneficial partnership among all relevant stakeholders to avoid a situation whereby small-scale food producers are disadvantaged by unscrupulous multinationals out to make a kill out of the current food crisis in the country.
“Economic partnership and technology transfer agreements should be transparent, mutually beneficial, and strive to solve the problems of local small-scale farmers. They should also take into account local socio-economic and socio-political situations rather than advance a colonial multinational profiteering and dumping of goods model,” adds the report.
Kenya is facing one of its worst food crises in decades following four consecutive failed rain seasons.
This situation has pushed more than 3 million Kenyans to the brink of a humanitarian crisis with hundreds of animals already reported to have died in the North Eastern region.
Already the Government has kicked off the process of distributing relief food to the affected counties even as some leaders urge Dr. Ruto to declare the current drought a national disaster.
By Samuel Maina and Millicent Macharia