The National Biosafety Authority has denied that the push for the release of genetically modified cotton to farmers is being used as a smokescreen to release other GMO crops into the country.
The authority’s CEO Dorington Ogoyi last week said that even though GM maize was the genetically modified product to be approved for national performance trials in Kenya, Bt cotton has gained momentum and is moving faster.
“This will not enhance the approval of other products because at the moment Bt maize has already gotten approval for the trials. Other products such as cassava are in the pipeline and I don’t think this could facilitate the push for others. However, if it does, it will be good for the country because it will still be based on the safety considerations. If the Bt cotton opens the way for other products, as a regulator, I will be happy to move along but safety concerns are not debatable,” Ogoyi said.
He assured that the product under the national performance trials in Mwea have been properly tested using international standards to ensure that is it safe for human and animal health.
On November 21, a food security lobby group opposed the move by the government to introduce GM cotton, raising concerns over it’s safety to both human and animals. The group said the GM crop will stand in the way of sustainable solutions such as ecological agriculture.’
Ogoyi said the product has been assessed to ensure that it is safe as food and feed for animals, and the oil derived from this product is as good as that derived from the conventional crop.
Speaking during a study tour of Mwea Bt cotton NPT site, Industrialisation PS Betty Maina said the results from this demonstration site will be used to give feedback to other policymakers in order to decide on the adoption of this technology.
“Farmers have long given up on cotton due to the attack by the bollworm and this is a technology that has been proven around the world as resistant to the worm which is a threat to cotton production,” she said.
Maina said it is however important that the milling factory is also processing products that come from Kenya.
“Right now we are having to import cotton from other parts of the Continent in order to utilise the capacity that we have. It is important that we start to encourage farmers to plant high yielding varieties. This is just one step in the ministry of agriculture and environment giving confidence to farmers,” she said.
Research and crop development PS Hamadi Boga said it is important that as a country, every decision made should be guided by evidence, and that the only way to collect credible evidence is to perform experiments so that the results can explain themselves.
“Agriculture is driven by genetics. Where we want to be competitive, we must embrace superior genetics. The reason why our farmers are stuck in poverty is that we are using local things that are not competitive. So we are not farming like a business, we are just farming. GM technology has enabled countries like India to move to be the leading country in cotton production and in the textile industry,” said Boga.
He confirmed that all the cotton imported in Kenya is grown using this technology. The PS said: “So we can let our farmers cling to the old technology where they are not making anything while we keep importing out textile from elsewhere. For me as a scientists, this does not make sense because this experiment has shown that we can actually grow Bt cotton here, produce the textile and develop our industry.”
Boga said the experiment has been carried out for 17 years because scientists wanted to assure Kenyans of safety.
“I hope in future technologies can be adapted much faster. Sudan adopted the technology in two years, but in Kenya, we have a culture of dragging things because we don’t want to make decisions sometimes. But we must involve everyone because in the end we will all stand to benefit from this technology,” said the PS.
He said this is phase one of the NPTs and phase two will begin in the next rainy season in March to May and once the results are confirmed, it will be up to the policy makers, “the scientist will have done their part,” he noted.