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OKOTH: Lift GMO ban to cure chronic hunger

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By SULEIMAN OKOTH
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While more than a million Kenyans face starvation due to poor performance of the October-December rains, as confirmed by the National Drought Management Authority, Kenya has, sadly, not considered technology as a solution to its chronic drought and food shortage.

The ban on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), also known as transgenic or genetically engineered crops (GE), is not only baffling but tantamount to denying smallholder farmers an opportunity to improve their lives and holding hostage the advancement of biotechnology research.

The Ministry of Health imposed the ban in 2012. Kenya University Biotechnology Consortium (Kubico) and university student leaders have petitioned Parliament to lift it, as biotechnology students cannot benefit from research, field trials, training and career development opportunities.

Consequently, Kenya’s technical capacity to deal with biotechnological challenges and compete globally is compromised.

There are also concerns that the ban will impede progress in agriculture and food security studies and stall biotechnology research and development projects on food safety and security.

And unnecessary delays and bureaucracy in approving GM products contribute to the slow agricultural and biotechnological development in the country.

But opponents cite safety concerns as among the reasons they are against GMOs.

While these concerns cannot be wished away, the government should work with the regulatory bodies as these can only be addressed through credible scientific evidence devoid of bureaucracy and misinformation.

The government must support research institutions and regulatory systems governing GMO safety to promote innovation and safe use of agricultural biotechnology as per global standards. That will allay unnecessary fear of GMOs.

The Cartagena Protocol on Biodiversity, which Kenya signed in 2000 and ratified in 2003, aims at ensuring adequate protection in the safe transfer, handling and use of GMOs resulting from modern biotechnology.

Numerous studies have proved the safety of GM crops and how they can be used to boost agricultural productivity worldwide.

Over 2,000 peer-reviewed scientific research that examined GM crop safety — particularly on human health and environmental impact — have concluded that GMOs are as safe as crops developed by conventional breeding techniques such as pollination.

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It is not surprising, therefore, that countries such as the United States, Brazil, Argentina, India, China and South Africa have taken the lead in embracing the technology.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), GM foods’ safety should be assessed on a case-by-case basis, not general statements made on the matter.

Besides outlining how GMOs should be handled, the Biosafety Act, 2009 set up the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) to manage them.

The ban however undermines the role of the regulatory authorities — such as NBA and Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (Kephis).

According to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), promising policy initiatives on GMOs should include making biosafety regulations that do not make GM crop development overly expensive while fostering intraregional trade in the crops and providing more and better information to sceptical consumers.

But why should we allow fear and misinformation to cloud our judgement on a technology that can potentially transform the lives of smallholder farmers and has been proven to work safely elsewhere?

It would be beneficial and practical for the government to back regulatory authorities and scientists in promoting public participation and sharing experiences on how to harness the benefits of GMO technology and minimise its risks.

There is a greater need for policymakers to make informed choices based on factual information from independent and credible authorities if smallholder farmers are to benefit from agricultural technologies and help the country address chronic drought and hunger.

Though GMO technology is not the only technology that can address our food safety challenges, it is one of the proven ways to improve food production, address challenges of drought by genetically modifying crops to withstand drought, improve nutrition and avoid the harmful pesticides and herbicides.

The lifting of the GMO ban will not only be a timely intervention but also a major step towards attaining food security.

Mr Okoth is a programme officer at African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF). [email protected] nmsu.edu



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

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Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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