Next time you hear that rumor that GMOs are banned everywhere else in the world, you can add another country to the list of places that are embracing the technology.
Kenya is set to lift the ban on GMO crops by the end of 2015 and farmers will be able to purchase the seed ahead of the 2016 season.
Kenya will join three other African countries – South Africa, Burkina Faso and Sudan – that will allow for the cultivation of genetically modified crops. The first GMOs approved for cultivation will be Bt corn and Bt cotton. There are also 6 additional crops currently being tested by the Kenyan government, including drought-tolerant maize, biofortified sorghum, viral resistant cassava and gypsophila paniculata cut flowers.
The Bt varieties should be particularly helpful to farmers, who usually see their crops destroyed by the stem borer. It is estimated that the pest reduces the corn yields by an average of 13%, or 400,000 tonnes per year. Unfortunately for the stem borer, it cannot consume the Bt protein. To make the crops affordable for farmers, the crops will be sold royalty-free. In addition to having a larger crop, Kenyan farmers are expected to save around $700 per hectare, as the GMO crops will reduce the need for pesticides.
Scientists have been urging the country to lift the ban on GMOs to help the country deal with hunger and poverty. Kenya originally banned GMO products in 2012, primarily after claims by French scientist Seralini that the crops were dangerous and bad for health. If you remember, Seralini is the guy that contrived a thoroughly refuted and debunked “study” that allegedly found genetically modified crops caused health problems in rats. Though the study was originally published in a scientific journal, it was later revoked. In an effort to change public perception, Kenyan scientists had traveled to Spain and Belgium to conduct fact-finding missions, which included *gasp* eating genetically modified crops, and reported back that they had not suffered any adverse health effects. They also conducted reviews of the scientific research and empirical data supporting that GMOs are safe.
Regarding the lift of the 2012 ban on GMOs, Deputy President William Ruto said:
Various government ministries, departments and agencies concerned with biotechnology have already consulted and agreed on the necessary regulations and safety measures to be adhered to so that we can maximise on agricultural production, improve health services, conserve the environment and basically improve the living standards of our people.
As mentioned, the government has setup administrative review of the crops, prior to releasing them for use by farmers. The review process includes closed-field trials of the crops and public comment.
In a part of the world that is plagued by hunger and economic problems, I am so happy to see that Kenya has decided to embrace the technology. Beyond just tackling today’s challenges, by 2050 the world will be home to almost 9 billion people. If we want to feed them, then farmers all over the world will need to utilize the best technology available, including biotechnology, to increase our food supply.