At the centre of the raging debate in the past few days on the controversial genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is the safety of GM foods.
However, President William Ruto and his Cabinet have made it clear that the country must embrace GMOs. It started over a month ago when the government lifted a 10-year ban on GM foods.
The latest step is the authorisation of duty-free importation of 10 million bags of GM maize. That has refuelled the GM conundrum, even though the government says the imports are urgently needed to feed the four million hungry Kenyans.
It is, of course, the duty of any responsible government to ensure that the citizens do not starve. In addition to human casualties, famine in the arid and semi-arid counties due to a prolonged drought has also decimated livestock.
But it would be foolhardy to spend the country’s scarce foreign exchange on GM maize imports only to endanger people’s lives.
Trade Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria has even taunted fellow Kenyans by declaring that people are dying of other causes anyway and adding GM maize to that list is no big deal. The leaders must be driven by patriotism, not profits.
There is understandable concern over opening the floodgates for GM crops and crowding out local farmers. Such massive imports will not be in the interest of Kenyans. There is also worry over domination by multinationals of the GM value chain, especially in the generation and distribution of seeds.
The government must insist on credible research and expertise to confirm that GM products are actually fit for human consumption and will not cause harm to Kenyans, directly or indirectly. Secondly, flooding the market with imports could lead to a loss of income for local farmers. It would be sensible to determine the shortfall before sanctioning any imports.
Increased economic cooperation through trade is also desirable for the East African region. Let us buy from our neighbours first and only venture beyond if absolutely necessary.