What you need to know:
- Ms Chepkonga said Baringo County will be at the forefront in adoption of GMO maize and other crops once the court case that has so far stopped cultivation and importation of these crops ends.
- Scientists in Kenya have developed maize varieties that are drought tolerant and insects resistant, which can withstand the effects of harsh climatic conditions and stalk borer pests.
With production in farms dwindling due to changing weather patterns and the adverse effects that put pressure on the country’s budget, 12 counties are ready to embrace Genetically Modified (GMO) crops to overcome the effects of climate change.
The devolved units’ Agriculture executives argue that erratic rains and invasion of pests and diseases now calls for advanced seed technology in order to withstand harsh climatic conditions and restore production.
They want the Kenya University Biotechnology Consortium- a body bringing together seven state universities - to reach out to farmers through public participation to enhance the adoption of crops developed through modern technology in their counties.
The executives noted that eliminating pest damage to maize and other crops using genetic engineering may enhance food security in their counties, improve food safety and reduce recurrent chemical spray, thus protecting the environment. Risper Chepkonga, Baringo’s Agriculture executive, said they had to cope with extended dry spell in this year’s long rain season, a move that will have negative effects in the coming harvest.
“We had expected that we would harvest more this season, but we went for three months without rain, and looking at the maize now, we will not get what we had projected,” said Ms Chepkonga.
Ms Chepkonga said Baringo County will be at the forefront in adoption of GMO maize and other crops once the court case that has so far stopped cultivation and importation of these crops ends.
Scientists in Kenya have developed maize varieties that are drought tolerant and insect-resistant, which can withstand the effects of harsh climatic conditions and stalk borer pests.
Joel Ochieng, head of the Agricultural Biotechnology Programme at the University of Nairobi, said farmers lose up to 60 per cent of their entire maize crop to stalk borer in Kenya, putting more pressure on limited available stocks. “If we adopt Bt maize, it means that we would have cut the losses occasioned by stalk borer, hence restoring yields by at least 60 per cent, which would have been lost to these insects,” said Dr Ochieng.
Dr Ochieng, who is also the secretary-general of the Kenya University Biotechnology Consortium, reiterated the safety of GMO products available in the country, noting the rigorous safety measures and tests that these products undergo before any can be approved for use.
Trans-Nzoia ‘s Executive Phanice Khatundi said the county is ready to adopt the technology given the fact that provision of Bt seed can play a critical role in improving yields. However, she said public education is needed so that farmers can understand the GMO crops, which will help them make informed decision.
“My indication is that as a county our main agenda is productivity and value addition. When it comes to productivity by default anybody will go by any means to increase productivity,” said Ms Khatundi.
West Pokot’s Wilfred Longronyang said as a drier region, they have suffered both the effects of drought and emerging pests that invade the little that is there, pointing out that superior seeds that can withstand the two menaces will be helpful to the county.
“This new seed technology that has been developed through biotechnology can withstand the effects of drought and pests and can play a major role towards food security,” he said.
Agriculture Chief Officer for Uasin Gishu Elphas Kesio said with the effects of climate change, technology remains the only option to fight dwindling production, saying as the county they support Bt maize.
However, he decried the level of misinformation reaching the public on GMO, saying scientists have to work extra hard to pass the right information to members of society. “GMO is a good technology but what is missing is passing the correct information to the public, which can be achieved through public participation,” said Mr Kesio.