Kenya has for the first time allowed the importation of Genetically-Modified (GM) maize to address a biting food crisis as millions risk starvation.
Trade Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria on Thursday announced the government had made the tough call to allow duty-free importation of 10 million bags of GMO maize over the next six months.
The CS said he will issue a gazette notice today to authorise the importation and added that the government is ready to shoulder the potential backlash that could follow the decision.
This is some 4.2 million Kenyans especially in pastoralist areas face severe hunger due to severe drought that has persisted for months this year leading to food shortage.
“We have taken deliberate decisions to improve the current dire food situation in the country. We have decided to allow the importation of GMO maize into the country until the food situation improves,” said CS Kuria.
The move is however set to rattle local maize farmers who have ordinarily hoarded maize to drive up prices which has often led to high prices of maize flour.
The waiver of the ban comes at a time Kenya’s breadbasket areas of Uasin Gishu and Trans Nzoia are into the maize harvesting season which could prompt farmers to release more of the produce to the market before the influx of cheaper GMO maize imports.
Millers have on the other hand however over the years urged the government to lift the ban on GMO imports to boost the local grain stocks.
Whether or not no allow GMO crops and products to be cultivated or imported into the country has been a thorny issue for decades amid concern over the safety of GMO foods.
President William Ruto’s administration last month lifted a 10-year ban on open cultivation and importation of GMO crops following the recommendation of a task force that was put in place to review the safety of GMOs.
The Cabinet had in November 2012 issued a declaration prohibiting the open cultivation of GMOs as well as importation of food crops and animal feeds produced through biotechnology innovation.
Dr Ruto said the government had considered expert opinion from scientists over the suitability and safety of GMOs before lifting the ban in a move the President said is part of his administration’s medium and long term response to food insecurity.
The lift of the ban was however immediately met with an outcry from lobby groups, activists and sections of the public with cases filed in court to reverse the lifting of the ban.
“As part of the medium to long term responses to the ongoing drought, and as a progressive step towards significantly redefining agriculture in Kenya by adopting crops that are resistant to pests and disease,” said a statement from the Office of the President, “Cabinet also considered various expert and technical reports on adoption of biotechnology; including reports of the Kenya’s National Biosafety Authority (NBA), World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), United States of America’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).”
Also read: Lifting of the GMO food ban is misguided
Kenya has been battling a biting food shortage amid long droughts over the past two years which have heavily affected the production of maize, a staple food forcing Kenya to rely heavily on imports to plug the deficit.
Maize production declined by 12.8 per cent from 42.1 million bags in 2020 to 36.7 million bags in 2021 after a prolonged drought hit the agriculturally productive regions for extended period of last year.
This prompted former National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani in May to suspend import tax on maize imports of up to 540,000 metric tonnes to increase imports from outside the East African Community (EAC) in a bid to ease pressure on maize flour prices.
The government in July also extended duty-free maize imports for two more months to end of September to allow maize importers to ship in the produce to ease shortage of the cereal that has pushed up the cost of maize flour.
While the government’s decision to allow imports of GMO maize is likely to elicit strong opposition especially from food safety activists, GMO maize is often cheaper in markets that have authorized their cultivation and consumption compared to organic maize.
This comes at a time the cost of living remains high amid prices of basic commodities.
High food, transport and household commodities’ prices have elevated the country’s inflation further to a 5.4-year high of 9.6 per cent, highlighting the pain households continue to endure in the face of a worsening cost of living.