The genetically modified maize debate took a fresh twist yesterday after it emerged that the government had ordered 11 tonnes of seeds from South Africa for the next planting season in January next year.
The National Biosafety Authority (NBA) yesterday said it had ordered the maize seeds following the decision by the Cabinet to lift the ban on the cultivation and use of GM foods and crops in the country.
According to the NBA, the seeds of Bt maize are not affected by pests that attack other maize seeds, which have been proven to affect a little over 12 per cent of the total crop in farms.
Bt maize has been genetically altered to have one or more proteins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which is poisonous to certain insect pests.
“The Bt maize has been approved for use in this country. Various institutions have been researching the safety of GM maize and we are satisfied that it is safe for cultivation and consumption, both for people and the environment,” said Dr Roy Mugiira, the NBA chief executive officer.
The NBA, a creation of the Biosafety Act of 2009, has general supervision and control over the transfer, handling and use of genetically modified organisms to ensure the safety of human and animal health as well as provision of an adequate level of protection of the environment.
The research on Bt Maize, Dr Mugiira said, had been concluded by the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) and approved by the Kenya Plant Health Inspection Department (Kephis).
Kalro statistics show that 12 per cent of maize is damaged by insects and pests — including the maize stalk borer, one of the most abundant threats to the crop — with genetic modification able to eliminate that threat.
"Some farmers have been using sand or ash to deal with these insects but that is just ineffective. Bt maize will eliminate the challenge brought by these insects,” Dr Mugiira said.
Unlike normal maize seeds that need as high as at least 12 sprays until maturity, Bt Maize only needs three sprays to protect it.
Dr Mugiira also said Bt maize seeds are not affected by the fall armyworm, which has been decimating the crop across the country.
Kenya will be the fourth country in Africa to approve the growing of Bt maize after Malawi, Nigeria and South Africa.
The government has revealed plans to bring in the seeds, a few days after announcing that it will import 10 million bags of GM maize to help millions of Kenyans who are suffering from hunger.
Trade Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria said he will publish in the official Gazette a notice to allow GM maize to be imported into the country.
Yesterday, Dr Mugiira told the Nation that the authority had confirmed that the maize that docked at the Mombasa Port is not genetically modified.
"Our officers were at the port and confirmed that the maize that arrived came from Mozambique and is not GMO," said Dr Mugiira.