Kenya’s Cabinet has approved the importation of genetically modified maize as it seeks to curb a biting food shortage ravaging most parts of the country.
The move makes Kenya the first country in the region to allow GMO crops into the market for human consumption. Kenya is the most advanced country in the region in terms of GMO research and biosafety protocols, and analysts expect that the country’s experience in handling GMO crops in the market will be used as a model for other neighbouring countries to refine their own biotechnological practices.
Uganda’s Biotechnology Bill is still awaiting parliamentary approval six years after it was tabled, but the government is currently conducting research on genetically modified cassava, bananas and cotton. In Tanzania, research on GM cassava and field trials of maize are already under way, while Tanzania Cotton Board has announced its decision to introduce GM cotton.
The brief from the Kenya’s presidential press unit stated that only millers will be allowed to import GMO maize, which will only be used for processing into flour. The brief further stated that “no GMO maize should be used as seeds under any circumstances.”
Many farmers in Kenya and other developing countries tend to plant what they eat. Since GMO maize has the capacity to cross-pollinate non-GMO maize, the government is particularly keen to ensure this does not happen, in order to protect the infiltration and unregulated spread of genetically modified material.
The GMO maize is expected to be milled at the point of importation and transported as flour, so that the seeds have a limited chance of getting into the market, but the mechanisms to ensure this does not happen are not yet clear.
Kenya has also gone a step further, by protecting consumer’s right to information: The directive stipulates that all flour produced from GMO maize must be also clearly labelled as a product of GMO maize. It remains to be seen whether millers will follow the directive and label the maize as such.