Rwanda wary of GMOs use in East Africa

Saturday June 18 2016

Members of the Kenya Biodiversity Coalition protesting against the planned introduction of GMOs. PHOTO | FILE

Members of the Kenya Biodiversity Coalition protesting against the planned introduction of GMOs. Rwanda has expressed concern that it could face an influx of genetically modified crops from Kenya and Uganda, which are in the process of legalising genetically modified organisms (GMOs). PHOTO | FILE 

By Ivan R. Mugisha and Jean-Pierre Afadhali

Rwanda has expressed concern that it could face an influx of genetically modified crops from Kenya and Uganda, which are in the process of legalising genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources Geraldine Mukeshimana has warned that GMOs crop imports, particularly maize and bananas, will flood Rwanda as it has no regulatory mechanisms to check such imports.

“We need to fasttrack our biosafety standards to enable us deal with GMOs once they are in the country. They [EAC members] are ahead in setting biosafety standards, while we are still defining ours,” she said.

Ms Mukeshimana was speaking at the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa general assembly, hosted in Rwanda last Monday, where scientists provided differing opinions on the use of genetically modified seeds. GMOs and general scientific research in agriculture were extensively discussed.

Rwanda is resolute it will not lift a ban on GMOs despite a sharp decline in its crop yields in the face of erratic weather patterns and diseases like MLN, which affects maize crop.

The contribution of agriculture to the gross domestic product of Rwanda has declined in recent years to about 33 per cent in 2015 from 35 per cent in 2012.

Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have hinted that they could in the near future open up to the use of GMO seeds to increase their crop yields.

Kenya is mulling the decision after mounting pressure from the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro). The organisation is citing the increased drought as reason to use GMOs to increase yields.

In Uganda, the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill which was first tabled in 2013 to authorise the use of GMOs but is yet to be passed. Last year, Tanzania reviewed its law on GMOs, authorising scientists in the country to carry out trials on maize and cassava.

Safety reasons

Genetically modified seeds are said to be disease and drought resistant and their proponents claim that they are the “solution to famine in Africa.”

However, environmentalists and several agricultural groups have issued warnings that the use of GMO seeds has devastating consequences to the environment and health of the people.

“We have to be cautious before adopting GMOs. There are many things the country must do for safety reasons before authorising GMO seeds, but we carry out scientific research to improve crop yields,” said Dr Patrick Karangwa, the head of research at the Rwanda Agriculture Board, adding that, “although biotechnology is very important in improving agriculture yields, we have to be careful to avoid the adverse negative consequences that come with suing GMOs.”

Stephen Mugo, a proponent of GMOs and an agriculture expert based in Nairobi, said in an interview that Africa does not grow enough food for its population, which calls for the use of GMOs to multiply crop production.

His views were countered by Godelieve Mukamurezi, a researcher with the Rwanda Agricultural Board.