Rwanda says it is counting on Kenya to be a responsible member of the region by ensuring transparent information is shared with neighbouring EAC countries on all genetically modified (GM) seeds and food products imported.
Kigali’s sentiments must have come as a relief to the Kenyan government, coming on the back of recent support by a scientific lobby of African scientists who this week said genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are safe for human consumption and the environment.
There is public debate in Kenya after the government in September lifted a ban on GMO foods and seeds, prompting a suit that resulted in a temporary court order stopping importation.
Now Rwandan authorities have jumped into the fray, saying they want Kenya to abide by international laws such as the Cartagena Protocol to ensure others are not harmed by its actions on GMOs.
The Rwanda Inspectorate, Competition and Consumer Protection Authority (RICA) said it expects Nairobi to abide by international biosafety laws.
“In this regard, testing is not a very important aspect as countries are requested, under the Cartagena Protocol, to which both Kenya and Rwanda are signatories, to be transparent and to share information on transboundary movement of GMO. Both countries have competent authorities that have the mandate to implement provisions of the protocol,” the authority said.
“We believe that this particular trade will be handled through the existing regulatory framework and through the existing good collaboration between the two parties.”
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity, passed in 2003 is the basic international law on biosafety, allowing countries to restrict importation of GMOs if they believe there is insufficient evidence on their safety. Countries routinely require GMO foods to be labelled as such and retain rights to restrict biosafety technologies that could harm public health.
Porous EAC borders
Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda have raised concerns over potential infiltration of banned GMO products through the porous EAC borders, with Burundi warning that it had neither the capacity nor the technology to test for GMOs.
Rwanda said it uses a national reference laboratory for testing but does not have a GMO policy in place. Officials say this complicates regulation and gatekeeping of GMO products.
But the lobby of African scientists backing Kenya on GMOs has sought to re-assure Kenyans.
“We would like to assure Kenyans that GMO products are safe,” said Prof Ratemo Michieka, the chair of the Kenya National Academy of Sciences, at the close of a three-day conference for scientists under the Network of African Science Academies (Nasac).
The scientists recently met and discussed GMOs as a solution to the growing hunger problem in Africa at the African Science Academies 2022 held in Nairobi from November 28-30.
The scientists called on governments to put in place structures to enhance research and collaboration on the continent.
“Many African countries are facing declining agricultural productivity and food insecurity. The discussions during the three-day conference were focused on the latest ideas and appropriate solutions and technologies that come and enhance sustainable agriculture and food systems in Africa,” said Prof Nobert Hounkonnou, Nasac president.
In Kenya, trials on GMOs have been ongoing in laboratories and in research fields throughout the decade despite the ban.
“GMO plants have no danger whatsoever to the indigenous plants,” argued Prof Michieka.
“They can grow side by side or even mixed, with no impact at all.”
Africa lags behind in the adoption of modern food production technologies and especially GMOs. Only a handful of countries on the continent have commercialised GM crops at various levels, namely South Africa, Sudan, Egypt and Burkina Faso.
“African countries have the scientific infrastructure and the human capacity to carry out the research and give the right advice. We can’t just say don’t allow it without scientific evidence, yet we have a worsening food situation in the region,” said Prof Michieka.
Reporting by Pauline Kairu and Moses K. Gahigi