Kenya endures GMO maize dilemma


GMO maize. Photo credit: Xochiquetzal Fonseca/CIMMYT.

JOHANNESBURG, (CAJ News) – THE Kenyan government’s legal loss in its efforts to import genetically modified (GMO) maize is seen as a setback in addressing food insecurity in the country.

President William Ruto’s administration lost at the Court of Appeal, which ruled the matter was of public interest and the government could not impose the move without consultations with the citizenry.

The verdict is a victory for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that had criticized the government’s plans but economist, Wandile Sihlobo, expressed disappointment.

He noted Ruto wanted to lift the ban on cultivating and importing GMO white maize in East Africa’s economy in response to growing food insecurity.

Kenya is among countries in the region worst affected by the driest spell in four decades.

“The country has struggled with drought in the recent past and remains a net importer of maize,” Sihlobo, chief economist at the Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz) said.

The South African-based expert said the liberalization of the Kenyan maize seed market would have benefited farmers, in the same way as in South Africa, Brazil and the United States.

“In fact, the sentiment towards the cultivation and importation of GMO crops is changing worldwide, partly because of the global food crisis and countries’ efforts to boost domestic production,” Sihlobo added.

At the beginning of June 2022, the Chinese National Crop Variety Approval Committee released two standards that clear the path for cultivating GMO crops.

“Now that this hurdle has been cleared, the commercialization of GMO crops in China is a real possibility,” Sihlobo said.

He noted South Africa was an early adopter of GMO technologies and began planting GMO maize seeds in the 2001/2002 season.

According to the economist, before their introduction, average maize yields in South Africa were about 2,4 tonnes per hectare. This is said to have increased to an average of 6,3 tonnes per hectare in the 2022/23 production season.

Meanwhile, the sub-Saharan African maize yields remain low, averaging below 2 tonnes per hectare.

Sihlobo said while yields are also influenced by improved germplasm (enabled by non-GM biotechnology) and improved low and no-till production methods (facilitated through herbicide-tolerant GM technology), other benefits include labour savings, reduced insecticide use and enhanced weed and pest control.

Sihlobo believes Kenya is struggling to meet its annual maize needs and importing over 500 000 tonnes yearly, using new technologies, GMO seeds, and other means should be an avenue to boost production in future.

Allowing for imports of GMO maize from South Africa, the US, and South America is projected to have helped soften Kenya’s domestic maize prices, which are currently double in South Africa, trading around US$500 per tonne.

The issue of GMOs is a divisive one. Critics believe GMOs involve allergies, cancer, and environmental issues — all of which may affect the consumer.

– CAJ News


















scroll to top