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September 25, 2008

Export markets not threatened by introduction of GM crops,COMESA study concludes

A study by the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) has allayed fears that introducing genetic technology in agriculture may lead to market losses.

It indicates that even should such products be rejected, the decline in exports from the three East African countries would be insignificant. The study says there is little justification in the precautionary stance taken by countries, ostensibly in the conviction that they are preserving their trade interests and niche markets.

The low level of trading risk is attributed to the fact that most of the agricultural exports that importers may reject as possibly containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have not been commercialised as yet. These include tea, coffee, cocoa, pyrethrum, sugar tobacco, bananas and a wide range of horticultural products.

GM varieties of these commodities have not been developed and commercialised anywhere and so far there has been little commercial interest to develop them. The study analysed the value and volume of agricultural food and feed exports by African countries to various regions of the world including the EU.

The findings revealed that the share of total export value that might be rejected translates to 1.1 per cent for Kenya, 6.5 per cent for Uganda and 6.2 per cent for Tanzania.

European countries have been the most vocal in the campaigns against GM crops, even though some European countries such as Poland have started growing GM maize.

Last year marked the second highest global increase in area under GM crops in the last five years, with the total area now being estimated at 114 million hectares.

There are now 12 countries in the developing countries that are planting biotech crops, compared with 11 in the industrialised countries. Last year's growth rate in the developing world was three times that of industrialised nations (21 per cent compared to 6 per cent.)

Out of the global total 12 million beneficiary biotech farmers in 2007, over 90 per cent were small and resource-poor farmers from developing countries. Of these, most were cotton farmers followed by those growing biotech maize and soybeans.

According to Kenyan scientist Prof Calestous Juma, biotech crops must play an even bigger role in the next decade if African countries are to achieve the Millennium Development Goals of cutting hunger and poverty by half by 2015.

In Kenya, the regulatory frameworks are still in construction stage. The Biosafety Bill was time-barred in the last parliament, with the house being dissolved just as the Bill was going through its third and final reading.

The Citizen

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