To ease your site search, article categories are at bottom of page.

November 29, 2009

Kenya: Testing ground for GMOs

by Philip Brasher

What happens here in Kenya could change the way the world views genetically modified food. Whether it really makes a positive difference in the lives of Africans remains to be seen.

Why is Kenya key? The first reason is obvious enough. The first transgenic, drought-tolerant maize crop intended for east Africa will be grown in
field trials next year.

But there are other reasons why Kenya has to be watched: Kenya is on track to implement the first policy for regulating agricultural biotechnology in east Africa, and U.S. officials see the country as a gateway to opening the way for biotech crops in other countries in the region.

According to the USDA, Kenya actually imported 700,000 tons of white corn fromSouth Africa this year without testing for it for GMOs. That’s notable because most of the corn now grown in South Africa is genetically engineered.

Kenya also exemplifies both the potential as well as the problems facing African agriculture. The nation is a leading supplier of horticultural products to Europe, yet droughts regularly devastate farmers in large swaths of the country. When that happens, farmers bring their livestock into Nairobi, including some of the city’s lush, middle-class neighborhoods.

They are all gone now, but a friend described the scene recently this way: “Men moved 200 head of cattle into our neighborhood, along with a small herd of sheep. There is a vacant lot a block from us and they lived there, taking them out each day to eat what they could from alongside the road. They also ate vegetation like my palm trees, papyrus, or any green, growing thing.”

According to the projections, Kenya also faces the same challenges of adapting to climate change as other parts of Africa, and the United States, too, for that matter. Parts of the country, which already receive reliable rainfall, could actually increase crop yields, while other regions are likely to have even more problems with drought than they already do.

In any case, Kenya and the surrounding region need to increase their food supplies, either by producing more or importing more, to keep up with predicted population growth. Demand for corn, a staple food in much of Africa as rice is in Asia, is expected to nearly triple by 2050, according to a recent study by researchers at the International Livestock Research Institute.

In October I sat down with Columbia University's Pedro Sanchez, the 2002 World Food Prize winner for his work using trees to fertilize African crops, and asked him for his thoughts on this transgenic, drought-tolerant corn. Sanchez says the most immediate needs of smallholder farmers are access to fertilizers, good hybrid seeds, extension agents and reliable markets. But drought-tolerant corn is vitally needed, too, he says, because of the crop's vulnerability to dry spells and the importance of corn as a staple food.

Early Monday morning, I head to a research farm operated by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, or CIMMYT, where the transgenic corn trials are taking place and where researchers already are improving drought tolerance through conventional breeding. Later I’ll be visiting smallholder farmers, agricultural leaders, government officials, experts with NGOs, and others to learn more about the challenges facing food production and to get as wide array of views as possible on the prospects for a GMO crop.

Pulitzer Center

Article Categories

AGRA agribusiness agrochemicals agroforestry aid Algeria aloe vera Angola aquaculture banana barley beans beef bees Benin biodiesel biodiversity biof biofuel biosafety biotechnology Botswana Brazil Burkina Faso Burundi CAADP Cameroon capacity building cashew cassava cattle Central African Republic cereals certification CGIAR Chad China CIMMYT climate change cocoa coffee COMESA commercial farming Congo Republic conservation agriculture cotton cow pea dairy desertification development disease diversification DRCongo drought ECOWAS Egypt Equatorial Guinea Ethiopia EU EUREPGAP events/meetings expo exports fa fair trade FAO fertilizer finance fisheries floods flowers food security fruit Gabon Gambia gender issues Ghana GM crops grain green revolution groundnuts Guinea Bissau Guinea Conakry HIV/AIDS honey hoodia horticulture hydroponics ICIPE ICRAF ICRISAT IFAD IITA imports India infrastructure innovation inputs investment irrigation Ivory Coast jatropha kenaf keny Kenya khat land deals land management land reform Lesotho Liberia Libya livestock macadamia Madagascar maiz maize Malawi Mali mango marijuana markets Mauritania Mauritius mechanization millet Morocco Mozambique mushroom Namibia NEPAD Niger Nigeria organic agriculture palm oil pastoralism pea pest control pesticides pineapple plantain policy issues potato poultry processing productivity Project pyrethrum rai rain reforestation research rice rivers rubber Rwanda SADC Sao Tome and Principe seed seeds Senegal sesame Seychelles shea butter Sierra Leone sisal soil erosion soil fertility Somalia sorghum South Africa South Sudan Southern Africa spices standards subsidies Sudan sugar sugar cane sustainable farming Swaziland sweet potato Tanzania tariffs tea tef tobacco Togo tomato trade training Tunisia Uganda UNCTAD urban farming value addition value-addition vanilla vegetables water management weeds West Africa wheat World Bank WTO yam Zambia Zanzibar zero tillage Zimbabwe

  © 2007 Africa News Network design by

Back to TOP