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July 21, 2011

GM maize importation controversy rages on in Kenya

by Peter Orengo and George Olwenya

Controversy over the importation of genetically modified (GM) maize deepened after some MPs claimed the Government had allowed a miller to import before the gazettement of biosafety regulations.

The MPs, mostly from the country’s bread basket of Rift Valley, said by bringing in GM maize, farmers will have no market for their produce.

“Why is the Government intent on exposing its citizens to harmful effects of GM maize yet farmers still have surplus maize?” said Cherangani MP Joshua Kutuny.

His Belgut counterpart Charles Keter argued that the Sh15 billion the Government plans to use to import GM maize is enough to empower farmers to produce non-GM maize.

“There is more to this GM maize issue than meets the eye. The Government has been aware of the surplus maize produced by farmers in the Rift Valley and western Kenya, but has refused to buy it,” said Keter.

Migori MP John Pesa, who is also a member of the Agricultural Parliamentary Committee, claimed the maize being sold to Kenya is unfit for human consumption.

The MPs vowed to join the anti-GMO civil society groups to fight the importation of such maize.

The chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture John Mututho claimed the country has no capacity to handle genetically engineered crops. He said the Government should have first set up clearing facilities at all ports of entry that are fully equipped with modern laboratories and qualified personnel.

“Those who have been pushing for the publication of the law to allow importation of GMO are maize cartels eager to cash in on the current drought. What has happened is not scientifically proven. We are going to expose millions of Kenyans to the wrong food,” said Mututho.

An attempt by the Agriculture committee to investigate the maize was stopped by what Mututho called “a highly organised cartel.”

The Consumers Federation of Kenya (Cofek) has called for sober debate on the GM issue. The Federation’s Secretary General Stephen Mutoro said Cofek supports the importation of GM maize, as a stopgap measure to help starving Kenyans but not as a Government policy.

Farmers in the North Rift told the Parliamentary Committee on Food and Cost of Living that the GM maize would hurt them, as the commodity would flood the markets.

Jackson Kibor, a farmer in Uasin Gishu, blamed unscrupulous businessmen for the importation of the commodity. Another farmer Patrick Chepkwony said the introduction of the GM maize was an insult to the local farmers and said the maize could pose a health risk to Kenyans.

Meanwhile, on Monday Lands Minister James Orengo claimed the Cabinet did not approve importation of the maize. He maintained that the undertaking could be a plan by certain individuals and grain cartels that do not care about the consequences and the risks of endangering the lives of Kenyans.

“We have not discussed or endorsed the importation of GM maize as a Cabinet and whoever made the announcement cannot purport to be speaking on behalf of the government,” said Orengo.

The process towards a Biosafety Act was started when Parliament approved the Biosafety Bill (2008), and the President assented to it in February 2009. This was followed by the establishment of the National Biosafety Authority (NBA), to exercise general supervision and control over transfer, handling and the use of GMOs.

The biosafety regulations have already been gazetted, making NBA a lame duck and raising fears that Kenyans could be consuming GMOs which have not been certified.

In Africa countries that have so far embraced genetically modified foods are South Africa, Egypt and Burkina Faso.

The Standard

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