By Duncan Mboyah
A motion seeking to ban the development and importation of genetically modified foods in Kenya has been introduced into parliament for discussion but run into problems when a legislator Nobel Laureate Prof. Wangari Mathai who had earlier been proposed to second it changed her mind.
Prof. Mathai who had been singled out by the mover to second the motion refused to second saying that she needed to move some amendments to it.
“I am unable to second this motion and instead want to propose some amendments so that this important motion is not thrown out by colleagues”, says Prof. Mathai.
However another legislator Muchiri Gacara seconded the motion and the debate immediately started in earnest as he argued that the technology must be banned in the country since Kenya is not a dumping ground for Gmos.
The motion tabled by Saboti legislator Captain (Rtd) Davies Nakitare seeks for the banning of Gmos which he alleged are developed using chemicals hence unfit for human consumption as they are poisonous.
The legislator further said that chemicals were used in modifying the genes in crops to help make them either mature faster or resist certain pests an allegation that made Health assistant minister Dr. Enoch Kibunguchy, a scientist to protest.
Kibunguchy stated that the genes are modified to be resistant to certain pests adding that no chemicals are used in the process, but Nakitare insisted that to the best of his knowledge, chemicals are used adding that such laboratory arguments cannot help the public.
The retired soldier run into trouble from fellow legislators and the duty speaker of the assembly as it was clearly evidenced that there was no interest in discussing it.
Mwea legislator Alfred Nderitu in a separate interview supported the technology saying that the technology stands to benefit farmers by improving their living status.
He warns that plans to table the banning of the technology in the country will fail miserably adding that the idea is mooted by some civil society members who are bank rolled by developed nations who are opposed to Kenya benefiting from the technology.
He observed that the technology is very successful in South Africa amongst other developing and developed countries that have so far adopted it.
Nderitu challenged scientists to be at the forefront and tell the public the benefits of the technology that has so far been approved by the World Health Organization and the United Nations.
“Your knowledge seems wasted when you adamantly refuse to brief the public on your laboratory experiments as they may refuse to adopt your inventions”, he told scientists.
Alego Usonga legislator Sammy Weya who in the company of several legislators recently toured genetically modified farms in South Africa instead calls on the government to table the bill on biosafety and biotechnology in parliament to help open up the use of the technology in the country.
Weya noted that it took South Africa 11 years to develop the technology and suggest that for Kenya to be at per with the countries that are already gaining from the technology; a continent harmonization process should be adopted to enable other countries benefit given that its benefits are already well known.
In a separate media advertisement that appeared in the print media two days after the motion was tabled in parliament, the Kenya GMO Concern Coalition (KEGCO) a coalition of 22 civil society’s calls on the government to allow more time for discussion before approving the policy on the subject.
They rubbished an allegation that Gmos stands to create food security, as a marketing gimmick by marketers of the genetic engineering technology.
They warned Kenyans to be aware of the health implications from consuming Gmos as no long term testing has been done to fully understand its side effects.
KEGCO also questioned farmer’s right on sharing seeds with their neighbours adding that the intended purchase of the seeds yearly by farmers will be costly on the side of poor farmers.
The coalition alleged that genetically engineered seeds can easily contaminate the environment as they contain herbicides.
As this debate comes to the fore, it is worth noting that Kenya has not legally approved the development or importation of Gmos. However the country is far ahead of the east African counterparts – Uganda and Tanzania as it has so far allowed confined field trials for maize, cotton and sweet potatoes.
So far trials on maize and cotton have succeeded pending the debate on the biosafety and biotechnology policy bill that is due to be introduced in parliament.
The debate on whether or not to ban Gmos in Kenya was however suspended but will be deliberated later.