In GMO, hope is beckoning for farmers

Monday August 21 2017

Genetically engineered maize. This is an abstract depiction of genetic engineering. The syringe represents the introduction of genes into the maize. PHOTO | CRISTINA PEDRAZZINI| AFP

Genetically engineered maize. This is an abstract depiction of genetic engineering. The syringe represents the introduction of genes into the maize. PHOTO | CRISTINA PEDRAZZINI| AFP 

By GILBERT ARAP BOR
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The August 8 elections marked a turning point as our nation is set to embrace the role of scientific advancement to develop innovative processes to feed its people.

I’m optimistic that, in two years, I will finally enjoy access to the GMO seeds that farmers in many other countries take for granted.

The world’s attention is fixed on Kenya’s politics rather than its agriculture. Barring a complication, President Uhuru Kenyatta and his running mate, Deputy President William Ruto, will be sworn into office yet again.

Unfortunately, Nasa presidential candidate Raila Odinga has refused to concede and we’ve seen deadly clashes between his supporters and security forces.

Thankfully, we have not witnessed anything like the horror of a decade ago, when more than 1,000 people died following the 2007 elections.

SUPREME COURT

Nasa has since filed a petition in Supreme Court and, like other Kenyans, I hope that now we can get on with our ordinary lives.

Most of us are, of course, farmers as agriculture dominates the economy.

Food security played a major role in the presidential campaigns. The price of unga—our staple food—had risen sharply, due in part to drought. People were hungry and worried.

President Kenyatta and his deputy Ruto have stressed the importance of having affordable food and the government imported and subsidised maize so that, by June, consumers were able to buy a 2kg packet of unga at Sh90.

There are no simple solutions to the problem of food security, but we’re on the brink of adopting a technological tool that promises to help—and the results of last week’s elections might represent a crucial step along the way.

CAMPAIGNS

Few public figures addressed GMO farming issue during the campaigns. President Kenyatta never brought it up, specifically, even as he discussed the importance of fertiliser, irrigation and mechanisation; more specifically, the fact that the Jubilee government will subsidise fertiliser for prices to go down from Sh1,800 to Sh1200 per 50kg bag.

Only Mr Ruto has talked about GMOs directly.

I’ve known Mr Ruto since he was first elected to Parliament 20 years ago from my home county of Uasin Gishu.

I’ve watched him rise in government, serving as the Minister for Agriculture and later for Higher Education.

In 2013, he became Deputy President.

Mr Ruto has called for Kenya to adopt GMO. In Eldoret last month he called for investments in textile mills to take advantage of the impending adoption of Bt cotton.

The coming of GMO cotton should increase rural and industrial prosperity, creating wealth and jobs for our people.

BT MAIZE

On August 1, teams from Ministry of the Environment, the Kenya National Biosafety Authority, Kalro, other scientists and farmers were invited to Kitale, Trans Nzoia County, to witness the performance of the Bt maize versus conventional maize in a confined field trial (CFT), which was sowed on May 5.

I hope to have access to Bt maize by 2019—and that Kenyan scientists will develop varieties that fend off weeds, fight pests and survive drought.

Mr Ruto is, indeed, in a prime position to be a real champion of agricultural technology. GMOs should become a serious issue in Kenya.

Another strong voice for GMOs is Dr Wilbur Ottichillo, the new Vihiga governor, who strongly supported the campaign in Parliament.

GMOs are ultimately about sound science and economic opportunity, rather than political manoeuvring.

 Dr Bor, a dairy and maize farmer, also teaches at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, Eldoret Campus. [email protected]