Kenya’s ambition to become a middle-income country is enshrined in Vision 2030. The delivery of this target is driven by a series of five-year medium term plans, the first of which, ended in 2012 with remarkable achievements in the science, technology and innovation sector.
The second one kicked off in 2013, running through 2017. The second plan outlines priority projects and programmes within STI that will enable the country to harness science technology and innovation for regional and global competitiveness.
Generally speaking, Kenya comes second after South Africa in adopting new innovations and technologies that help to address various socioeconomic challenges.
Within the government’s second medium plan framework, biotechnology and biosciences programmes have been singled out and given due weight in driving the government priorities in STI sector.
Under biotech and biosciences programmes, the government commits to; first, establish centres of excellence in biotech research in research and higher learning institutions; second, to develop human capacity for biotech research and product development; and to deliver genetically modified crop varieties for commercial production by Kenyan farmers.
Through the funding support from the government, research organisations like Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation and higher learning institutions such as Kenyatta University boast of state-of-the-art biotech labs. In these labs are ongoing biotech researches on various crops like cassava and sweet potatoes to improve their productivity.
Researchers from these institutions work hard to deliver to Kenyan farmers — as stipulated in the second plan — improved crop varieties with higher yields and which are resistant to harsh climatic conditions in the country.
Adoption of improved and innovative agricultural technologies, including biotechnology can reduce food insecurity in the country and place Kenya amongst the top five countries in Africa using the technology.
The manner in which the government has handled the ban on the importation of GM foods into the country depicts a government in parallel — good at paper work but slow to act where an urgent science-driven approach is needed.
In its second medium-term plan, the government commits to fully exploit the benefits of biotechnology. It is prudent that the government moves with speed and considers lifting the ban on GMO food imports to fast-track the implementation of its development agenda.
Biotechnology revolution is one of the two major cornerstones of the 21st century socio-economic progress, the other being ICT which is revolutionizing all aspects our lives, which Kenya should not miss out on.
The writer is science commentator and communication specialist based in Nairobi.