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Some Kenyans still disagree on Sustainable Farming or GMOs

by Bedah Mengo NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- As the Kenyan government works to produce genetically modified crops, agriculture experts are calling for adoption of alternative food production systems instead, before the country thinks on embracing GMOs.

Kenya is expected to introduce genetically modified cotton, commonly referred to as Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) cotton, any time soon, with trials for Bt maize set to start.

The introduction of the cotton follows a directive by President Uhuru Kenyatta in June 2018, asking technocrats in the health and agriculture ministry to explore the farming of the cotton in bid to boost the textile industry.

Further, Kenya is in the next few months expected to make a decision on whether to lift a ban on genetically modified food imports, which has been in force since 2012.

The genetically modified plants have been fronted as the panacea for falling food production in the east African nation amid growing effects of climate change that include rise in pests and diseases.

But agriculture lobby groups note that before Kenya adopts GMOs, it should explore, invest in and research on alternative food production systems such as agro-ecology and organic farming.

"We should embrace organic farming by investing in research and explore ways to make it more popular to produce food that is safe.

"This mode of farming is key to better nutrition, food security, food sustainability and cares for Kenya’s biodiversity," Route to Food Initiative youth ambassador Emmanuel Atamba said at a recent meeting on GMOs and sustainable farming organized by Route to Food Initiative in Nairobi.

He noted that many countries are reaping big through organic farming, with crops selling at a premium.

"Many countries are offering a wide range of organic foods that they are exporting.

"In Kenya, organic food consumption is catching on, but it is still far behind the global movement, which is what the government should work on before introducing GMOs," he said.

He noted food insecurity is not a problem of quantity of produce, but rather affordability and sovereignty, thus genetically engineered seeds cannot solve this challenge.

"Genetically engineered seeds and crops are presented as a solution to achieving food security in Kenya and Africa, yet there are other forms of agriculture which give the farmer sovereignty and more yields," said Atamba.

Wanjiru Kamau, an agriculture policy expert, said genetically modified seeds and farm produce represent a corporate takeover of Kenya’s food systems as opposed to sustainable farming.

"Over-dependence on corporates for seeds and other farm inputs will increase the country’s vulnerability to shocks related to food production.

"It lures farmers into the use of agrochemicals and stands in the way of sustainable solutions such as ecological agriculture," said Kamau.

She observed that GMOs throw farmers into long-term dependencies, undermines critical biodiversity and promotes large-scale industrial agriculture, which exacerbates poverty particularly in a context where the majority of farmers are smallholder farmers.

Simon Mitambo, regional program coordinator at African Biosafety Network, noted that investing in sustainable farming methods such as agro-ecology and organic farming are risk free, unlike GMOs.

However, Theophilus Mutui, acting director for technical services at the National Biosafety Authority (NBA), assured that the institution is working to ensure the environment is protected when Kenya finally adopts GMOs.

NBA is currently conducting a national performance trial for Bt cotton in seven areas, including Kisumu, western Kenya. Bt maize has also been approved to undergo national performance trials, but this is yet to begin, said Mutui.


Scientists urge regulations to limit risk of genetically
modified crops to African consumers

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- African governments should establish solid regulatory frameworks to ensure that introduction of genetically modified crops pose minimal risk to communities and the environment, scientists said at a forum in Nairobi on Wednesday.

The international scientists attending an organic farming conference underway in Nairobi urged African countries to embrace agricultural biotechnology with caution given its potential risks.

"Genetically modified products come with inherent risks hence the need for countries in Africa to put in place safeguards before their introduction to farmers," said Judy Carman, director of Australia based institute of health and environmental research.

She warned that intensive use of herbicides and fertilizers that are the hallmarks of agricultural biotechnology could be detrimental to the health of farmers, consumers and fragile ecosystems in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Kenya is hosting a high-level conference to discuss innovative ways to harness nature-based assets to transform African agriculture amid threats linked to climate change, population pressure and shrinking arable land.

Senior policymakers, scientists and green campaigners attending the three-day conference agreed that rigorous scientific research combined with public awareness and strong regulations should precede adoption of genetically modified crops.

Tyrone Hayes, an American biologist said that capacity development for local scientists, consumer awareness and a strong inspection regime is an imperative to buffer African communities from potential risks of genetically modified crops.

"We cannot overlook the potential risks that large scale adoption of genetically modified crops could unleash to natural habitats in Africa," said Hayes.

"Consumer safety in particular must inform any attempts to transition African agriculture from subsistence to mechanization through intensive application of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides," he added.

Peter Mokaya, director of Nairobi-based Organic Consumers Alliance said that African countries should address policy, regulatory and capacity gaps before introducing genetically modified food crops.

Global forum resolves to boost organic farming in Africa

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- The first International Conference on Organic Farming concluded on Thursday with delegates endorsing a raft of measures to ensure food production systems in Africa are ecologically sound.

More than 500 delegates including policymakers, scientists, farmers and green campaigners attended the three-day forum in Nairobi to explore new strategies to boost adoption of organic farming in Africa.

The conference in its final communique resolved to lobby African governments to enact policies that promote organic farming as a means to achieve food security and transform rural livelihoods.

"We call upon African governments to align national policies to the ecological organic agriculture agenda whose implementation is key to achieve sustainable development goals and the Africa Union Agenda 2063," the delegates resolved.

Kenya hosted the first ever international conference whose objective was to revitalize organic farming agenda in Africa in the light of challenges linked to climatic shocks, population pressure and shrinking arable land.

David Amudavi, executive director of Nairobi-based Biovision Africa Trust, said that African countries are well-placed to scale up adoption of farming practices that are environmentally friendly subject to enactment of robust policies, training of small-holders and improved market linkages.

"The time is ripe to demystify the myth that organic agriculture cannot feed the world.

"It can work here in Africa if we train small-scale farmers how to harness organic inputs to grow food crops," said Amudavi.

Delegates attending the international organic farming conference in Nairobi resolved to raise awareness on the negative impact of intensive application of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides to produce food.

They also pledged to rally governments, industry and small-holder farmers towards establishment of a platform to foster sharing of knowledge and innovations required to boost uptake of organic farming.

Hans Rudolf Herren, president of Washington-based Millennium Institute, said that organic farming if adopted on a larger scale will help maintain a healthy balance between food security and environmental sustainability in Africa.


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