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Divide of GMO bans

02 Dec

Globally-driven agricultural research and technology development, which defines Africa’s food security problems as being primarily about yield, poses the ‘quick fix’ of GM crops as particularly attractive. The multiple stressors that are driving food insecurity, including the interplay between inadequate access to water, poor soil fertility, climate change, inadequate infrastructure, weak markets, poverty, HIV/AIDS and civil war, are inadequately taken into account in developing solutions. There have emerged two sides to the divide between those who are pro GMO foods and those who are against them. With a virus threatening the crops of up to 70 percent of Kenya’s maize farmers, a number of lawmakers are calling for the country’s controversial ban on GMOs – genetically modified organisms – to be lifted for the sake of food security. If there is one thing you are almost guaranteed to find in a Kenyan kitchen, it is corn, known locally as maize. Corn is roasted by the side of the road, boiled with beans or ground into flour to make ugali, a Kenyan staple. For most Kenyans, maize is an irreplaceable part of their diet. Crop disease has put a huge risk on food security, the country’s cereal-growing heartlands have been ravaged by a virus called Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease. The Cereal Growers Association has said the disease could cut production this year by almost a third, with up to 70 percent of maize farmers affected.

Public Health minister Beth Mugo banned the importation of genetically modified foods in November 2012, it was seen as a timely precautionary move. It was expected to await urgent scientific verification of the findings in European research that linked GM maize to cancer in rat. Many bodies are against the importation of genetically modified crops. They state that GMOs are linked to health problems. Little is understood yet about the health effects of GMOs, but recent studies have shown animals fed with GM-containing feed can develop health problems. In many parts of the world including the EU, studies on GM crops can be carried out by the same companies that grow them, casting doubt on the quality and bias of data. They also state that GM crops fall into one of two categories: either engineered to resist chemical herbicides, or engineered to produce insecticides themselves. When herbicides are used on resistant crops, over time the weeds develop resistance, leading to the use of even more chemicals. Crops engineered to produce insecticides on the other hand produce toxins that are not only harmful to pests but other insects such as butterflies, moths and insect pollinators and that GM crops occupy large surface areas and are linked to intensive monoculture systems that wipe out other crop and ecosystems. A very compelling reason to keep out GM crops is that GM crops denature the role of farmers, who have always improved and selected their own seeds. GM seeds are owned by multinationals to whom the farmer must turn every new season, because, like all commercial hybrids, second-generation GMOs do not give good results. It is also forbidden for farmers to try to improve the variety without paying expensive royalties. Furthermore, farmers risk being sued by big corporations if their crops are accidentally contaminated with patented GM crops. Pollen from crops like oilseed rape is easily spread via wind and insects to neighbouring fields.

The pros and cons are sound in argument on both sides. One would implore the Kenyan government to extensively research the matter and come up with a tailored ultimatum that would suit Kenya itself and not for the benefit of multinational corporations.


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