Chief execute members for Agriculture in counties have backed the adoption of Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) crops to tame perennial food shortages in the country.

The ministers argue that with the effects of climate change, technology remains the only way to restore production on farms.

However, they want relevant stakeholders, especially the Kenya University Biotechnology Consortium (KUBICO) to lead a public campaign by creating awareness to enhance the adoption of these crops that have been developed through modern technology.

The County Ministers in the North Rift and Eastern Kenya want KUBICO to reach out to farmers in their Counties to help growers understand these crops and make an informed choice on adoption.

Dr Joel Ochieng from the University of Nairobi with Joyce Mutua, CEC Agriculture Makueni. Photo:BDA.
Dr Joel Ochieng from the University of Nairobi with Joyce Mutua, CEC Agriculture Makueni. Photo:BDA.

Speaking during a visit by the Consortium to the Counties of Baringo, West Pokot, Trans-Nzoia, Taita Taveta, Makueni and Uasin Gishu, the County heads noted that eliminating pest damage to maize and other crops using genetic engineering may enhance food security in their counties, improve food safety, and reduce recurrent chemical spray, thus protecting the environment.

“We are ready to collaborate on sensitising farmers because we need our County to be food secure”, said Risper Chepkonga, Baringo County CEC for Agriculture.

Wilfred Longronyang, CEC Agriculture West Pokot asked the researchers to organise a demonstration on the insect-protected Bt maize to the farming community in the County, saying convincing the County government alone will not achieve the desired adoption levels.

“We would want to have a demo plot in the county so that farmers can see this GMO crop and attest to its attributes. This will convince them in making up their minds when it comes to adoption,” said Mr Logronyang.

In Uasin Gishu, the Agriculture Chief Officer, Elphas Kesio decried the level of misinformation reaching the public on genetically modified organisms (GMO), saying scientists have to work extra hard to pass the right information to the public.

Taita Taveta CEC for Agriculture Eric Kyongo said the effects of climate change in the country currently present a strong case for the adoption of biotechnology crops in the country.

“Taita Taveta is a dry county and we have witnessed the effects of drought on food production here, these conditions call for the adoption of seeds that are drought tolerant in order to improve our production,” said Mr Kyongo.

In Makueni County, Agriculture CEC Joyce Mutua concurred with her counterparts, pointing out that the adverse effects of changing climate patterns can only be contained by the use of superior seed.

Joel Ochieng, head of the Agricultural Biotechnology Programme at the University of Nairobi, said farmers lose up to 60 percent of their entire maize crop to stalk borer in Kenya, putting more pressure on limited available stocks.

“If we adopt Bt maize, it means that we would have cut the losses occasioned by stalk borer, hence restoring yields by at least 60 percent, which would have been lost to these insects,” said Dr Ochieng.

Dr Ochieng, who is also the Secretary-General of the Kenya University Biotechnology Consortium, reiterated the safety of GMO products available in the country, noting the rigorous safety measures and tests that these products undergo before any can be approved for use.

Trans-Nzoia County CEC Phanice Khatundi Naliaka said the county is ready to adopt technology given the fact that provision of Bt seed can play a critical role in improving yields, however, she said public education is needed so that farmers can understand the GMO crops, which will help them make informed decision.

“My indication is that as a county our main agenda is productivity and value addition. When it comes to productivity by default anybody will go by any means to increase productivity,” said Ms Khatundi.

The ban imposed on GMO foods in Kenya in 2012 was lifted by the Cabinet in October 2022. However, Members of Parliament from the North Rift and other key maize growing areas in Western Kenya rejected the move, as well as key political leaders allied to the Azimio Coalition who have petitioned the government and rallied their followers to reject the products.

Through civil society organizations, two Court cases challenging the lifting of the ban are currently in the High Court, which consequently put a temporary hold on GMO maize imports and cultivation.

The MPs from maize growing areas in the North Rift vigorously campaigned against GMO in parliament when the matter came up for debate.

The legislators said wider consultation needed to be conducted before such action is taken. However, a section of youthful MPs has teamed up with the experts to sensitize the public on the safety and benefits of local cultivation of genetically engineered crops such as Bt maize, noting that the main problem with the technology is deliberate misinformation.