KENYA – University lecturers have accused the State of double standards in its handling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
They said the government had formed agencies to enforce a ban on GMOs even as it finances biotechnology research in local universities.
“The National Biosafety Authority, which enforces the ban, is running on taxpayers’ money yet we also have students doing research in this field with money from government institutions,” said Joel Ochieng’, the secretary-general of the Kenya University Biotech Consortium during a GMO seminar at Kenyatta University on Tuesday.
The lecturers said taxpayers’ money invested in putting up biotechnology infrastructure and developing skilled human resource are at risk of going to waste due to the ban.
Richard Oduor, senior lecturer in the department of biochemistry and biotechnology at Kenyatta University, described the ban as an impediment to biotechnology research.
He added that local scientists could be forced to look for employment in countries with favourable laws.
“As lecturers, it feels like we are offering terminal courses to our biotechnology students who would like to specialise on GMO technology. So they are also suffering,” he said.
Dr Oduor said the ban was also a hindrance to job creation in a country with many unemployed people.
“Biotechnology companies that previously wanted to set shop in Kenya are now reluctant to do so due to this unfavourable law. Yet they would have provided jobs for Kenyans,” he said.
The researchers were equally concerned that maize millers in the country at times work at less than 50 per cent capacity due to inadequate grain supply yet they are not allowed to import GMO maize. “This is bad for business,” they said.
They urged the government to lift the ban on GMO and concentrate on the benefits of the technology.
“Through it, we can develop high yielding, drought tolerant and disease resistant crops that will boost food security in this country,” said Dr Ochieng’.
Some of the GMO projects currently underway in the country include research on Bt-cotton that is resistant to local pests, development of water-efficient maize varieties and cassavas which are resistant to viruses that cause havoc to the crops.