AFRICA – The United States is seeking African governments’ approval of genetically engineered (GMO) products given various restrictions on GMO imports in various African countries.

TheEastAfrican has reported that a Trump administration official is visiting Africa to promote acceptance of the engineered crops as a way to meet the continent’s food needs while also fostering improvements in human health.

Peter Haas, a State Department trade-policy specialist started his African tour at a three-day biotechnology conference in South Africa, from where he will be heading to Ethiopia to discuss adoption of GMO products with African Union officials at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa.

“The take-up of genetically-engineered products has been relatively slow in Africa,” said Haas to reporters.

He added, however, that the US is “encouraged by the increasing use of them throughout the continent.”

While Ethiopia is marked as a leader in African adoption of GMO technology, Kenya is mentioned to be gradually easing its opposition to genetically engineered crops.

In June, the US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer warned that the US plans to file cases in international forums against governmental restrictions on GMO imports that are not science-based.

The East African situation

The Kenyan government, with support from activists has linked slow growth to potential health concerns and negative impacts on native seed varieties and smallholders.

Kenya is considered a leader in East Africa in confined field trials of genetically modified maize and cassava crops.

The country has moved a step ahead in adopting GMO Technology by recently unveiling plans to start growing genetically modified cotton on commercial basis next year.

This will make it the first to in East Africa to grow GMOs in open fields, and fourth in Africa after South Africa, Burkina Faso and Sudan.

The Kenyan government is expected to lift a ban imposed on importation of GM food in 2012 while Tanzania has reviewed its law on GMOs, paving the way for scientists in the country to start carrying out confined trials.

According to Haas, farmers in the US grow genetically engineered maize resistant to infestation by the fall armyworm, which poses a major threat to Kenyan agriculture.

Scientists are also engineering drought-resistant crop varieties that could enable Kenya and other countries to avoid food shortages.

On the other hand, anti-GMO groups such as the Kenya Biodiversity Coalition argue that smallholders risk loss of “sovereign control of their seeds” as US companies push to enhance their access to African markets.