Kenya’s ban on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is on the verge of being reversed.
The African country may soon allow the use of genetically modified cotton and maize seeds following pressure from agribusiness giant Monsanto, USAID, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Kenya banned GMO imports in 2012 and the upcoming approval has been met with heavy protests by opponents.
Last year activists rallied in Nairobi against the lifting of the GMO ban, citing health concerns.
Lifting the ban is also perceived as a ploy that would benefit large multinationals such as Monsanto and other powerful organizations.
Monsanto’s modified cotton seeds produce insecticides to poison butterflies and moths.
Dr Charles Waturu, director of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), claims the Monsanto technology is the only solution, even though a recent Spanish study found Monsanto’s seed MON810 does not increase yields or reduce damage compared to natural maize.
Hillary Clinton, as US Secretary of State, visited KARI’s facilities in 2009. At the time, the activist watchdog group GM Watch highlighted the failure of the US$6 million USAID-Monsanto-KARI GMO sweet potato project.
Kenya’s National Biosafety Authority organized a forum last month to garner feedback about the Monsanto application, as required by law.
It says its final decision will be based on forum comments as well as a risk assessment and other socio-economic considerations.
Before the ban, Kenya began testing Bollard II in 2007 to determine its effectiveness against the bullworm pest that ruins cotton crops.
GM seeds can negatively affect soil and often flood markets, making it difficult for small farmers to keep up. Hybrid seeds are more difficult to germinate leading to increased costs for farmers.
The Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) is “a public/private partnership, led by the Kenyan-based African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Howard G. Buffett Foundation, and USAID”.
AATF, “a partnership between USAID, the Rockefeller Foundation, Monsanto, Dupont/Pioneer, Dow Agrosciences, Syngenta, and Aventis” and funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), has lobbied for the use of GMO in Kenya.
In 2008, AATF received US$47 million from the Gates Foundation, which has been criticized by global activists for pushing a “big agribusiness” approach to African farming.
Seattle-based AGRA Watch was founded following concerns about the Foundation’s influence and lack of transparency in Africa, as well as its close ties with Monsanto and USAID.
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“Our biggest fear about GMOs is the cost of seed. It is Monsanto which will decide the cost since it has the copyright,” Lavi Mwololo, Kenya Small Scale Farmers Secretary-General said.
This can drive farmers out of business, particularly since Kenya’s cotton is largely produced by small growers.
Speaking at the NBA forum, Waturu cited India as an example of the “successful” use of Monsanto’s Bt-cotton seed: “In India, Bt-cotton is increasing by a million hectares a year and I don’t understand why Kenya should not borrow the technology.”
Monsanto also has been accused of contributing to the suicides of hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers who end up in debt.
GMOs were legalized in India in 2002. Despite initial declines in the use of insecticides, by 2013 it returned to pre-GMO levels while yields plateaued nationally.
If Kenya lifts its ban on GMO seeds, it would be the fourth African country after Burkina Faso, South Africa, and Sudan.