By Koffi Barry

Inadequate information has emerged as the main reason behind the slow uptake of agri-biotech crops. Despite the enormous information on the safety of biotech crops, many are still skeptical and have not embraced the crops fully.

In a recent science café organized by the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) in Nairobi, scientists decried the state of the country as concerns the development of biotechnology. The government had banned the consumption of GMO’s in the country.  However scientists insist the crops are safe and can aid the country towards ensuring food security one of the government’s Big Four Agenda.

According to Professor Edward Nguu there is sufficient knowledge driving modern biotechnology and therefore it is sustainable and safe. “People only need to be given the right information to make informed decisions, society that cannot feed itself can easily lose its identity and pride he said.

Agri-biotech crops can for example take a short time to grow and are not prone to attack by pests and diseases a factor that makes them able to be a solution to the food security situation in the country where with floods and famine people have to rely on food aid.

In Kenya politics has however affected policies around biotechnology with politicians issuing information that contradicts scientific information. Even though the technology has not been understood in the country as there still exists myths and misconceptions, Dr Margaret Karembu a director at ISAAA posts that, “Technology has come to solve the problems and not to be the problem itself.  We need political support, we already have policies in place,” she added.

The political landscape has ensured that farmers are denied the much needed subsidies as is the case in countries that are doing better in terms of the production of the crops.

The political statements issued about the technology has been revolving around its safety. In allaying the fears, Professor Nguu said that the safety of the products and crops is guaranteed that the testing is done in the labs in presence of the regulator, the National Biosafety Authority (NBA). “Anytime we do our trials and tests, big brother is always watching to ensure safety. “

Despite the success of this technology elsewhere in other countries the crops are doing poorly even though they have the ability to contribute to the country’s GDP. The total acreage under agri-biotech crops has seen a steady risen from about 1.7m hectares to about 185.1million hectares in 2016 according to figures from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications.

Currently, Brazil is the second largest grower of biotech crops after the United States with a total of 49.1 million hectares as of 2016. This has contributed greatly to its GDP.

In Kenya for example, the demand for cotton is to a tune of 140,000 bales, but the production is about 21,000 forcing the country to rely on imports. With the potential of producing 2500kg per hectare, farmers get a paltry 572kg per hectare a fact that is blamed on poor seed variety with only 30,000 farmers in the country.

According to Dr. Dickson Kibata from the Fibre Crops Directorate, “Bt Cotton has the potential and can contribute to Kenya’s GDP by increasing the returns from  Kshs.3.5billion to about 2.1trillion and contribute to the creation of about 500, 000 cotton jobs and 100,000jobs by 2022.” This will help to alleviate the problem of unemployment which continues to bedevil the country. Currently, the country only has three ginneries in operation after others collapsed.

However there seems to be renewed resolve to correct the wrongs in the sector and sensitize governors from the cotton growing areas to draw support for the commercialization of the crops. “By the end of the year, we are hoping to have a launch if NEMA gives us the green light and by April we can start planting” said Dr. Waturu Director at KALRO-Thika.