It is disappointing to see that in Kenya, President William Ruto’s government lost a case seeking the Court of Appeal’s nod to import Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) maize into the country.
President Ruto wanted to lift the ban on cultivating and importing GMO white maize in Kenya in response to growing food insecurity in Kenya. The country has struggled with drought in the recent past and remains a net importer of maize.
The liberalization of the Kenyan maize seed market would have benefited farmers in the same way as in South Africa, Brazil and the US. In fact, the sentiment towards the cultivation and importation of GMO crops is changing worldwide, partly because of the global food crisis and countries’ efforts to boost domestic production.
For example, at the beginning of June 2022, the Chinese National Crop Variety Approval Committee released two standards that clear the path for cultivating GMO crops. Now that this hurdle has been cleared, the commercialization of GMO crops in China is a real possibility.
South Africa was an early adopter of GMO technologies. We began planting GMO maize seeds in the 2001/2002 season. Before their introduction, average maize yields in South Africa were about 2.4 tonnes per hectare. This has increased to an average of 6.3 tonnes per hectare in the 2022/23 production season. Meanwhile, the sub-Saharan African maize yields remain low, averaging below 2 tonnes per hectare.
While yields are also influenced by improved germplasm (enabled by non-GM biotechnology) and improved low and no-till production methods (facilitated through herbicide-tolerant GM technology), other benefits include labour savings, reduced insecticide use and enhanced weed and pest control.
With Kenya struggling to meet its annual maize needs and importing over half a million tonnes yearly, using new technologies, GMO seeds, and other means should be an avenue to boost production in future.
Significantly, allowing for imports of GMO maize from origins such as South Africa, the US, and South America would have helped soften Kenya’s domestic maize prices, which are currently double what we see in South Africa, trading around US$500 per tonne.
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