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POLICY & REGULATION: Kenya's Biosafety Bill faces opposition




                                  PART 1


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TITLE:  KENYA'S BIOSAFETY BILL FACES OPPOSITION

SOURCE: Africa Science News Service, Kenya

AUTHOR: 

URL:    http://africasciencenews.org/asns/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=32&Itemid=1

DATE:   21.08.2007

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KENYA'S BIOSAFETY BILL FACES OPPOSITION

The debate on agricultural biotechnology in Kenya boiled over again last week when peasant farmers and GMO critics staged a demo against the Biosafety Bill that waits to be debated into law by the Parliament. The demo was a rude shock by the GMO proponents who see it as a panacea to low yields against.

The debate on agricultural biotechnology in Kenya boiled over again last week when peasant farmers and GMO critics staged a demo against GMO proponents who see it as a panacea to low yields against.

Farmers in Kenya’s breadbasket district of Kitale, Western Kenya held a demonstration last week protesting against the Biosafety Bill 2007 that is awaiting Parliamentary debate, saying it should be shelved till after the general elections scheduled for December.

During the peaceful demonstration which involved representatives from Uganda, Rwanda, Zambia, Ethiopia and Madagascar, demonstrators said: ”The Biosafety Bill is aimed at introducing genetically modified organisms through the backdoor”.

They said the GM foods aid was being forced on African countries as a dumping alternative because it had already been rejected in the West. The farmers expressed fear that in the event the Bill, now in the First reading, was introduced in the House for the second reading, most of the MPs would be out campagning for the December polls hence may not have adequate time to satisfactorily handle the weighty issue at stake.

They said the Bill excludes more pertinent bio-safety issues such as pharmaceutical drugs obtained from crops and animals. The demonstrators said the government should strengthen the Biosafety Bill by putting in place effectively and redress regarding GMOs, their products and other related biotechnology products.

Henry Waswa, a demonstrator, said sustainability could be maintained if it empowered small scale farmers and local communities as well as increasing their knowledge-base capacity.

Scientists however are pushing for the Bill which they say will provide a legal framwork to a wide range of research and study that biotechnology brings besides bring ing more efficiency in agricultural food production. ”Biotech solutions lead to higher yields and improved crop resistance to pests and diseases, enhancing food security”, says Dr Simon Gichuki, head of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute’s (KARI) bio technology centre.

”It will give an internationally recognised Bio-safety framework within which to tap the enormous benefits of biotechnology, ” he said.

The Bill aims among other things to establish a Biosafety authority.

According to Kari, diseases and abiotic factors such as drought, soil pH and poor plant and animal genotypes hamper profitable agricultural production in the country. Biotechnology programmes offer real opportunities to overcome them.

Kenya is one of the eight demonstration countries implementing their National Biosafety Frameworks (NBF) under a United Nations Environment Programme fund.

Being one of the African countries with a high level of scientific capacity in biotechnology, commercial use of the products that have already been developed will be made possible by the new law.

Already, the government approved a biotechnology and Biosafety policy last September through the Cabinet.

That notwithstanding, however, Kenya has in recent years applied an interim system for use and handling of biotechnology products.

To date, five approvals for research and development and six others for confined field-testing have been granted under the auspices of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute.

Most investments in biotechnology in Kenya have been in the field of agriculture.

The rapid development and diffusion of biotechnology,especially in genetic engineering, is happening at a time when the African continent is faced with daunting challenges including declining agricultural productivity and increasing poverty, leading to greater food insecurity and malnutrition. It has been asserted that several maize and cotton GMOs available now have the potential to increase productivity by lowering crop protection costs hence greater farm level incomes and less chemical use in the environment.

Conversely, concerns have been raised about the potential risks to the environment and human health from GMOs.

Kenya’s Minister for Agriculture, Kipruto Arap Kirwa, acknowledges that attempts to introduce and implement agricultural biotechnologies have received varied reactions in countriy.

He argues that Kenya should weigh both potential benefits and risks by putting in place frameworks that address controversial concerns raised regarding the adoption of GMOs.

”It’s important that we develop clear biotechnology and biosafety policies and build adequate regulatory frameworks that address these issues to enable efficient and informed decision making,” Kirwa says

Though multi-faceted, biotechnology has been viewed as a single discipline, weak scientific and technical capacity has been indicated as a major hindrance, compounded by the absence of operational and functional policies and regulatory regimes for GMOs in most of the countries.

In recent years, the implications of biotechnology for trade have also emerged as a major concern. It is feared that risks to potential or real commercial exports associated with planting of GMOs could be enormous. Concerns are growing that agricultural commodities exported from countries growing GMOs to destinations sensitive to GMOs such as the European Union may encounter market access barriers.



                                  PART 2

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TITLE:  KENYA PARLIAMENTARIANS COULD PASS BIOSAFETY BILL

SOURCE: Africa Science News Service, Kenya

AUTHOR: Leakey Sonkoyo

URL:    http://africasciencenews.org/asns/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=33&Itemid=1

DATE:   21.08.2007

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KENYA PARLIAMENTARIANS COULD PASS BIOSAFETY BILL

Kenyan parliamentarians are finally set to pass the Biosafety Bill that will offer the regulatory framework to deal with the very controversial Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).

Kenyan parliamentarians are finally set to pass the Biosafety Bill that will offer the regulatory framework to deal with the very controversial Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). GMOs or GM as they are popularly known have come to be viewed with a lot of suspicion in the country and indeed in many other countries by a myriad of lobby groups ranging from some that rightly claim that not much is known on the long term effects of GMOs to some ridiculous ones that claim GM foods are injected with alien material. Pro-GMO groups on the other hand point out that biotechnology could help boost food production through crops not only resistant to drought but immune to pests.

They further say the GM crops grow faster besides producing more yields. Fact is millions of people especially in the developing world cannot meet food security needs. This has made pictures of emaciated and malnutrition children an enduring portrait of poor countries.

That the majority of Kenyans do not know much about biotechnology and GM or their difference came out rather embarrassingly in recent debates in parliament when some MPs claimed GMOs are associated with all sort of scary things including devil worship.

This led to aggressive lobbying by biotechnology scientists to try and teach the parliamentarians what biotechnology and GM really is.

This of course gave the impetus to anti-GMO campaigners to also launch their own campaigns in the same parliament resulting in a total division of parliament. But now the government and indeed parliament is seemingly making a bold step in at least allowing limited research and application of gene manipulation. Speaking at a recent stakeholder’s workshop on the Biosafety Bill, the chairman of the National Biosafety Committee (NBC) Prof. George Siboe lamented the slow pace the bill has taken to be enacted.

He said that some people are making too much noise about GMOs yet an essential Medicine as insulin was a GM product. ”1.2 million people in Kenya suffer from diabetes and most of them rely on insulin,” he added. Currently it is the NBC that certifies and issues licenses for the contained application of GMOs in the country. This has so far been on research basis.

The proposed bill will make the committee a National Biosafety Authority with powers to license commercial production of GM crops. But even as Prof Siboe extolled the importance of a biosafety legislation, dissenting murmurs could be heard as some people complained of a plot allegedly by some big biotech companies to rush the government to passing the bill without proper consultation with farmers who are supposed to embrace the new phenomenon.

Some farmers claimed that they had never heard of the bill while some lawyers took issue with the interpretation of the legislation saying that the aggrieved parties will not have a way of being adequately redressed. Some participants took issue with the very title of the bill saying the title ’Biosafety Bill’ was a misrepresentation seeing that the whole Bill is about GMOs.

They preferred the title ’GMO Bill’. As the debate on whether or not to adopt biotechnology rages in Kenya, other countries in North and South America, Asia and some European countries are registering increased acreage in land under GM crops. The US leads and by far in the new ’gene revolution’ with over 50 million hectares under GM crops. Argentina is second in line with 18 million hectares under GM crops.

Other significant producers of GM crops are Brazil with 11 million hectares, Canada with over six million hectares and India with 3.8 million hectares and China with three million hectares and Paraguay with two million hectares under GM crops.

In total there are over 100 million hectares or over 250 million acres of land under GM crops and over 10 million farmers who have embraced biotechnology according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) records. And all this is in only ten years starting from 1996 to 2006.

Leading the way in Africa is South Africa with 1.4 million hectares under GM crops. The most popular GM crops are soybean, maize and cotton. Others are canola, rice, squash, papaya and alfalfa. In some countries it is a requirement that GM foods and feeds be labeled so that the consumers can make an informed choice on whether or not to consume them.

But questions are being raised on whether starving people have the privileges of such choices. There are concerns that people in need of relief food have consumed GM foods willingly or otherwise given that the Cartagena Protocol which is the internationally recognized protocol on movement of GM products does not require consumer products to be labeled. It is clear that as the population increases and poverty persists, food requirements will continue to rise.

Thus concerned authorities have to come up with ways of meeting these food challenges and the hungry populace does not really care if the food was produced conventionally, organically or through the use of biotechnology as long as the food is safe.


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