Bayer East Africa: GM Crops ‘Safe’ in Kenya

In 2012 Kenya imposed a blanket ban on genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Eight years later the country is on the verge of lifting that ban following the realization that the technology can help tackle food insecurity and anchor the revival of the manufacturing sector. Agribusiness Global magazine spoke to Eric Bureau, Bayer East Africa Managing Director and Country Head East Africa, about this development:

Q. Is Bayer upbeat over plans by Kenya to lift the ban on GMOs?

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Eric Bureau

Kenya is engaging in debate on whether to lift the ban. The debate is informed by a strong scientific and business interest because of the benefits that GM crops can bring to farmers, consumers, and the economy in general. However, Kenya has to make the political decision on whether to lift the ban because today the development of GM crops does not depend on the scientists but on regulators who are taking their guidance from the politicians. What is required at this point in Kenya for these crops to be approved and commercially grown is a political decision.

Q. Do you think Kenya is ready to adopt GM crops?
GM technology is banned for commercial cultivation, but there are national performance trials being run at various institutions, such as the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization for cotton and maize. This shows the technology is needed in today’s agriculture, and this is something that Kenya appreciates. Besides, the country does not need to reinvent the wheel because the world has practically 30 years of experience with GM crops. Today we have 200 million hectares of GM crops grown commercially by different types of farmers in different conditions in 24 countries. GM crops are offering farmers strong benefits, and that is the reason why they are expanding every year.

Q. How safe are GM crops?
GM crops are safe for people and even for animals when used as feed. They have been approved by the main regulatory bodies in the U.S., South Africa, South America, Europe, and Australia. Over the past 30 years there have been no reports, incident, or case of claims because of any kind of toxicity of GM crops. As for Kenya, the enactment of laws and establishment of a regulatory authority should offer assurance the government is determined to effectively and efficiently regulate GM technology.

Q. What benefits can Kenyan farmers expect from GM crops?
Farmers everywhere in the world are entrepreneurs and should be left to decide what they want to grow based on the benefits they see from the crop and their income. GM crops are growing every year because farmers are seeing the benefits. They see the impacts, the efficacy, and the levels of incomes. While GM crops are not the panacea in solving every problem, they are tools in a toolbox that can help farmers increase production. A good example is Bt maize, which is one solution against the fall armyworm. If you look at the outbreak of the pest in Africa, the worm has become a very serious threat to maize across the continent, except in South Africa, where 90% of the maize is GM and resistant to the fall armyworm. South Africa has no issue with the worm because it has accepted the technology.

Q. There are fears that a few seed companies will control the seed market if Kenya allows commercial cultivation. Comment?
Some non-governmental organizations say that big companies will force farmers to grow GM crops, and that they have to buy seeds every year. Nothing could be further than the truth. The notion that the seed market will be controlled by a few big corporations and that farmers will be tied to these companies without any other options is not true because there is high competition in the market, and there are several companies able to offer conventional varieties and GM varieties. Today there is no monopoly, and the farmer is free to buy the varieties he wants.

Q. How does Bayer East Africa expect to benefit if the ban is lifted?
We have invested heavily in Kenya, producing conventional hybrid seeds. We have invested in seed farms where we are doing seed production. If the ban is lifted, we will intensify even more of our production capabilities in the country to bring the technology to the farmers because the seed business requires local production. Currently we rank at position three in the seed market, and our objective is to produce 100% of the seeds we are selling locally.

Q. How do you rate the pace at which Africa is moving toward GMO adoption?
Africa is moving very slowly. Look at Kenya, where the first trials were done more than 15 years ago. There have been a lot of delays largely because of political debate. Kenya has wasted a lot of time despite trials being carried out and the technology proven to be effective. Adoption is moving slowly in a country where 60% of small holder farmers are using hybrid, certified seeds. It shows that when the farmer is convinced and has seen the results, he is prepared to pay a bit more for good quality inputs and seeds. Political blockage should not deny farmers the benefits of GM technology.