Farming is the next big thing in Kenya. Our most traditional activity suddenly has become our most exciting field of endeavor, following the government’s welcome decision earlier this month to permit the planting and importation of GMOs.
This welcome step will strengthen food security in our country, as it will help Kenya’s farmers have access to the world’s best agricultural technologies to grow more food than ever before. By making food more abundant, it will lower prices for consumers. It will help with conservation and biodiversity, too.
A decade ago, Kenya made the mistake of banning GMOs due to political pressures from European-funded activist groups and widespread anxiety based on scientific ignorance.
During this period of prohibition, farmers around the world planted billions of acres of GMOs and consumers have enjoyed the benefits. Meanwhile, Kenya fell far behind, and we felt the bad effects of our non science-based policies most severely during our present drought.
It’s time for Kenya to catch up—and now we will.
The announcement about GMOs came on October 3 at a cabinet meeting convened by President William Samoei Ruto, who was elected in August. It was also a surprise: GMOs were not a political issue during the general election campaigns, though Ruto did promise Kenyans that he would pursue an agenda of change.
This is the kind of change we need—and our president knows exactly what he’s doing.
The 56-year-old Ruto is the most highly educated president in the history of Kenya, and he is one of the best educated presidents in all of Africa. As a young man, he received his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Nairobi. In 2018, after six years of hard work, he earned his Ph.D. in plant ecology. In the meantime, he served in various national posts, such as Minister in the agriculture and higher education dockets.
This makes him the right man for this moment. All of Kenya will benefit from his knowledge and wisdom.
Farmers across Kenya, like me, have had a hard time breaking even, due to the rising costs of production and low yields. Pests have devastated our crops, diseases have sickened them, and the drought has starved them. About half of Kenya’s animal feed manufacturers have gone out of business because they cannot afford their main ingredient of maize, and livestock farmers have seen the cost of feed double over the last three years, from 1500 Kenya shillings in 2019 to 3000 Kenya shillings currently.
Our fish sector also has suffered from the rising prices, and we’ve compounded the problem because we’ve denied GMOs to ourselves through our own farming and importation, but we’ve allowed the Chinese to sell us the fish they’ve raised on GMOs elsewhere.
What self-defeating nonsense!
Kenya’s acceptance of GMOs will change everything for the better. Farmers will have the ability to grow crops that contain a special ability to overcome the menace of pests, disease, and weeds. We’ll develop plants with traits such as drought tolerance, which will help us get through hard times. Young people will see the connection between technology and food and become more attracted to professions in agriculture, giving rise to the new generations of farmers whom we desperately need.
Kenya will become more food secure as farmers see their production costs decline, their yields soar, and their incomes improve. Abundant food means that consumers will have more options at better prices. GMOs are an ideal weapon to fight the food inflation that has afflicted Kenya along with the rest of the world.
As we grow more food on less land, the environment will improve. The adoption of herbicide-tolerant crops means that Kenyan farmers will have the chance to take up no-till agriculture and other climate smart conservation practices. These conservation strategies will enrich our soil, make us less dependent on artificial fertilizers, and boost biodiversity.
I also expect beekeeping to boom: The crop-protection products that accompany GMOs are safer for bees and other pollinators. As their populations bounce back from their current lows, fruit farmers and others who depend on these insects will return to prosperity.
Some Kenyans remain wary of GMOs, but only because they don’t know enough about them. As our country embraces this technology, however, they will become more comfortable as they come to see the economic benefits. Food inflation will reduce. The cost of living will come down and many households will experience financial stability, which in turn, will affect their general well-being and improve their quality of life.
Soon, the only question we’ll ask of GMOs is: What took us so long?