Agri-biotech experts call on Kenya to lift ban on GMO imports

Group photo: Agri-Biotechnology and Biosafety Communications Conference 2015

Delegates from 30 countries from around the world, attending an international Agri-biotechnology and Biosafety Communication (ABBC 2015) conference in Nairobi have called on the Government of Kenya to lift a 2-year ban on GMO imports.

Addressing the delegates who comprised farmers, scientists, policymakers, private sector, the media and science communicators, the Principal Secretary in Kenya’s Ministry of Industrialization and Enterprise Development, Dr Wilson Songa, emphasized the role of agricultural biotechnology in propelling the country towards prosperity.

“To harness this potential, the GMO import ban must be lifted,” he said. In addition, he said that Kenya has adequate capacity to develop and ensure safety of GMO products.

Members of Parliament present called upon the government to release the report by the Ministry of Health task force that was set up to look into the safety of GM foods, following the ban on GMO imports.

The ABBC conference brought together organizations and networks involved in agri-biotechnology and biosafety communication around the world to take stock of the progress and dynamics of agri-biotechnology communication over the past two decades. It was organized by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) AfriCenter, the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, the National Commission for Science Technology and Innovation among other partners.

One of the key lessons was that agri-biotechnology and biosafety communications must be simplified and messages delivered in appropriate languages for different stakeholders to make impact.

The delegates came up with the following Nairobi Declaration 2015:

We, the participants of the International Conference on Agri-Biotechnology and Biosafety Communication, held on 13-14 April 2015 in Nairobi, representing the academic and research community, civil society, law makers and policy advisors, the media, farmers and other stakeholders drawn from 30 countries across the world, collectively issue the following statement resulting from this conference:


  1. The world faces unique and particular food security challenges in future, as the human population increases towards a likely 9.6 billion by 2050 and climate change raises additional problems for agriculture in terms of water and temperature stress, increased disasters and extreme weather;
  2. Some progress has been made in meeting the Millennium Development Goals on extreme poverty, malnutrition, infant mortality and food security. Much work remains to be done to ensure that citizens of all countries enjoy the full opportunity of healthy and sustainable access to food;
  3. Biotechnology and genetic engineering, while not being the only solutions to these challenges, offer great potential in addressing many specific concerns in food production, including micro-nutrient deficiencies, productivity and yield gaps, pest and disease problems;
  4. There exists an international scientific consensus that the ‘genetic modification’ process itself does not raise any risks over conventional breeding approaches;
  5. The debate around genetically modified products continues and is often characterized by emotive and misleading information about purported dangers that are not supported by any scientific evidence;
  6. Highly restrictive policy and regulatory environments exist in parts of the world, greatly hampering the capacity of farmers to access innovations that will improve farm productivity, household incomes and food security;

We hereby declare our commitment and determination

  1. To work collectively to improve the communications environment, including the use of the latest as well as traditional communication strategies to ensure effectiveness.
  2. To work inclusively, with all stakeholders, including those opposed to this technology, in an effort to build consensus and common understanding.
  3. To promote choice, so that farmers, consumers and other end-users can make informed decisions that reflect their best interests.
  4. To address the concerns of people at all levels, to ensure the widest participation possible.
  5. To demonstrate how agricultural production challenges can be tackled using biotechnology, and how it can directly contribute to food and nutrition security, poverty alleviation, job creation and sustainable economic development.
  6. To support credible scientists who are most trusted by the public and governments to be effective communicators and to have a closer relationship with the media and policymakers to ensure that scientifically-informed messages reach target audiences.

In particular, we gratefully acknowledge the active participation of Members of the Kenya National Assembly and many senior government representatives who participated in this conference and welcome their invaluable inputs to ensure the current ban on importation and consumption of GM foods in Kenya is lifted.


Call for abstracts: Kenya’s 2015 National Science Week

Kenya’s National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI) and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology have issued a call for abstracts for the fourth National Science Week to be held on 11-15 May 2015 in Nairobi.

The event consists of an exhibition, robotics contest and a conference. The aim of the conference is to share and identify practical, evidence-based solutions to science and technology development in the post-2015 agenda in line with Kenya’s Vision 2030 national strategic development plan.

The conference will bring together academia, researchers, scientists and practitioners working in universities, research organisations, industry, civil society, government and other stakeholders.

The theme of the conference is The role of science and technology in the post-2015 development agenda. The sub-themes are:

  • agriculture and food security
  • energy and climate change
  • environmental and natural resource management
  • water, sanitation and health
  • knowledge management and technology transfer

Visit the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology website for more information on how to submit abstracts.

The deadline for submission is 31 March 2015.

New book features case studies on climate-smart agriculture in Africa

Earlier this year, I came across a newly published book, Evidence of Impact: Climate-smart Agriculture in Africa. It features 11 case studies on various climate-smart agriculture practices across Africa’s diverse farming systems and climatic conditions.

Climate-smart agriculture is all about increasing agricultural productivity in a sustainable manner in the midst of the challenges of a changing climate and environmental degradation.

Among the projects highlighted in the book are the East Africa Dairy Development project in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania; the Great Green Wall of the Sahara and Sahel Initiative; the Drought-Tolerant Maize for Africa project in 13 countries of eastern, southern and West Africa; and the Sustainable Agricultural Development of the Highlands project operating across North Africa in Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia.

The publication “aims to inspire farmers, researchers, business leaders, policy makers and NGOs to take up the mantle of climate-smart agriculture and accelerate the transformation of Africa’s agriculture into a more sustainable and profitable sector”.

Slovenia and Kenya are forging new diplomatic bonds through science and technology

Science and technology are being increasingly recognized as central features in international diplomacy. Much of the attention, however, has focused on how major industrialized countries and large emerging nations such as China, India, and Brazil use science and technology to advance their global competitiveness.

One of the most pressing global challenges, though, is how to leverage the power of new knowledge to help address the global economic and environmental challenges. New science and technology diplomacy responses are emerging from smaller industrialized nations working with developing countries.

Read the full article here

Credit: This is a repost of an original article written by Prof Calestous Juma and posted on Technology+Policy, the blog of the Science, Technology and Public Policy program of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Improving water management for agricultural production: International forum on water and food takes up the challenge

Water reservoir at Tsinkanet, Mek'ele, Ethiopia
Water reservoir at Tsinkanet, Mek’ele, Ethiopia (Photo: ILRI)

The Third International Forum on Water and Food (IFWF3) currently underway in Tshwane, South Africa  (14-17 November 2011) brings together partners from the CGIAR Challenge Program for Water and Food (CPWF) as well as water and food scientists and other key stakeholders to assess how a research-for-development approach can address water and food challenges through a combination of process, institutional and technical innovations.

The CPWF carries out research in six different basins, dubbed Basin Development Challenges:

  1. Andes system of basins to increase water productivity and reduce water-related conflict in selected basins through the development of more equitable benefit-sharing mechanisms.
  2. Ganges basin to reduce poverty and strengthen livelihood resilience through improved water governance and management in coastal areas of the Ganges basin.
  3. Limpopo river basin to improve integrated management of rainwater to improve smallholder productivity and livelihoods and reduce risk.
  4. Mekong river basin to reduce poverty and foster development through management of water for multiple uses in large and small reservoirs.
  5. Nile river basin to strengthen rural livelihoods and their resilience through a landscape approach to rainwater management.
  6. Volta river basin to strengthen integrated management of rainwater and small reservoirs so that they can be used equitably for multiple uses.

A bit about CPWF (from the CPWF website)

The Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF) was launched in 2002 as one of the reform initiatives of the CGIAR, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. Phase 1 ran from 2004–2008 and Phase 2 runs from 2009–2013.

Over the last six years, and based on more 68 projects carried out throughout the world, the main lesson learned is that improved water productivity is only one piece of the puzzle. Equally important are equitable access to water and better water governance. Taken together and integrated across scales, these can reduce poverty, improve livelihoods resilience, and boost ecosystem services.

The CPWF represents the largest, most comprehensive investment in the world on water, food and environment research. Through the paradigm of water productivity – developing ways to produce more food within limited water availability – it offers a new approach to natural resources management research within the CGIAR. The CPWF works together in with institutions, NGOs and community groups in partnerships which seek meaningful impact for the people who use the new innovations developed by scientific research.

Check out the IFWF3 blog for more on the workshop activities or follow #IFWF3 on Twitter.

Commemorating International Biodiversity Day

Tomorrow, 22 May 2010, marks the International Day for Biodiversity. The theme this year is Biodiversity for Development and Poverty Alleviation. I’m planning on commemorating the day by attending a moderated agrobiodiversity debate to be held at the National Museums of Kenya. Also looking forward to viewing the exhibitions on agricultural biodiversity that will be set up.

Meanwhile, in this week’s edition of the online newsletter SciDev.Net, the editorial calls for researchers to come up with robust, scientific evidence on the link between biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation in order to be able to successfully convince politicians and other key policymakers that they should put biodiversity conservation at the top of their agenda. This will help ensure that the Millennium Development Goal of reducing the rate of biodiversity loss by the year 2015 is achieved; so far, the target has not been met globally, the editorial notes.

Intervene now to minimise climate change effects

Kenya needs to seek practical ways to adapt to climate change immediately so as to minimise the effects of the current trends of global warming.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects that if no intervention is taken, average temperatures will rise by 6°C by the year 2100 and by 2020, Mt Kilimanjaro will have completely lost its ice cap.

“We need to adapt our local indigenous knowledge and find out how our communities coped in the past to changes in climatic conditions like drought and flooding,” said Prof Christopher Oludhe of the Department of Meteorology, University of Nairobi.

Prof Oludhe was speaking at a media workshop for Kenyan science journalists held in Nairobi on 9 December 2008.

Some of the practical interventions that individuals and institutions can take to slow down the trends of climate change include the use of renewable sources of energy (e.g. solar and wind energy), use of early-maturing seed varieties and planting of trees. The media also has a role to play in awareness creation.

Kenya has not been left behind in experiencing the global effects of climate change. These have been characterised by decreasing rainfall trends and rising average temperatures. Prolonged dry spells have led to famine and subsequent loss of livelihoods that depend on agriculture, with significant impacts on household food security.

Climate change refers to a permanent shift in the long-term average weather patterns in a specific location. Global average trends in climate change have seen rising temperatures and sea levels, melting of glaciers, shrinking of lakes and an increase in atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.