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:

Whereas

  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.

Farmers in Kenya to gain from new facilities aimed at controlling aflatoxins

An article in SciDev.Net by Esther Nakkazi reports on the recent opening of a new laboratory and biopesticide processing plant in Kenya. The two facilities will help research, monitor and control aflatoxin contamination in staple crops.

Read the full article on SciDev.Net, Farmers to gain from projects to combat aflatoxins

Nissin Foods and JKUAT develop the world’s first instant noodles with sorghum

I recently came across a news item on the Bioversity International website on how the Japanese instant noodles manufacturing company Nissin Foods and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) have developed an instant noodle product using a local crop, sorghum, as an alternative to white wheat flour.

According to the managing director of Nissin Kenya, Daisuke Okabayashi, these are the first instant noodles with sorghum in the world.

Check out the blog post, Sorghum makes its way into Africa’s first instant noodles, to read more about the development of this unique food product.

Kenyan farmers add value to sweet potato and sorghum

Man holding sweet potatoes
Man holding orange-fleshed sweet potatoes. Photo credit: USAID/Natasha Murigu

Farmers in Busia County, western Kenya, are processing and packaging flour made from vitamin A-rich, orange-fleshed sweet potato. Through the Siwongo Processors company, farmers are processing around 1.2 t of flour each day. Some is sold locally while the rest is bought by food companies based in Nairobi to fortify other foods.

“Orange sweet potatoes are very profitable,” explains farmer Florence Naliaka. “I have educated my first born and I have managed to build a permanent house, and bought a dairy cow. Life is good.”

Farmers growing a high-yielding, fast-maturing sorghum variety, known as gadam, are also selling their crop commercially. East African Breweries Limited is buying the cereal to use it as a substitute for barley, enabling farmers to earn more from their crop.

Both of these ventures are part of the Commercializing Traditional Staple Crops project, implemented by the Cereal Growers Association, Smart Logistic Solutions and the Pan African Agribusiness and Agro-industry Consortium, with the aim of improving household food and nutrition security.

Source:  Spore (CTA)

New study quantifies aflatoxin exposure in Kenya

Aflatoxin infected maize
Aflatoxin infected maize. Findings of a new research study suggest that aflatoxin exposure is a public health problem throughout Kenya.  (Photo: IITA)

In the past few weeks, I’ve been doing some reading on aflatoxins to keep myself updated with recent research on this subject, with a particular focus on Kenya.

I came across a recent study on human aflatoxin exposure in Kenya carried out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Kenya Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation.

The study aimed at assessing aflatoxin exposure throughout the entire country. Most of the previous outbreaks of aflatoxicosis in Kenya occurred in Kenya’s Eastern Province, but since there is no national aflatoxin surveillance, it was not known if aflatoxicosis outbreaks were limited to that region or if they occur in other regions of the country. The study also sought to find out if aflatoxin exposure varied by demographic, socioeconomic and ecological factors.

From analysis of aflatoxin levels in serum specimens from the 2007 Kenya AIDS Indicator survey — a nationally representative, cross-sectional survey — aflatoxin B1 was detected in 78% of the specimens.

Aflatoxin exposure did not vary by sex, age group, religion, marital status or socioeconomic characteristics. However, exposure to aflatoxin varied by province, with the highest levels recorded in Eastern and Coast provinces and the lowest in Nyanza and Rift Valley provinces.

The bottom line is that human exposure to aflatoxin across Kenya can be considered to be a public health problem, in light of the widespread exposure levels that cut across the spectrum of age, sex and socioeconomic status. All the more reason for increased education and awareness on this public health risk and the practical steps that can be taken to control it.

In this Business Daily article on the persistent problem of aflatoxin contamination in maize in Kenya (published 27 Oct 2013),  I found out that some researchers at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) are carrying out studies on the susceptibility of maize varieties to aflatoxin so that they can breed aflatoxin-resistant varieties. I think that would be a great leap forward in the fight against aflatoxin contamination in the country.

Agricultural Research Connections Workshops: An exciting opportunity for agricultural researchers

The Agricultural Research Connections workshops will take place summer 2013 in Nairobi, Kenya.

The goal of these unique workshops is to catalyze new international research partnerships among high-calibre scientists doing agricultural research with the potential to create new pathways out of poverty for African farming families.

In addition to learning about agriculture in Kenya, participating scientists will tour regional laboratories and facilities, visit local farmers and engage in discussion sessions to explore with other workshop participants possible collaborations that could contribute to the advancement of agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa.

Prior international experience is not required and first-time visitors to Africa and early career scientists are especially encouraged to apply.

If you are interested in participating, please complete the online application by 15 May 2013.

For more information and to apply, visit http://www.regonline.com/2013agriculturalresearchconnectionsworkshop.