More than 100 civil society organizations representing smallholder farmers, pastoralists, fisherfolk, consumer networks, faith groups and indigenous seed savers from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania gathered to reiterate our reservations regarding the apparent push to commercialize Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in the East African region.
Our concern particularly is informed by the recent move by the government of Kenya to introduce GMOs in the region through lifting of a 10 year ban on importation of genetically modified products despite the many uncertainties on the socio economic, environmental, food sovereignty, safety, trade and health impacts that GMOs pose.
As representatives of small-scale farmers in East African Community, we call upon the Kenyan government and other African governments to tread carefully before embracing Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), particularly in food and agriculture as the effects are irreversible. These include loss of our rich biodiversity through crops, animal contamination, total dependence on seed and synthetic fertilizers from few multinational companies and multiple possible health risks and an eminent trade loss of our organic produce to the EU market and other international markets.
We demand that the EAC governments defend and support our rich diversity of indigenous seed and food regimes, by resisting the growing continental push by the private seed industry especially in the sub-Saharan Africa to restructure and ‘commercially take over’ our seed and food systems. We stand as a lobby group to warn that, if not reversed, the trend presents untold potential to derail the attainment of farmers’ seed sovereignty, region’s food sovereignty and resilience of smallholder and rural communities to climate shocks.
By large, Kenya Seed laws emphasize on organized seed production systems that assures quality to the consumer as opposed to non-controlled seed production and the old culture of seed saving and sharing. These laws promote commercialization of improved plant varieties in the seed sector through seed clarification of released varieties. Further, the Kenyan Seed and Plant Varieties Act allow breeders to register and secure Plant Breeders Rights based on UPOV 91 Convention if they discover and develop any new variety.
In Tanzania, the Seed Act of 2003 does not recognize farmer managed seed and it is a criminal offence to trade seed which is not certified. The National Agricultural Census of 2019/2020 indicated that despite the government’s efforts to promote the use of improved seeds, more than 76% of the total cultivated area (13,8 million hectares) was planted with farm saved seeds. Genetically Modified Organisms in Africa cannot not end hunger, malnutrition and poverty in the continent. South Africa despite massive acceptance of GM crops, this year (2022) is reported to have 14.4 million people faced with food shortage.
Globally, and elsewhere in the continent, we are witnessing an impressive shift and extensive calls for rapid reorientation of the agricultural and food systems, towards agrobiodiversity.
We therefore demand and recommend the following;
- That, food security starts with food safety, we ask that the EA governments exhaust all other known safe food options before they can think of GMOs. The UN Synthesis Report (IAASTD)clearly stated that GMO is not a solution to chronic hunger or poverty and the EAC governments need to address the structural issues including rural development, water, storage, market linkages and general infrastructure challenges faced by our smallholder farmers.
- The EA governments sets up a monitoring mechanism to aid in redress, should this technology cause harm to both human health and environment (polluter pay principle).
- We commend the government of the United Republic of Tanzania for cancellation of the research on GM Transgenic Maize MON 87460 x MON 810 variety.
- We commend the Ugandan president HE president Museveni for ambracing the spirit of smallholder farmer in Africa through rejecting a draconian Genetic Engineering and Regulatory Bill. We recommend that the Bill is further reviewed to protect seed and food sovereignty in Uganda.
- The Kenyan government should uphold the ban on GMO maize and consider a non-GMO food importation arrangement from neighboring countries.
- As espoused in the Kenyan Constitution 2010, the government should be in the forefront in safeguarding our local food and seeds systems through embracing safe and sustainable food production methods like agro ecology including promotion of Farmer Managed Seed System (FMSS).