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The East African : November 3rd 2013
36 The EastAfrican OUTLOOK NOVEMBER 2-8,2013 D E VE LO PME N T ‘Lack of political will, strengthening opposition’ hinder GMO uptake in EA Those who a≥e p≥o-GMOs in the ≥egion face a long, di∞cult task By KEVIN J KELLEY Special Correspondent crop seeds face a “long, hard and incremental effort” in bringing them to market, a Washingtonbased think tank has said in a report published last week. “Sustained political will” on E the part of national leaders is required in order for GM technology to be adopted in East Africa, the report observes. Even then, however, the push for acceptance will likely encounter “stalls and regressions due to strengthening of opposition” to GM methods of farming. The study by researchers Kris- tin Wedding and Johanna Nessuth Tuttle of the Centre for Security and International Studies examines the state of GM crop development in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. It also explores the political dimensions of the issue in each of the three countries. The debate over GM crops in East Africa is generally “infused with polemical and often exaggerated claims on both the benefits and risks of the technology,” the report observes. It says Kenya has made con- siderable progress in researching and testing GM crops, but the technology lacks “steady champions within government” to push for official adoption. A significant setback oc- curred in 2012 when Beth Mugo, then Kenya’s Minister of Public Health, declared a ban on all ast Africans advocating the use of genetically modified eral that as agricultural development becomes a higher priority of US aid programmes, “more emphasis is likely to be placed on GM technology.” Arguments in the region over GMOs reflect those being made in other parts of the world, the report says, noting that researchers and opposition groups in all three EA countries are largely supported by US and European governments and NGOs. Current position Only three sub-Saharan coun- tries are currently producing GM crops commercially. South Africa, Burkina Faso and Sudan permit the sale of GM cotton, while South Africa is the only sub-Saharan nation to produce genetically altered food crops. Most of its maize and soya come from GM seeds, the report says. Much of the opposition to the ‘NO’ CHAMPIONS An anti-GMO activist pulls down GM maize in France. EA countries are reluctant about growing GM crops. Most of Europe, a major market for the region, does not allow GMO imports. Pic: AFP Tanzania exhibits the highest degree of public antipathy toward GM crops GM technology, “despite her lack of jurisdiction,” the report recounts. Ms Mugo allegedly acted in response to what Ms Wedding and Ms Tuttle describe as a “widely discredited study” by a French scientist claiming that GM maize produces serious disease in rats. Kenya could nevertheless al- low GM cotton to enter the commercial market as early as 2014, the report predicts. Such a move “may push forward demand and open new potential for adoption,” the researchers add. They say that acceptance of GM crops in any of the East African countries is likely to spur adoption in others due to the close commercial ties within the region. Political barriers to official ap- proval of GM crops are lower in Uganda than in Kenya or Tanzania, the report says. That is partly because Uganda’s “less democratic political structure has facilitated dissemination of a more uniformly positive message on the technology.” In addition, the report notes, “Uganda’s burgeoning scientific capacity, research progress and broader political will provide a great source of enthusiasm for GM advocates on the continent.” But early adoption of GM crops is unlikely in Uganda, the researchers suggest. More pressing political matters will likely dominate high-ranking officials’ attention as the 2016 elections approach, the report speculates, adding that GM opponents “are beginning to mobilise more aggressively.” Among these three East Afri- can countries, Tanzania exhibits the highest degree of public antipathy toward GM crops, the US researchers say. No testing of GM crops is un- derway in Tanzania. In Kenya and Uganda, by contrast, research is being carried out on GM maize, cotton and cassava. Kenya has made considerable progress in researching and testing GM crops, but the technology lacks “steady champions within government” to push for official adoption. Political barriers to official approval of GM crops are lower in Uganda than in Kenya or Tanzania, the US think tank says. Tanzania’s top leaders are believed to support adoption of the technology, but the country’s “thick bureaucracy” hampers movement on any issue, the researchers state. Kenya is also studying genetically modified sorghum, sweet potatoes and pigeon peas, while Uganda is testing GM bananas and rice. Tanzania’s top leaders are believed to support adoption of the technology, but the country’s “thick bureaucracy” hampers movement on any issue, the report states. Strong US support for Tan- zania’s development initiatives could exert countervailing pressure in support of GM crops, the report suggests. It notes in gen- Kenya, Tanzania to wo≥k jointly on wate≥ sca≥city p≥oject By CHRISTABEL LIGAMI Special Correspondent KENYA AND Tanzania have signed a memorandum of understanding on the extension of water from Isebania in Kenya to Sirari in Tanzania in order to deal with water scarcity and poor sanitation in the area. Through the Lake Victoria Water Supply and Sanitation Programme, the two countries will work together to manage water supply in the region. According to Dan Owore, re- gional programme co-ordinator with the Lake Victoria water and sanitation project, the two countries working together will help avoid having multiple implement- ing agencies. The MoU states that the two countries shall inform each other of all relevant activities pertaining to the programme and its component and shall on a three-month basis hold consultations on the status of the MoU including any circumstance that may affect the achievement of its objectives. The Lake Victoria Water Supply and Sanitation Programme will be responsible for the overall co-ordination and implementation of the programme. The programme is in its second phase and is an initiative aimed at improving sustainable water supply and sanitation in 15 secondary towns around the Lake Victoria Basin. “The secondary towns were se- lected because of their poor water and sanitation infrastructure, which contributes to the pollution of the lake,” said Mr Owore. The programme emphasises water supply, sanitation, drainage and solid waste management and is funded by a grant of about $110 million from the African Development Bank. “The Lake Victoria Water Supply and Sanitation Programme has been designed to achieve long term sustainability by combining physical investment and $110m infrastructure provisions, while at the same time protecting the Lake Victoria environment on which the region depends for survival,” said Mr Owore Jesca Eriyo, EAC Deputy Secre- tary General for Productive and Social Sectors, said the region faces numerous environmental challenges that undermine efforts to improve the quality of life for citizens. These challenges include pollution; desertification and deterioration of aquatic and fresh water ecosystems; climate change; loss of biodiversity and habitat loss. “The EAC Secretariat is imple- The amount the project is funded for by a grant from AfDB menting programmes and supporting partner states in addressing environmental challenges,” said Ms Eriyo. The two countries are working together through the Lake Victoria Water Supply and Sanitation Programme. Picture: File technology reflects fears that commercialisation of GM crops would result in a significant loss of trade with European countries, which largely prohibit sale of genetically modified crops. But such worries are largely unwarranted, the report maintains. It notes that most of the crops undergoing GM testing — such as cassava, potatoes and maize — are traded within the EAC, not internationally. The researchers claim that their report neither supports nor opposes GM farming in East Africa. But they recommend that biotechnology be considered and presented as “a tool to fight poverty and improve food security.” The report also asserts, how- ever, that GM technology is “not a silver bullet for increasing food security in Africa.” The researchers add that many interventions other than genetic alterations — such as greater mechanisation of agriculture, better irrigation and improved planting techniques — can improve food security. But GM crops are generating particular interest, the report adds, because of their ability to combat pests, improve nutrition and reduce use of water and chemicals in agriculture.
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