This photo shows a maize crop impacted by drought. Photo: For more about DTMA see: Photo credit: Anne Wangalachi/CIMMYT.

(GIN)—Kenya has officially entered into the cultivation and use of Genetically Modified Organisms—known as GMOs—that have been banned in 26 countries. 

In October, Kenyan authorities announced plans to lift the country’s ban on genetically modified crops, in part to deal with a record drought that is causing hunger across the Horn of Africa. The move is opposed by those concerned about potentially harmful effects on health, the environment and small farms.

Supporters maintain that lifting the ban will improve food security.

The decision by the Cabinet, chaired by President William Ruto at State House, was made in accordance with the recommendation of the Task Force to Review Matters Relating to Genetically Modified Foods and Food Safety. The meeting was convened to consider the progress made in the response to the ongoing drought in the country.


Speaking in early October, Kenyan President William Ruto said lifting the ban on GMOs is part of the government’s response to the drought ravaging the country.

But critics counter that some genetically modified crops can have negative impact on non-target organisms and on soil and water ecosystems. For example, the expansion of genetically modified herbicide-tolerant corn and soy which are joined with herbicides, destroyed much of the habitat of the monarch butterfly in North America.

Kenya prohibited cultivation of genetically modified crops and the importing of food crops and animal feeds produced through biotechnology innovation since 2012. The government’s move paves the way for the importation of GMO products, which the government says will help boost food security.

GMOs have their defenders—mostly seed and chemical companies who claim that genetically engineered crops are good for the environment by reducing pesticide use and increasing crop yields.

However, research indicates that genetically modified crop technology can result in a net increase in herbicide use and can foster the growth of herbicide resistant weeds. In addition, there is concern that the use of genetically modified crops may negatively impact the agriculture ecosystem.

Countries that ban GMOs include Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Madagascar, Turkey, among others.

Also gaining a foothold in Africa is Bayer Malawi, whose presence in Malawi originates from the late 1950s when the company was mainly known for its pharmaceutical products such as aspirin, and as a distributor for Farmer’s Organization and Shell Chemicals.

“Today Bayer Malawi, Ltd., provides a full agricultural production service package to enable farmers to acquire not only high-quality seed but also quality crop protection solutions to combat plant diseases, insect pests and weeds.” (from the Bayer website).

Last August, agricultural students at the University of Ghana held a teach-in to urge youth to support the adoption of GMO technology to help improve farm productivity and ensure food security. They held a debate competition but with few students willing to argue against GMO seeds, the pro-GMO seeds group was the hands-down winner.

Meanwhile, in an article titled: “Twelve reasons for Africa to reject GMO crops,” Kenyan born Zachary Makanya writing for the newsletter GRAIN pointed out a growing list of organizations, networks and lobby groups with close ties to the genetically modified industry, working to promote genetically modified agriculture on the continent. 

While seed and chemical companies like Monsanto claim that genetically engineered crops would be good for the environment by reducing pesticide use and increasing crop yields, the past 20 years have shown that they do nothing of the sort, Makanya said. Not only have GMO crops not improved yields, they have vastly increased the use of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide and “probably carcinogenic to humans,” according to the World Health Organization.

Moreover, most GMOs have not been engineered to improve yields or make food healthier, but to be herbicide resistant. Corn, soybeans and other crops have been genetically engineered to withstand blasts of glyphosate. It kills all the weeds in the field, but the GMO crops survive.

At least 12 African countries are carrying out research on genetically modified crops, including Egypt, Uganda, Morocco, Nigeria, Tunisia and Cameroon, and a long list of genetically modified crops are in the pipeline for introduction in various African countries.

Finally, a group of African environmentalists, in an article titled “GMOs promote poverty and dependency in Africa,” they pointed out in Grain magazine: “The obsession in promoting GM crops in Africa diverts attention and resources away from a plurality of genuine and localized solutions and flies in the face of the recommendations of independent science.”