Over 100 civil society organizations gathered representing smallholder farmers, pastorals, fisher folk, consumer networks, faith groups and indigenous seed savers from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania to reiterate its reservations regarding the apparent push to commercialize Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in the East African region.
The civil societies 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.
‘’We unanimously re-affirming that the remarkable value of farmer managed seed systems, indigenous seed and agro ecological food system in assuring food security, community nutrition and resilience as well as in maintenance of a common heritage that connects the past, present and future generations This joint call comes in the wake of a tenacious push to commercialize Genetically Modified Organisms into the region with Kenya being used as the entry point to the East African region’’ Reads part of the statement
As representatives of small-scale farmers in East African Community, the group have called 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.
Among inclusion in these are loss of 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.
‘’GMO commercialization in the region threatens the rights and livelihoods to smallholder farming and consumers at large through cheap and subsidized GMO imports. With Kenya being strategic in the East African Community, we anticipate a ripple effect in both Tanzania and Uganda and other EAC Partner States’’ said the group
The Civil societies now demand that the EAC governments defend and support the 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.
Further the societies indicate that, Under what is seen as a semblance of a failed ‘Green Revolution’ narrative, being orchestrated through numerous private and public, national and regional legislative interventions to popularize the commercial seed regime, it is now apparent that the survival of the centuries old Farmer Managed Seed Systems (FMSS) which have supported food production systems amongst our communities in Africa for hundreds of years stand threatened.
The group has pledged to 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.
The group added ‘’In Kenya, the national seed policy 2010 recognizes two seed systems; the formal and informal. Even though the informal sector supplies 80% of planting seed to 75% of the farming community, the country’s seed laws and regulations neither recognize nor support the informal seed sector. This is a contradiction of Section Il (3)b of the Kenyan Constitution which recognizes the protection of indigenous seeds. 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 certification of released varieties. Further, the Kenyan Seed and Plant Varieties Act allow breeders to register and secure Plant Breeders Rights based on UPC)V 91 Convention if they discover and develop any new variety’’
On the other hand, the National seed policy of Uganda (2016), recognizes both the formal and informal sectors and the crucial role played by the informal sector to supply over 75% of seed to the farmers. The policy provides an avenue for farmers to engage in seed business and introduced Quality Declared Seed (QDS) as a new seed class. Guidelines for QDS were also developed and currently in operation. Community Gene Banks are also provided for to support community efforts to sustainably manage agro-biodiversity.
Genetic resources including indigenous plants are utilized by breeders with minimal benefits to the farmers responsible for conserving those genetic resources for generations.
Policies are being modeled to promote commercial seeds through adoption of a universally accepted seed development criteria of variety release, quality control and certification, seed production, seed distribution and marketing.
These standards indirectly lower the amount of genetically diverse seed available to smallholder farmers and consequently threaten agro biodiversity and food security.
Indigenous traditional knowledge and innovations are vital for the sustainability of agrobiodiversity. However, the continuity across generations is being eroded.
The BIBA director Anne Maina has urged that Smallholder farmers do not follow these sequencing in their seed and food production, they have developed their practices and customs for seed distribution among their networks and communities based on their rich bio-cultural diversity. This has no benefit of the official recognition of the law and is termed “informal seed system”, whereas it deserves its own legal regime.
Genetically Modified Organisms in Africa cannot 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 agro-biodiversity.
Finally the groups have therefore demanded 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.
BIBA finally says that 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).