Opinions

  • Agricultural technology can’t be ignored | Article on Standard Digital

    Posted by Gilbert arap Bor on 10 February 2017


    Kenya is on the brink of embracing biotechnology in agriculture. The MIT Technology Review made the claim in October: 'Kenya is thought to be on the brink of reversing its ban on GM imports.' The news and commentary website Grist said it in June: 'Kenya is on the brink of approving GMOs.' I’ve been saying it myself for years: On the brink. On the brink. On the brink. Now I’m ready to say something new: We’ve been on the brink for too long. Many Kenyan farmers, like me, had hoped that 2016 finally would be the year that the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) allows open field trials of Bt maize - a variety of genetically modified crop that has become common around the world. It protects plants from certain insect pests, giving us a natural way to defend our harvests from a major threat.
    Read more at: https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/article/2001228847/opinion-agricultural-technology-can-t-be-ignored

    Kenya is on the brink of embracing biotechnology in agriculture. The MIT Technology Review made the claim in October: 'Kenya is thought to be on the brink of reversing its ban on GM imports.' The news and commentary website Grist said it in June: 'Kenya is on the brink of approving GMOs.' I’ve been saying it myself for years: On the brink. On the brink. On the brink. Now I’m ready to say something new: We’ve been on the brink for too long. Many Kenyan farmers, like me, had hoped that 2016 finally would be the year that the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) allows open field trials of Bt maize - a variety of genetically modified crop that has become common around the world. It protects plants from certain insect pests, giving us a natural way to defend our harvests from a major threat. I’ve seen farmers grow it in other countries and I’d like to grow it on my farm too. It would allow me to produce more food for my family and country. And yet our Government dilly-dallies, as it has for years. On November 30, the Kenyan National Assembly slowed us down even more when they “upheld the ban imposed on importation of GMO food by the then Minister for Public Health, Beth Mugo in 2012”.
     


  • Investigating Genetically Modified Foods | Article on The Houghton Star

    Posted by on 28 January 2016

    There is much confusion and mystery surrounding food. Despite its necessity, the modern consumer can be easily befuddled by contradictory statements about what foods are “healthy.” Is organic a marketing ploy or a genuinely better way to eat? What does “organic” actually mean? How can you have yogurt that is “chemical free”? Buzzing in this cloud of needlessly innovative lingo is “Non-GMO”. I wanted to figure out what that meant, so I did some research. Almost all crops since the advent of agriculture have been genetically modified in some way. Our ancestors developed better yields and more resilient plants through the aid of anthropogenic evolution. We selected plants with the traits that benefitted us and helped them to produce more offspring. Many organisms today are considered in codependence with humans because if we did not deliberately seed them, they would die off.
     

  • We must remove the landmines that limit access to biotechnology in Africa | Article on Truth About Trade and Technology website

    Editorials, Guest Commentary – By Motlatsi Musi on 21 November 2012

    Back in the dark days of apartheid, many South African farmers like myself were forced to drive our tractors through fields full of landmines as we worked hard to grow maize and other vegetables. That’s now a part of history, thank goodness. Yet farmers in today’s Africa continue to face landmines of the metaphorical variety: As we try to obtain access to the latest agricultural technology, we see hazardous obstacles everywhere. They must be removed. If our continent is ever going to feed itself, we’re going to have to beat the odds–and adopt the same tools that are taken for granted in so much of the developed world. That means we must have access to seeds improved with biotechnology. I’ve seen the benefits of GM crops firsthand. Just south of Johannesburg, I own several acres of land and rent more. For the last eight years, I’ve grown genetically modified corn and soybeans. They are outstanding crops. My yields have improved by more than one-third, meaning that the economics of farming never have been better.

  • Biosafety Act will help address GMO technology gaps | article on the Standard website

    Standard Digital, Sunday, 28 October 2012

    So close yet so far best sums up the Genetically Modified Organisms or (GMOs) scene in Kenya since the introduction of the technology in the early 1990s. Viewed scientifically as the panacea for bridging the drought and food deficit gaps in many parts of the country, the GMOs is also a fertile ground for controversy, debate, and counter-debate. First, there is the dearth of information among the public about what GMOs are really about, albeit the media have often tried to educate the public on the subject. Then, scientists do not seem to agree on certain critical issues about the technology – throw in the so-called activists, the Greenpeace and lopsided media – and the debate gets murky. The latest controversy about GMOs was stirred after a team of French scientists published findings in the US journal Food and Chemical Toxicology that raised serious questions about the safety of GM foods and the assurances offered by biotech companies and governments.


  • Time to accept the gifts of biotechnology | article on the Pioneer website

    Ram Kaundinya (chairman, Association of Biotech Led Enterprises-Agriculture Group/CEO, Advanta India)

    The Convention on Biological Diversity at Hyderabad is an opportune moment for the global community to discuss the many biosafety aspects and pave the way for a more robust science-based regime across countries in the world, writes Ram Kaundinya

    The ongoing meet on Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety as part of the Conference of Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties, in Hyderabad, is a testimony to India’s growing stature. India takes over as the president of the CoP from Japan. The CPB, we all know, is an international agreement on biosafety, as a supplement to the Convention on Biological Diversity. The required number of 50 instruments of ratification of the CPB by member countries was reached in May 2003. In accordance with the provisions of its Article 37, the protocol entered into force on September 11, 2003.

    The CPB is the only international agreement dealing exclusively with products of modern biotechnology. Naturally, interpretations of its Articles and their implementation have a significant impact on biosafety regulation in developed and developing countries.

    It is important to note that the biosafety protocol makes it abundantly clear that products from new technologies must be assessed based on the precautionary principle. For instance, it allows countries to ban imports of a ‘living modified organism’ if they feel there is not enough scientific evidence that the product is safe. Under its provisions, exporters are also mandated to label shipments containing genetically altered commodities such as corn or cotton.

  • Review of the Séralini et al. (2012) publication on a 2-year rodent feeding study with glyphosate formulations and GM maize NK603 as published online on 19 September 2012 in Food and Chemical Toxicology

    European Food Safety Authority

    On 19 September 2012, Séralini et al. published online in the scientific journal Food and Chemical Toxicology a publication describing a 2-year feeding study in rats investigating the health effects of genetically modified (GM) maize NK603 with and without Roundup WeatherMAX® and Roundup® GT Plus alone (both are glyphosate-containing plant protection products). EFSA was requested by the European Commission to review this publication and to identify whether clarifications are needed from the authors. EFSA notes that the Séralini et al. (2012) study has unclear objectives and is inadequately reported in the publication, with many key details of the design, conduct and analysis being omitted. Without such details it is impossible to give weight to the results. Conclusions cannot be drawn on the difference in tumour incidence between the treatment groups on the basis of the design, the analysis and the results as reported in the Séralini et al. (2012) publication. In particular, Séralini et al. (2012) draw conclusions on the incidence of tumours based on 10 rats per treatment per sex which is an insufficient number of animals to distinguish between specific treatment effects and chance occurrences of tumours in rats. Considering that the study as reported in the Séralini et al. (2012) publication is of inadequate design, analysis and reporting, EFSA finds that it is of insufficient scientific quality for safety assessment. Therefore EFSA, concludes that the Séralini et al. study as reported in the 2012 publication does not impact the ongoing re-evaluation of glyphosate, and does not see a need to reopen the existing safety evaluation of maize NK603 and its related stacks. EFSA will give the authors of the Séralini et al. (2012) publication the opportunity to provide further information on their study to EFSA.

  • Biotechnology important to Africa’s development - Article on Engeneering News
    Schalk Burger, 15 June 2012

    Biotechnology, specifically the genetic modification of plants to produce herbi- cide tolerance, pesticide and insecticide resistance, ensures crop protection, reduces input costs and exposure to harmful chemicals and can also improve grain quality, a diverse group of biotechnology, researchers says.

    Speaking at the recent AfricaBio media dialogue on agricultural biotechnology, the researchers covered legislative control of genetically modified (GM) organisms to ensure the safe and responsible handling and use of GM crops in South Africa (specifically GM maize, cotton and soy). Other topics covered included an overview of biotechnology, a public perception study and the socioeco- nomic impact of GM crops on South Africa.

    University of Pretoria Department of Agricultural Economics, Extension and Rural Development research fellow Marnus Gouse highlighted that the approved GM crops in South Africa are maize, soy and cotton.

    The use of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cotton, he said, had reduced the need to spray insecticides and has led to significantly increased cotton yields in South Africa owing to the reduced effect of problematic bollworms.

    Farmers who noticed the benefit of using Bt cotton moved to using a dual-herbicide-tolerant Bt cotton strain when it was introduced, which increased their yields, compared with conventional seeds. The herbicide-tolerant nature of the cotton is beneficial as a farmer can spray herbicides to control weeds without killing the crop.

  • Monsanto's GM Corn And Cancer In Rats: Real Scientists Deeply Unimpressed. Politics Not Science Perhaps? - Article on Forbes

    It's very difficult to take a purportedly scientific paper which opens with the following phrase seriously.

    "The health effects of a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize (from 11% in the diet), cultivated with or without Roundup, and Roundup alone (from 0.1 ppb in water), were studied 2 years in rats. In females, all treated groups died 2–3 times more than controls, and more rapidly."

    Given that most mortal beings only have to go through dying once, it would seem that we are discussing the prevalence of reincarnation in rats. One can imagine interest in such research from various religious groupings but it would be difficult to describe the process as science. However, yes, that is a cheap shot: mocking non-native English speakers for their difficulties with the English language is such. What they mean is that more of the female rats on the GM diet died and died younger than the control group. Which is at least the beginnings of a piece of scientific research.

    For yes indeed we really would like to know whether Monsanto’s Roundup Ready corn (maize to Europeans) does cause health problems. We don’t think it does for several reasons. The multiple studies that have been done before looking at this very question for example. The fact that hundreds of millions of animals have been fed the stuff for years without anyone noticing anything odd about said animals. We’ve even got a nice natural experiment going on. Those humans in the Americas (North, South and Central) have been eating GM corn in vast quantities for a number of years now. Those humans in Europe have not. Again, we have not noted any difference in disease prevalence among the two groups that cannot be and is not explained by other factors.

  • Biotechnology is a solution to our perennial hunger but ... - Article on Daily Nation Kenya
    Ken Opala, 26 March 2012
    Half a century ago, long before the word "biotechnology" turned divisive, a man by the name Steve Eberhart was involved in some form of genetic engineering at the Kitale Research Centre. The US government had posted him here to transform Kenya's agriculture. According to documents at the Kenya National Archives, Dr Eberhart was a "maize geneticist" - a gene technician tasked with producing high quality, disease-resistant maize in the rainy Kenyan highlands. That was in the early 1960s. His employer, US-based Rockefeller Foundation, described the then Kitale maize genetics research as a "project of international theoretical significance but of strong practical value". At the time, the controversial phrase "genetically-modified organism" (GMO) did not exist. But the art (or science) of genetic manipulation was present - at least in Kenya. The Kitale maize genetics project became part of the Kitale Maize Research Programme that produced the now-popular hybrids, a cross-breed between Kenyan variants, including Muranatha, and species from Mexico.

  • Long-term study finds no negative effects from GM food - Article on Southwest Farm Press
    Southwest Farm Press, 22 March 2012
    Researchers from the Medical University of Vienna have presented long-term research using GM food. They failed to find any negative effects.Feeding experiments, some of which lasted the entire lifetime of the animals, found no negative changes in the metabolism of pigs, salmon or mice. At a press conference in Vienna, an international research consortium reported that it had not found any harmful health effects of GM food in animals. In their studies the scientists investigated potential long-term risks associated with feeding genetically modified Bt maize MON810 and a GM pea to pigs, salmon and mice. Through their research they hope to find suitable biomarkers that can be used as more sensitive indicators to detect harmful effects of authorized GM foods in humans.

  • How to create resilient agriculture - Article on SciDev.Net
    Gordon Conway, 21 March 2012
    Durable food security and agricultural growth depend on development strategies with resilience built in from the start, says Gordon Conway. Economic growth with resilience to environmental threats will be central to the agenda of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in June this year, which aims to map out a pathway of sustainable development for the planet. The 'zero draft', the document that will form the basis of conference negotiations, states a resolve to fight hunger, eradicate poverty and work towards just and economically stable societies.

  • How to engage with farmers over GM crops - Article on SciDev.Net
    Obidimma Ezezika and Justin Mabeya, 22 February 2012
    Reaching out to farmers early in the process of developing GM crops is crucial, and can help avoid the perception of the technology being 'dumped on them'. But this should be done gradually. Ideally, engagement should peak about a year before the technology is available, when farmers are selecting planting materials for the following season. This helps to ensure that farmers' expectations can be met. For example, the enthusiasm of farmers and seed companies involved in the Insect Resistant Maize for Africa project in Kenya was dampened by the delayed delivery of maize products.

  • A Call to Agricultural Action - Article on Forbes Magazine
    By Hugh Grant, the chairman, president, and chief executive officer of Monsanto
    In the wake of the United Nations' report that there are now 7 billion people living on earth, policy-makers, academics, and the press have taken a close look at how the world will feed a rapidly growing population that is expected to reach nearly 9.5 billion by 2050. The challenge is clear. With nearly 1 billion people already suffering from hunger and malnutrition in some of the fastest growing areas of the world, the challenge of doubling food production by 2050 will become more difficult as key resources become increasingly scarce and a changing climate creates unforeseen obstacles. Undoubtedly, the world is going to have to produce more. But it cannot do so at the expense of the land or environment. We must produce more with less.

  • Will patenting crops help feed the hungry? (Science Alert) - Article on Science Alert website
    The knowledge of genes and their function is a valuable tool to improve our food supply and quality. But gene patenting has been a contentious issue recently. Proponents claim gene patentability is the key to recovering the huge investments required to improve crops and human health. When someone takes out a patent in Australia, they are given the right to use their idea, exclusively, for 20 years. After that, the knowledge becomes freely available. This system encourages innovation and the generation of new ideas which have practical application. In the scheme of things, 20 years is a small piece of eternity.

  • What Kenyans Need to Know About the GMOs (4 August 2011 -Nairobi Star) - Article on the Star
    The ongoing GMO debate is healthy. Kenyans need information regarding the GMO maize that will (is?) imported into the country for their consumption. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) are living things that are products of biotechnology. Like any other technology, biotechnology is the application of science for the improvement of products and processes for the benefit of human kind. Biotechnology is a thus a tool that can be used to do different things to different targets and thus is neither good nor bad. A tool like a panga has no moral value. You can use it to harvest a banana and you can use it to chop someone's head. So like the panga, the moral value of biotechnology depends on its use.

  • A damaging ploy by GM denialists
    One of the biggest complaints made by advocates of action to reduce global warming is that the sceptics disregard the science. In support they point to the majority of climate scientists who believe human activity is causing global warming. It is quite hypocritical, therefore, for the same people to be so reluctant to accept science when it comes to agriculture and food production. They have, it seems, two versions of science - one that supports their views and one that does not. In other words, the science is used to support a predetermined opinion rather than the basis upon which the opinion is formed.

  • On GM maize, Kenyans need to listen more to scientists
    Since former Cabinet Minister Paul Sang sensationally led his Kericho crowd into rubbishing everything I learnt about the hydrological cycle in primary school, I have lost faith in the ability of politicians to educate me on anything science.

  • To abolish starvation Africa needs GM crops
    Once again drought is menacing the Horn of Africa. Britain's pledge week of 5 July 2011 to increase food aid for 1.3 million Ethiopians facing starvation to help them to reach the next harvest can be the only right response.

  • The GM debate is about more than biosafety (article on NewScientist)
    So far only three countries in Africa are cultivating genetically modified crops. To shed some light on the biosafety-related activities that are carried out in South Africa, the major African biotech country, GMO Safety looks at the national Biosafety South Africa platform.


  • Conservation and farming must learn to live together (article on NewScientist)
    Agriculture and conservation are on collision course, and that has to change, says the UN Environment Programme director MILLIONS of people in Africa live in unremitting poverty and hunger. For the foreseeable future, the only way to alleviate their misery is through agricultural development. So it is heartening that the Food and Agriculture Organization and World Bank see great potential for expansion throughout the Guinea Savannah Zone, an area larger than India that stretches across 25 countries from Senegal to Mozambique. The prospect of development is to be welcomed, but its manner requires careful consideration to avoid threats to sustainability. For example, though Africa retains much of its biodiversity, certain trends are cause for concern. Agricultural expansion into sensitive areas could aggravate declines that are already taking place.

  • Lenten Appeal for Biotechnology (article on agweb.com)
    By Gilbert Arap Bor - Kapseret, Kenya (10 March 2011)
    The season of Lent is upon us - the time of year when Christians around the world prepare for Easter through prayer, charity, and self-denial. Many farmers in the northern hemisphere also will use this season to start planting crops. It also happens that farmers in the 'bread basket of Kenya', where I live and farm, will also be planting the country's staple maize crop during the same period. Appropriately, the word 'Lent' comes from an Anglo-Saxon term for spring. As a practicing Catholic who farms in Kenya, I'm committed to growing as much food as possible. I see it as an economic necessity for my family as well as a moral obligation that I must uphold as a steward of the earth. That's why I'd like to enjoy access to genetically modified seeds - a benefit that I don't have right now, even though farmers in many other countries do. A couple of years ago, a branch of the Vatican called the Pontifical Academy of Sciences gave its blessing to GM crops. At a conference in Rome, it celebrated GM food for its 'great potential to improve the lives of the poor.' This is certainly my impression, based on my conversations with farmers who use biotechnology. All of them say it has improved their lot. They talk about how GM crops have allowed them to kiss perpetual hunger goodbye. They can afford to educate their children and purchase small luxuries that seemed out of reach just a few years ago. Biotechnology is a tool of empowerment for farmers everywhere - and especially in the developing world.

  • Labeling A Rally For What It Is: Truth About Trade & Technology (article on agweb.com)
    By Ted Sheely - Lemoore, California (31 March 2011)
    Outside the White House last weekend, anti-biotech activists sponsored an event called 'Rally for the Right to Know.' Their goal was to promote a personal ideology: They want the federal government to slap warning labels on non-organic food products. Judging from the lack of media coverage, maybe they should organize a rally for the right to know whether anybody showed up. Their protest appears to have been a near-total bust. Here's the really amusing part. For all of their fussing over labels, these professional protestors struggle with how to describe themselves. The 'Rally for the Right to Know' was part an effort sponsored by the Organic Consumers Association to demonize a company that produces biotech seeds for American farmers who want to plant them--in other words, guys like me. Yet if the campaign can't turn out more than a handful of disgruntled picketers, then perhaps it should worry about the labels it applies to itself before it tries to force labels on everyone else.

  • Technological intolerance threatens global food security (article on Harvard University website)
    Op-Ed, The Des Moines Register
    February 19, 2011
    Author: Calestous Juma, Professor of the Practice of International Development; Director, Science, Technology, and Globalization Project; Principal Investigator, Agricultural Innovation in Africa
    Belfer Center Programs or Projects: Agricultural Innovation in Africa; Science, Technology, and Globalization; Science, Technology, and Public Policy
    Modern biotechnology is an important force in global agriculture. But it continues to be challenged by those wanting to limit its spread under the pretext of preserving the purity of organic farming. This is being done despite worrying evidence of rising food prices and the associated political unrest.

  • How to genetically modify a seed, step by step (By Rebecca Boyle) (article on Popular Science website)
    ST. LOUIS - In a nondescript basement lab, jeans-clad engineers clutch blueprints, scrape stepladders across the unfinished floor and chat about the Cardinals as they tighten bolts on a new prototype device. At first glance, it could be any machine shop in the country. But then you notice the wispy strands of soybean seedlings curling to life, their root tendrils bunched into test tubes lightly packed with soil, and you remember - this place is all about seeds. Monsanto Co. produces 90 percent of the world's transgenic crops, using a complex marriage between ancient techniques - cross-breeding different plants to produce a desired trait - and the most modern technologies available, from genomic research to NASA-caliber mechanical engineering.

  • The true value of GM crops
    Leading USA agricultural economist, North Dakota State University's Distinguished Professor of Agribusiness and Applied Economics, Dr William Wilson, says Australian farmers need to know about how GM technology is being used across the American continent.

  • Genetically Modified Crops Are Safe (article on allAfrica.com)
    Genetically modified organisms are adopted globally for specific special attributes that are agronomically, economically, nutritionally, socially and environmentally viable. While this has been proved, it is a right for individuals or groups to continue raising ethical concerns, especially emerging issues about GMOs.
African Agricultural Technology Foundation