future crops?

Blow to Kenya-US negotiations on GMO crops as Court of Appeal upholds ban

By Victor Abuso

Posted on May 30, 2023 13:56

 © Genetically engineered maize. (Photo by CRISTINA PEDRAZZINI / CPD / Science Photo Library via AFP)
Genetically engineered maize. (Photo by CRISTINA PEDRAZZINI / CPD / Science Photo Library via AFP)

Kenya’s Agricultural lobby groups have applauded last week’s Court of Appeal ruling that will stop the government from importing Genetically Modified Foods (GMO).

Through Attorney General Justin Muturi, the government had appealed last year’s decision by the High Court that had suspended the government’s move, arguing it had interfered with the freedom and rights of Kenyans who want to trade and consume GMO products.

However, three Court of Appeal judges, Justice Mohammed Warsame, Ali Aroni, and John Mativo, unanimously ruled that the government’s application lacked merit, and the public had not been engaged in the decision to import GMO foods.

“Public interest test was not met. We see nothing for the court to preserve,” the judges said.

The judgment means that the Kenyan government cannot import and distribute GMO foods and seedlings until the case filed at the High Court by agricultural lobby groups is determined.

Last year, the High Court admitted two lawsuits opposing GMOs: one by Paul Mwangi, the lawyer of opposition leader Raila Odinga, and Peasants League, a lobby representing small-scale farmers. The League said the decision by the government to lift the GMO ban was not procedural and was unlawful, adding that imported GMO foods posed a health risk to Kenyans.

Samwel Nderitu, founder of G-BIACK, the Grow Biointensive Agriculture Centre of lobby groups that oppose GMOs tells The Africa Report that the ruling is a relief.

“GMOs are not sustainable in this country. The ruling brings joy to small farmers like us,” he says.

Nderitu accused President William Ruto of playing politics with food security in the country to benefit foreign companies, warning that the move will kill indigenous seeds.

“This government wants foreign companies to undermine our food and seed sovereignty,” he adds.

The government has not indicated if it will ask the Supreme Court to appeal the Court of Appeal’s ruling. 

Ruto remains adamant

Last October, less than a month into his presidency, Ruto announced the lifting of a 10-year ban on GM crops, saying the move will help address food insecurity at a time when more than 4.1 million Kenyans are facing hunger. Kenya has been experiencing its worst drought in 40 years.

In a media roundtable, Ruto dismissed reports on health concerns about GMO foods, saying both South Africa and the US are on 100% GMO. “Have you heard of anyone growing horns because of consuming GMOs?” he said.

Ruto says being a scientist himself, he cares for his people. “How can I endanger the lives of those who elected me?” 

In 2012 Kenyan authorities under the late President Mwai Kibaki said the decision to ban GMOs was based on the recommendation of the Task Force formed by the Kenya Medical Research Institute to review matters relating to genetically modified foods and food safety.

US reaction

The court’s decision is a blow to years of negotiations between Kenya and the US on GMO crops.

In April Kenya’s Foreign Minister, Alfred Mutua, was in Washington DC, meeting his host Antony Blinken who referred to GMO crops as key to building resilience against climate change.

“Kenya is on the receiving end of an acute food insecurity challenge, like many other countries in Africa and beyond,” Blinken told The Africa Report.

Blinken added that exporting GMOs to Kenya would be a solution to long-term food insecurity.

“That is the answer to the challenge, and I think there’s tremendous opportunity there,” he said.

Since the ban, the US government has been pressuring Kenya to approve imported genetically modified foods and crops saying the measure is restricting its exports.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.