Pressure is piling on the government to lift a ban on genetically modified organism (GMO) crops with public university students accusing MPs of protecting unscrupulous traders.
The students, through their union leaders, have questioned a recent move by MPs to uphold the ban imposed by the Ministry of Health in 2012, but which left a window for its importation in case of food insecurity.
The students led by Moi University Student Organisation president Towett Ng’etich and his Kenyatta University counterpart, Sam Were Were, claimed the lawmakers are frustrating local research to allow multinational companies to benefit from importations.
“The GMOs are labelled. If the MPs can allow their importation to mitigate the annual food shortages, it means those talking of safety concerns are engaging in sideshows,” said Mr Ng’etich on Wednesday in Nairobi.
The students, mainly from University of Nairobi, Kenyatta, Egerton, Moi and Jomo Kenyatta universities, challenged President Uhuru Kenyatta to crush the cartels, claiming the foreign players would dominate the Kenyan market and sell their produce at exorbitant prices.
They expressed fears that the future of their colleagues pursuing biotechnology course was bleak and that some were switching to other courses, due to worries they might not get internships and jobs after graduation.
“According to latest analysis, some 29 students switched from biotechnology to other fields, an increase from 17 and 18 in 2014 and 2013 respectively,” Mr Were said.
He said it was unfair for the government to train and pay lecturers besides admitting students to take the course, if it does not recognise its graduates.
The ban, initially intended for importation and consumption of GMO foods, has now terminated progress in agriculture and food security research, causing many biotech research and development projects to stall.
“Biotechnology students directly benefit from the research, training, development, and field trials of these crops yet, with the prolonged ban, they are a demoralized lot,” Mr Sam said.
He cited the National Biosafety Authority (NBA), Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) as some of the regulatory agencies whose mandate is being overlooked by Health Cabinet Secretary Cleopa Maillu.