KEPSA Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Sector Board members led by the Vice Chair, Mrs. Jane Ngige met with Huw Jones, a professor of Translational Genomics for Plant Breeding at the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University on 14th August 2019 at KEPSA offices.
The objective of the meeting was to seek an understanding of KEPSA’s mandate and its role in fostering the growth of private sector players that support science, technology and innovations (STI). The meeting will also provide an opportunity to share EU GMO perception, regulations and trade impacts.
During the meeting, Prof. Jones was apprised of KEPSA’s policy advocacy work, the status of the agriculture sector in Kenya including challenges of low productivity, pests and diseases, inadequate food safety standards and low enrollment of youth in agriculture courses. The meeting considered opportunities for biotechnology use as a tool to improve productivity and to draw young people in the agriculture sector.
Prof. Jones informed the team that contrary to what most people believe the EU had approved importation and use of over 75 genetically modified plant varieties including Bt Cotton, Argentine Canola, Carnation, Maize, Potato and Soybean. He stated advancements in Genome editing technologies had revolutionized crop improvement techniques by making it cheaper and easier to deploy improved varieties as opposed to GMO technology which is heavily regulated. On GMOs link to cancer, Prof. Jones noted that there was no scientific evidence linking GMOs to cancer and that misinformation was to blame for the narrative.
Prof. Jones cautioned that GMOs & gene editing techniques were not a silver bullet to resolve all issues facing farmers but additional tools that could be used to improve productivity. Other issues considered by the meeting included farmers’ access and choice of planting materials, seed sovereignty, market access barriers affecting GMO crops, consumer awareness and the need for the public to have confidence that regulators and governments are doing the right thing on the regulation of biotechnology.
Prof. Jones is visiting Kenya from 13th-16th August 2019 during the 8th Annual Biosafety Conference and has been invited to deliver a keynote address on “Impact of EU Court of Justice Ruling on Regulation of GMOs” and later participate as a panelist on 15th August 2019.