MPs stage fight to prevent GMO maize imports
The controversy surrounding the government’s plan to import 10 million bags of Genetically Modified (GM) maize spilled over to Parliament yesterday with furious MPs demanding its immediate suspension.
Parliament adjourned its normal business in the afternoon to debate the controversial issue of importation of maize amid reports that a ship had arrived at Berth Seven at the Mombasa port to discharge 10,000 tonnes of maize. It was not clear if the consignment was GM or organic.
Mosop MP Abrahim Kirwa — who took the motion to the floor of the House — said farmers in maize growing areas were in shock following the government’s decision to import maize when the breadbasket region was preparing for a bumper harvest.
Kirwa said farmers in the Rift Valley had harvested between 30 and 40 million bags, which were enough to feed the country.
About 23 counties, including Baringo in the Rift Valley, have been declared food insecure after prolonged drought.
The Ruto administration announced last week that it would import 10 million bags of GM and a similar amount of organic maize to alleviate hunger caused by the prolonged drought, the worst in 40 years.
MPs now say there is maize.
“We are concerned as leaders that even as harvesting of maize continues, the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) is yet to open its silos,” Kirwa said. “We have enough maize and the government should be buying locally instead of importing.”
MPs from maize-growing areas said they would summon Trade and Industrialisation Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria and his Agriculture counterpart, Mithika Linturi, to respond to the questions legislators want answered. Kuria had said on Thursday that he would sign an order last Friday creating a six-month window for duty free importation of GM and organic maize. Barely four days later, a ship with maize docked at the Mombasa port.
Kuria’s pronouncement sparked uproar among political and religious leaders, who are opposed to importation of GM maize.
“We are contemplating moving to court to challenge the move if the government fails to stop the importation,” National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi said yesterday.
However, Kangema MP Peter Irungu differed with GM imports critics, saying the issue of GMOs had been taken out of context. He said there was no evidence to show that GMO foods are harmful. He accused civil society groups of using the debate for selfish interests.“People in this country feed on genetically modified foods in restaurants and no one questions this. Why pick on maize?” Irungu asked.
Earlier in the day, over 30 MPs from Western and North Rift regions accused President William Ruto’s government of making unilateral decisions that will have adverse effects on farmers who depend on the commodity for a living.
Addressing separate press conferences, the MPs told the committees of Agriculture and Trade to immediately summon both trade Kuria and Linturi to explain how they arrived at the said decision.
They said it was unacceptable that despite a Kenya Gazette notice not being published on the same, and Cabinet not approving the same already, a ship carrying maize had docked at the port of Mombasa.
About 20 MPs from North Rift said Kuria’s decision to allow duty free importation will undermine the intention of guaranteed minimum returns to farmers whose plight Kuria championed when he was Gatundu South MP.
They, too, threatened to go to court to seek an injunction stopping the planned importation unless the government rescinds its decision.
“We are aware that there are plans by the Ministry of Trade to import 10 million bags of duty-free maize while this is the season of maize harvesting in major parts of the country. As MPs from maize growing regions, we seek to know why ships are already docking in Mombasa port without the laid down legal procedures in place,” said Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei.
“It seems that there is a deliberate move to continue killing maize farming in the country as was seen in the previous regime where even the sugar sector and other farming sectors were killed.”
Cost of production
The MPs’ sentiments came just a day after Kuria appeared to drop his hardline stand on the importation of GM maize. The CS instead said the government would take the lead in mopping up maize from farmers who have already harvested their grains.
Kuria, in a statement posted on his Facebook, asked farmers to release about 52 million bags of maize to millers to avert importation. Of the 52 million, he said, farmers are sitting on 20 million bags even as they wait to harvest another 35 million bags in a fortnight.
Last month, the government set the stage for the importation and use of GMOs when President Ruto said the move had become necessary after considering many factors, including expert opinion and technical reports on the adoption of biotechnology.
Yesterday, Cherargei who read the statement on behalf of North Rift politicians, said farmers expect to harvest about 42 million bags of maize despite the high cost of farm inputs such as fertilizer — which they bought at Sh7,000 at the start of the season — and the high cost of fuel, which had raised the cost of ploughing. The cost of fertiliser was reduced to Sh3,600 in September.
Kimilili MP Didmus Barasa said legislators would not allow the government to take advantage of maize farmers. “It seems there is a deliberate move to continue killing maize farming in the country.”
Sabatia MP Clement Sloya demanded that the government stops the immediate importation of the maize until all the thorny issues have been addressed.
“Importation of maize will mean demeaning the local farmer who forms part of the bottom-up economic model of our administration. The President should not agree to overlook the plight of farmers and allow the importation of maize which is more expensive,” he said.