Third Eye

Why animal feed industry wants ban on GMOs lifted

Tuesday, July 19th, 2022 03:43 | By
Dairy cows at Chebororwa Agricultural Training Centre. PHOTO/Courtesy

Biotechnology researchers in Kenya will have to wait longer for the government to lift a ban imposed on importation of genetically modified (GM) products.

A decade since the ban was slapped, the researchers have lived on hope and promises from the authorities, including Deputy President and science enthusiast William Ruto — when he was in charge of the Science and Education Ministry.

During a recent national dialogue on Kenya’s animal feed sector in Nairobi, researchers prompted State Department of Livestock Principal Secretary Harry Kimutai, arguing that lifting the ban would help stabilise prices and reduce shortages.

“The Government will address the ban — as well as approval of GM crops — on a case-by-case basis,” he said.

Kimutai noted that the Government has developed a biotech crop Post-Release Monitoring Framework in readiness for lifting of the ban and adoption of Bt maize once it is approved for cultivation.

Safeguarding health

“The Post-Release Monitoring Framework on Bt maize will be sufficient in safeguarding human health as the country considers lifting the ban on GM food importation,” said PS Kimutai.

Bt maize, just like Bt cotton, is genetically altered by insertion of genes from a common soil bacterium, Bacillus Thuringiensis, to produce certain proteins that are toxic to specific insects. It has been used as a safe microbial insecticide for over 50 years to control pest caterpillars.

Farmers think that lifting the ban imposed in 2012 would boost the sector, which is currently staring at a bleak future following a dire shortage of animal feeds.

To sustainably resolve the feed crisis, the Government has put in place a strategy to ensure Bt cotton seed cake is approved for use as animal feed. Kenya is banking on a home-grown intervention to address the feed challenge by incentivizing farmers and investors to produce the feeds locally.

The PS said the Government is keen to utilise arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs), which comprise about 85 per cent of the country’s landmass, to produce forage crops and address a shortfall of about 500,000 tonnes of animal feeds. 

Kimutai said once Bt maize is approved for commercialisation, the Government would leverage it to spur production of animal feeds. “We put our trust on scientists to give us climate-smart seeds,” he remarked.

But the secretary general of the Association of Kenya Feed Manufacturers, Dr Martin Kinoti, was less convinced and instead demanded immediate duty-free importation of animal feed raw materials from the global market as a short-term intervention.

The Nairobi centre director of International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), Margaret Karembus, blamed the ban for the woes afflicting the sector as other countries use GM technology. “India, with an adoption of 12 million hectares of Bt cotton, has revolutionised its livestock sector by using cotton seed cake to make feeds,” she said.

Costly materials

Since 2019, the local prices of animal feeds have been increasing due to rising costs of raw materials and the Covid-19 pandemic, coupled with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Tim Njagi from Tegemeo Agricultural Policy and Development at Egerton University says feeds account for over 90 per cent of the cost of production of eggs for small-scale farmers.

On the other hand, animal feed accounts for between 36 per cent and 50 per cent of the cost of production for milk, varying on the production system.

He says the cost of producing a 70kg bag of standard dairy meal stands at Sh2,282. The gross margin/bag is Sh118; and the ex-factory price is Sh2,400.

 Ineffective policies

According to Njagi, the policies pushed by the Government have not been effective in cushioning stakeholders against the rising cost of feeds. “Duty waivers countered by rising global prices and waiver of import duty on raw materials were ineffective in bringing down the price of animal feed.

“Neither have protectionist measures been helpful as they can be countered through retaliation. Measures to restrict eggs and dairy products from Uganda in 2021 resulted in a trade war and higher consumer prices locally,” says Njagi.

“GM crops are essential to the European Union feed sector. Soybean, maize, and rapeseed are among the most important crops used as feed for livestock,” said Njagi.

Jennifer Koome, a farmer and co-founder of Daiichi Pig Farm, observed that Kenya’s feed crisis can be resolved through a multi-stakeholder approach. “As farmers, we look for cheaper but safe feeds that are readily available all year round,” she said.

More on Health