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Kenya: Parliamentary speech in support of the Biosafety Bill
December 2008
Minister for Agriculture, Mr William Ruto


Madam Temporary Speaker, I rise to represent the Ministry that is going to be the biggest consumer of the services of this Bill.

Kenya is lagging behind in putting a legal framework in place to facilitate faster and co-ordinated research activities, especially in the various arms of agriculture and GMO-related fields. We are lagging behind the East African countries. This provides this House with the opportunity to catch up with our East African partner states.

Madam Temporary Deputy Speaker, Africa has approximately 20 million people who depend on food aid from the countries of the West and other countries. It is good for this House to also know that one million of our own children are fed under the School Feeding Programme (SFP) by the World Food Programme (WFP) 40 years after Independence. It is important that we rise up to the occasion as a nation and do the right thing by enacting this Biosafety Bill.

The benefits arising from the enactment of this Bill are enormous. It gives this country the opportunity, in a comprehensive and co-ordinated manner to benefit from research. I want to assure this House that this Biosafety Bill has been developed with the input of our human resources. All our universities and other research institutions have been involved. A great wealth of energy and knowledge has been put behind the preparation of this Biosafety Bill. It is time we trust our fellow citizens that they mean well for our country and that the investment we have put in our scholars does not go to waste. It is important that we recognize that our universities and research framework that will enable us to get better varieties of what we want to achieve in terms of food security for our country.

Madam Temporary Deputy Speaker, 18 per cent of our country is arable land under rain-fed agriculture. We can only expand so much of that and bring it under agricultural activities. For us to develop varieties that are drought resistant, use less water, have a higher yield and are disease-resistant, we need this Biosafety Bill to give us the framework for us to engage research and science so that we can better the lives of mankind.

Madam Temporary Deputy Speaker, many controversial things have been said about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO's). I want to assure this House our research institutions have men and women who know what is good for our country. We have developed such a wealth of researchers, information and personnel that can help us steer this country towards safe use of GMOs. Some of the opposition to GMO's is clearly based on incidences, and I will give an example: that is of BT cotton. Two days ago, I appointed a new chief executive officer for our Cotton Development Authority. The cotton sector in this country is dead because we do not have the right seeds. We cannot compete with the rest of the world because we are using the old technology. The variety of cotton that we are using in this country, at the moment, requires ten times the amount pesticides to survive, than what is used elsewhere in the world. We have capacity to develop the correct varieties of our cotton seeds which uses less pesticide and, therefore, enhance our production three to four times more, and engage our farmers to plant it as cash crop, especially in marginal areas. We are unable to compete because there is no framework in the country that allows for development of Bt cotton in our country.

Madam Temporary Deputy Speaker, there are forces outside there who wants us to continue using expensive pesticides, when we can develop cotton that is disease resistant and, therefore, we can use less pesticides and enhance earnings to farmers and expand our cotton industry. It is too obvious that there are people who want to stop this country from making technological and scientific advancements for the benefits of Kenyans, so that they continue selling pesticides to our farmers to the detriment of, not just our farmers, but our industry in general. It is important that a businessman does not buy just one page of a newspaper because there's nothing in it for him. Those people who buy one page of a newspaper and spend Ksh 1 million a day have something to protect: and that is their profit margin. This House should be wary of such businessmen.

Madam Temporary Deputy Speaker, I want to say that we have seen very clear incidences of the benefits of biotechnology. A very well known lady has been awarded an award in the world because of the tissue culture banana, which has made a difference in the country. Tissue culture banana not only produces three times what ordinary banana produce, but it also enhances income for our farmers. It also provides a safety net for their food requirement. It is important that, in our own country, and in our own lifetime, we have a Kenyan who has excelled in the field of biotechnology. She is recognized worldwide. Against that background, we do not have a Biosafety Bill for our country. It is now, and not tomorrow or the day after, that we need to enact a Biosafety Bill because it will give us framework to enable our country to make progress and tap the great talents of our researchers, universities and research institutions, and turn it into good and profitable use, so that we solved the problems of humanity using the knowledge that we have developed over time.

Madam Temporary Deputy Speaker, there are very clear guidelines on the safe use of GMO's that are provided in this Bill. The framework that has been established under this Bill has a full-proof mechanism that no GMO will be introduced in this country unless it has been subjected to a through research and scientific analysis to ensure that it is not only safe in terms of health for human beings, but it is also safe for the environment. Already, the mechanisms that exist under the KEPHIS Act, provides for a minimum of two years analysis under what we call the National Performance Trials of any seed that is introduced in this country, and that was not there before. Already, safety mechanisms have been provided under the other regulator. But this Bill gives the overall oversight responsibility.

Madam Temporary Deputy Speaker, there are GMO's that already passing through our country, through port of Mombasa. Countries such as Congo, Uganda and others import GMO materials through our country. Our country is already exposed. We need a mechanism. That mechanism is provided in the Biosafety Bill. The Bill will give us necessary instruments to ensure that there is a safe passage or safe use of GMOs in our country. This framework gives us the latitude to ensure that there is not only safe passage of GMOs in through our country if they are for export but, in the event that they make it into this country, there is proper mechanism on how that is going to be handled so that it not only safe for our country and human beings, but also for the environment.

There are serious punitive measures for persons who are engaged, without permission, in GMO related organisms. This framework gives us the legal instruments to ensure that anybody who flouts and endangers this country by introducing GMOs without following the laid down procedure will have to be dealt with accordance with the law.

Madam Temporary Deputy Speaker, the overall picture that is created by the Biosafety Bill, and the benefits that it will give to our country, and the criticisms that we have gone through in the promulgation of this Bill, my Ministry and that of Higher Education, Science and Technology have gone through three years of serious interrogation of this Bill, to make sure that it meets the best of standards of any such Bill anywhere in the world. At the moment we are forced, as a country, to rely on the Cartegena Protocol, where the provisions are not stringent and clear enough for us and enforce them in a way that meets the best safety standards of out country.

Madam Temporary Deputy Speaker, I want to conclude by saying this country will help to deal with some of the very serious emerging problems of food safety, and deal more effectively with the issues of poverty by making sure that we have correct varieties that can produce higher yielders and early maturing varieties that not only enhance income for farmers, but also makes sure that our agro-processing plants have sufficient raw materials so that we can expand job opportunities in our country.

With those many remarks, I beg support the Bill.

(*This speech is based on Hansard's record of proceedings and has been slightly edited by Africa Harvest Communication Director, Daniel Kamanga, to enhance clarity)

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