Voodoo theorists, know-it-alls now scaring everybody on GMOs

Science is making the plant gene stronger, better adapted to challenging environments, and more efficient and productive. [Istockphoto]

Life is scientific, says the little wise boy whom William Golding (1911–1993) called Piggy.

Like many global geniuses, the 1983 Nobel Prize for Literature Laureate was always fascinated by the intercourse between art, the forces that drive life, and the place of science. On at least one plane, the classic 'Lord of the Flies' can be explored for the theme of competition between science and superstition.

Afraid of science, superstition oppressively rules the human psyche. It is especially afraid of innovation and, instead, seeks simplistic and voodoo explanations to happenings and phenomena. This is quite curious in the emerging brave new world that is the converse of what the pessimistic Aldous Huxley wrote of in 1932.

But even in the old world order, the futuristic place of science was assured. In Christendom, God completes creation and sees that it is good. Even then, he issues a divine edict, instructing man to be productive. 

We read in Genesis 1:28, ‘And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’

The command to explore, discover, innovate and dominate nature is a divine injunction. It is stated of the things captured in the next verse, ‘Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.’ Yes, but they must be multiplied. 

The seed is given, and so too the authority to multiply. After creation, and which God saw was good, science must follow. But superstition fears science. Technology is the latter-day linani, ikooko; the faceless formless wild beast that waits in dark alleys, to eat up cheeky little children. That is why in the mid-1960s, Kenyans were afraid of the introduction of the hybrid maize seed. 

In Emanyulia, my grandmother, Rosa, a lady who attended what is today Butere Girls School in 1916–1920, was at the forefront of the resistance. It was not until she had visited her brother, ‘Lord’ Iyadi Omurembe of Endebess, and seen the wonders of the seed that she changed tune. Emanyulia changed with her.

The war is on, again, against genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and especially in maize grain production. Sundry pansophists and voodoo theorists are at work, scaring everybody.

Look, science will go on. Rip Van Winkle may not like it. But it will go on. Rip was the character who, for 20 years, slept through the American Revolution. As told by Washington Irving, he came to, only to find a new world. He was irrelevant. We have enough people today, encouraging us to sleep through another revolution. Yes, there is a new brave world in which science has got into the heart of the gene. 

Science is making the plant gene stronger, better adapted to challenging environments, and more efficient and productive. In the past, plant tissue structures have been modified through grafting and allied processes. We eat from a wide basket of fruits whose essential tissue has been modified, through crude modes.

But now science is changing all that. Even here in Kenya, Katumani has modified seed varieties over the years, only that the technology was crude. 

All reproduction that will be strong must seek genetic modification. Even traditional societies have looked for foreign strong genes, when making families. You breed with strangers. Relatives are a no-go zone. If we are going to condense time and space to make plant and animal production faster through GMO, what do we need beyond assurance by the science community that it is safe?

In this world, you are an innovator, or an early adapter. If not, you are a late adapter, or a laggard. 

Laggard voices saying, ‘No, let us remain behind, where it is safe.  Let us remain the foil to civilisation. We will surely die if we embrace science and technology.’

Well, the world moves on, regardless that Rip Van Winkle sleeps safely. 

Dr Muluka is a strategic communications advisor.