CS Linturi approves 122 new plant varieties amid GMO row

Kenya has granted licences for the cultivation, production and sale of 122 new plant varieties amid a row on the lifting of a 10-year ban on genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

In a gazette notice published Friday and dated February 2, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi said members of the public have until March 3 to lodge any objections to the grant of licences for 92 other varieties that are currently awaiting approval.

"Pursuant to regulation 16 of the Seeds and Plant Varieties (Plant Breeders' Rights) Regulations, 1994, the Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture and Livestock Development notifies the public of the applications for grant of plant breeders' rights for the 92 plant varieties set out in the schedule," said Linturi in the gazette notice.

The 122 plant varieties cover a wide array of cereals, fruits, flowers and tubers and feature a long list of local and international entities that now have exclusive production rights in Kenya for both the domestic and export market.

The firms include US agricultural giants Monsanto and Pioneer Overseas Corporation which have been granted plant breeder rights to produce and sell different strains of genetically modified maize.

Dutch flower producers Horti Partners VOF and Konst Breeding BV have been granted the rights to produce and sell seven and three strains respectively of Alstroemeria popularly known as the Peruvian Lily.

The Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation has been granted the rights to produce five strains of GM teas, while Monsanto and Dutch firm Nunhems BV will commence production of french beans and tomatoes respectively.

According to the Seeds and Plant Varieties Act Cap 326, breeders' rights are granted for a fixed period of 20 years except in the case of trees and vines where the period is 25 years.

The approvals come amid three petitions filed at the High Court challenging a Cabinet resolution passed in October last year lifting a ban on the importation of GMOs.

"In accordance with the recommendation of the Task Force to Review Matters Relating to Genetically Modified Foods and Food Safety, and in fidelity with the guidelines of the National Biosafety Authority on all applicable international treaties, including the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB), Cabinet vacated its earlier decision of November 8, 2012, prohibiting the open cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops and the importation of food crops and animal feeds produced through biotechnology innovations; effectively lifting the ban on genetically modified crops" read the Cabinet dispatch.

"By dint (force) of the executive action, open cultivation and importation of white (GM) maize is now authorised."

One of the petitioners in the court case, the Kenya Peasant League, argues that allowing the importation of GMOs could adversely affect the livelihoods of Kenyan farmers.

High Court Justice Mugure Thande a week ago extended orders suspending the importation, distribution and consumption of GMOs until March 28 when the case will be heard.

The 92 other GM products awaiting approval include apples, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries and members of the public. Interested parties have until March 3, this year to file any objections or input.

"The representations or requests for a hearing concerning the applications or any matters on which the authorised officer should be satisfied shall be made by the person applying for the opportunity to make representations to the Cabinet Secretary of the authorised officer within 60 days of this notice, failure to which the authorised officer will proceed with the processing of the applications," said Linturi in the gazette notice.

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