Let the raging GMO debate go beyond food security concern

Until recently, majority of Kenyans were oblivious of the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) debate. It was not until early 2000s when a proposition to introduce GMOs aroused an intense debate. The proposal met immense opposition, resulting in the ban on production and importation of GM crops. No wonder, the recent move to lift the ban has sparked yet another debate - especially because of the inconclusive GMO experimentations.

Those who support GMOs speak vigorously about poverty and starvation while anti-GMOs are generally considered not only scientifically ignorant but pro-poverty and pro-starvation. Kenya as a big net importer of food, has had strain in boosting production in agriculture, to keep up with demand of food for the growing population. GMO seems to offer a ready solution. Interestingly though, many nations around the globe have flatly refused to feed their citizens on GMOs in spite of its oft touted food security benefits. Is Kenya ready to experiment with the lives of its citizens?

While we leave science to the scientists, this discussion should perhaps go beyond food security. Back in the early nineties while in Bible School, the discussion about genetic engineering in general and GMOs in particular was a hot topic - especially because GMOs defy both laws of creationism and theories of evolution. From a theological perspective, manipulation of organisms has been seen as going against the divine declaration for living things to produce after their own kind - in nature and characteristics.

Concern has been raised as to how far this genetical modifications - including cloning - can go without totally altering creation order. It is feared that this could easily escalate to modification of human beings to create a super race - akin to Hitler's vision and mission. Who then is the watchman against such possibilities - as remote as they may sound? Who will keep the big companies from exploiting vulnerabilities of the developing nations?

It is clear that too much tinkering with creation in laboratories to solve global problems could give rise to unprecedented environmental repercussion for the future. Therefore, our liberty to choose should be moderated by the fact that we are powerless to predict future consequences. Consider, for example, the plastic revolution - a highly beneficial innovation that unfortunately has become a global menace choking up our environment while killing ocean bed species. Attempts to claw back its effects are costly.

Whereas the Bible may not specifically address the GMO issue, it is clear that our mandate as human beings is to steward God's creation within the dictates of His parameters, principles and declarations. We should come to the critical realisation that the divine mandate bestowed upon us, calls for sobriety even in contemporary policy development. Our assessment should take into consideration the socio-economic theology, devoid of emotional biases - which prevent people from making sober distinctions.

In a nation where an estimated 85 per cent of population, identifies with the Christian faith, we should critique the GMO policies to ensure we are not overstepping our biblical mandate. Unfortunately, the conversation around GMO has created a rigid dichotomy between morality and theology. Proponents use Scripture to advocate for the poor and marginalised communities that die of hunger and thirst. Others use the same Scriptures to argue against GMOs and the broader genetical modification of creation.

The question is what the alternative could be. Perhaps we should heighten the conversation on increasing land productivity and preservation of our forests to mitigate against climate change. It is encouraging that steps are being taken to improve agriculture and reduce cost of farm inputs. With such incentives and better returns to farmers, we could increase our food security without resorting to the controversial GMOs.

Given the controversies in many nations over this theme, much research is still needed before we can fully embrace it. We should err on the side of caution. Otherwise, as one has put it, "going against the will of nature is an act of hubris, we are bound to bring enormous disaster upon ourselves." Prof Wangari Maathai had similar warnings which we readily ignored to our current peril.