US steps up push for Kenya to allow import of GMO foods

Deputy American Agriculture Secretary Jewel Bronaugh. [Courtesy]

Representatives from 32 US agribusiness firms are in Kenya as part of an American government delegation to scout for trade opportunities in the country.

The US food firms are looking for new and expanded markets in Kenya for their crops. The visit comes at a time when Nairobi is under pressure from Washington to allow access to its genetically modified (GM) food and crop products.

This followed a move by the new Kenya Kwanza administration last month to give approval for GM imports, providing a huge market opportunity for American companies.

Financial Standard caught up with the US Deputy Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Jewel Bronaugh, the second topmost agriculture docket official of the Joe Biden administration, for insights into why the US is supporting the controversial lifting of the GMO ban by President William Ruto's administration.

Here are excerpts from the interview:

What is the nature of your visit?

We are excited to be here. We are leading the US-East African trade mission. We will be visiting Nairobi, Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar. We have brought a delegation from the US consisting of food and egg producers, cooperators and regional trade groups and State Departments of Agriculture who are all here to talk about how we can bring quality US food and egg products to East Africa but also about bilateral trade opportunities to get products from East Africa into the US. We are starting in Kenya.

East Africa is facing a huge food crisis. What is USDA's assessment of the situation?

That situation, unfortunately is starting to be what we see occurring throughout the whole world because of many reasons. We have experienced the pandemic, and we continue to experience the effects of climate change and the Russian-Ukrainian war that has had a significant impact.

Climate change has really impacted food productivity here on the (African) continent, especially with the long-term drought.

It is very concerning because food security is important for a growing population, and when you have challenges such as severe drought and other extreme weather conditions, it challenges our ability to really produce enough. So we are interested in utilising science and innovation to try to determine how we can be more productive.

Russia has just pulled out from the un-backed Ukraine export grain deal, what does this mean for the global food situation?

We 100 per cent denounce that decision because it will negatively impact the export of grain through the Ukrainian ports coming to critical regions such as East Africa and other countries. We look at it as another way that Russia is weaponising food, and we are not in support of that decision.

Kenya has lifted the ban on gm crops. What does this mean, and what role do you see the us playing in Kenya in this space?

We are excited that President Ruto made the decision to remove the 10-year ban on GM products. Just thinking about the challenges here in food production, we see that as an opportunity to use biotechnology advancements, the science and the database opportunities to utilise that to produce more food in a sustainable way so that we can feed the population here who are hungry and continue to be hungry.

It is an opportunity to bring more GM corn, soybeans and other products even that can be helpful for the livestock.

It is an amazing opportunity to advance production in a safe way but also one that can benefit farmers in terms of their productivity and fight climate change.

What other agricultural opportunities do you see for both countries going forward?

We were fortunate to have a meeting with President Ruto. Having been a farmer and former Minister of Agriculture, he understands agriculture, and what it takes to meet many of our challenges.

We talked specifically about opportunities to bring more corn and soybeans into the region. We also talked about the need for greater infrastructure in terms of what he envisions with dams and support for dams here. We even talked about livestock genetics because we have quality bulls in the US, and we are working to meet the requirements to bring quality bulls to improve livestock for dairy products.

Under the African growth and opportunity act (AGOA), trade exports have leaned on textiles only. How does the proposed partnership boost trade in agricultural products?

We can look at more products for trade. One that we discussed is BT Cotton and the place of importance of allowance of GMO products.

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