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In numbers: Here's what Kenyans think about GM maize

 According the survey, 63.8 per cent of the respondents think the government should not allow Kenyans to eat GMOs while only 15 per cent say it should. [iStockphoto]

More than half of respondents in Kenya who took part in an online survey have heard the argument that Genetically Modified (GM) maize is harmful to health.

This was the response of more than 60 per cent of respondents who took part in the online survey on pollster OnePulse about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).

The poll was conducted on Wednesday, November 31.

According to the survey, 63.8 per cent of the respondents think the government should not allow Kenyans to eat GMOs while only 15 per cent say it should. About 20 per cent said the government should allow GMOs only for now because of the food shortage.

About 22 per cent of the respondents have heard that GM maize will solve the food shortage in Kenya while 10.8 per cent heard that farmers will not be able to sell their maize if Kenya allows GMO the growing of GMO maize.

"It will kill our natural seeds and we will be fully dependent on GMOs," one respondent said.

Another respondent said, "it is still uncertain what health and environmental effects it could have."

With these reservations, at least over 70 per cent of the respondents know what GM maize is while 12.6 per cent have an idea what it is. But, 13.8 completely has no idea what GM maize is.

Several respondents noted that there is still a need for more objective research and that scientists should tell or educate more about GMOs.

The Chief Executive Officer of, National Biosafety Authority (NBA), Dr Roy Mugira, says there is a lot of misinformation out there about GMOs and the government should allocate more funding for public awareness and the right place to start would be the houses in parliament.

"If you google GMO now you will find absurd and very shocking information and this is what our public is being fed. What this reflects is a challenge that we want to take head on that indeed the levels of public awareness among ordinary persons is low," Dr Mugira says.

According to Dr Mogira, the levels of public awareness and education on this particular subject have, for a long time, been negatively influenced by antagonistic reporting and deliberate misinformation.

"We want to allow our farmers, researchers and technology developers choice, ours is to regulate. GMOs are one of the most regulated products and therefore people should have confidence in the institutions that we have. A need has been identified and I want to rally the relevant authorities to help us reach out to the people," he says.

The Registrar of Research at Kenyatta University and Chairman Kenya University Biotechnology Consortium (KUBICO), Prof Richard Oduor says it is important to hear the real voices of people who go hungry every day because they cannot afford food rather than those who can afford even a meal a day.

He says the Government has a strategy that cannot rely on a single approach to feed the nation, it started with subsidising fertiliser, among other measures, he adds.

Prof Richard Oduor notes researchers been getting funds for the last ten years from the government to develop draught-tolerant GM maize, GM cassava with low levels of cyanide.

He explains that the technology that is used elsewhere is the same one applied here in Kenya.

"We keep discussing GMO with imaginary side effects. It is sad that the GMO debate is the only debate that I have seen in the recent past where everybody has an opinion and they have all of a sudden become professionals," Prof Oduor says.

He explains that when GMOs get here, they will be labeled and people will have a choice.

"I am looking forward to a future where the public has a choice to eat what they want. Let the GMOs get here, let us try it as Kenyans, scientists have a responsibility to find out what works and before any consignment gets in, it will be verified by the regulator," he says.

He adds that biotechnology students finally have the opportunity to apply the technology because with the GMO ban they were unable to do so.

The coordinator of Route to Food, Emmanuel Atamba, opines GMO foods will not have a market in Kenya as long as there is fear and reservations. He says Kenyans are clearly not happy about the rushed decisions to lift the ban on GMOs.

People are scared for a reason, and they have instincts around issues. Kenyans are simply saying, they are not sure about this, they are uncomfortable and do not have to have any scientific reason to be uncomfortable," adds Atamba.

"Whoever thinks there is market for GM foods in this country, I welcome them to try, we have advised that this is premature, not consultative and does not enhance food security, it actually compromises it," he argues.

According to Atamba, it is the consumers who decide what to eat. Not the government. Even if GMOs enter the country, if consumers have not decided that this is something they want to interact with, they will not eat it, it will stay in the shelves, the business will not happen and no one will make any enterprise from GMOs.

He says even the biosafety law envisions that this is something that is not free from risks and some people know enough what to touch and what not to touch, and appreciates that people can choose.

"Every meal consumer will have will be a vote, and we will see if they vote for GM or non-GM Ugali and in every meal, GMO will lose. I encourage farmers to keep their seeds and practices, we have to maintain what we have and not be controlled by anyone," says Atamba.

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