Animal feed makers, scientists fight for GM maize imports

Some of the ingredients required to develop animal feeds are 90 per cent to 100 per cent genetically modified. [iStockphoto]

Stakeholders in the animal feed industry are optimistic that the government will lift the ban on the importation of genetically modified (GM) yellow maize.

The maize is used in the manufacture of animal feeds.

The Association of Kenya Feed Manufacturers (Akefema) has called for swift government intervention that will boost feed production and save livestock from starvation.

Gakuo Mwangi, the Akefema Mt Kenya regional chair said the animal feed industry has intensified competition for white maize with humans.

“Our harvesting cycles mean that we have a lot of maize towards the end of the year but every January to April, we are importing most of the maize we use,” Dr Gakuo said during a workshop on agricultural biotechnology last Thursday in Thika.

“Prices soar, benefiting farmers from neighbouring countries.”

Kenya produces about 40 million tonnes of maize annually. Consumption is also close to the same figure.

A ban on the importation of GM yellow maize, which Akefema says is cheap and readily available, has hit the industry hard and meant that both humans and animals depend on the available white grain.

Blot on success

In June 2022, the government allowed 26 companies to import yellow maize that was not genetically modified. This also proved difficult to find in the market.

Richard Oduor, a professor of molecular and cell biology currently serving at Kenyatta University as director for research support and dissemination, said Kenya’s indecision on GMOs was a blot on its agricultural and socio-economic success.

Professor Richard Okoth Oduor. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

“We did very well to allow Bt cotton (GM) to go through processes of research, confined field trial and now open cultivation. It is good the government is now listening because that was a result of negotiations between scientists and stakeholders,” he said.

“Some of the ingredients required to develop animal feeds are 90 per cent to 100 per cent genetically modified. It is important for the government to appreciate that we need agricultural biotechnology for many other things. It is the next frontier.”

Prof Oduor faulted the government’s tough stance on the importation and use of GM products.

“The government is funding genetic modification and we have money running to labs for developing products. My question is: Why do you support research if you do not believe in the outcome?”

But he is optimistic President William Ruto will heed the call to lift the ban, saying the president is a scientist who had “pronounced himself very positively to this technology” and on that the ban would be lifted a few years ago.

Roy Mugiira, the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) chief executive also believes the new government, with its manifesto on supporting production by reducing costs and providing raw materials, will find it favourable to lift the ban on the importation of GM products.

“When we do not allow these products in, neighbouring countries that allow the importation of Distillers Dried Grains with Solubles (DDGS) and GM products produce cheaply. Our farmers are pushed out of the market by the influx of cheap products,” he said.

An industrial visit to Kiambu County Poultry Farmers’ Cooperative showed the level of damage the drought and lack of cheap raw materials for feed manufacturing, has had on production.

The cooperative, which started with 700 members and now has 300, is producing at reduced capacity.

The cooperative, which came together with an aim of forming a whole value chain including starting a slaughterhouse, says it has not received enough government support.

It operates on leased land despite constant requests to be given access to idle public land, the directors say.

The organisation was started in 2018 and sells 27 tonnes of feed a day. It has three mixers, each of which can produce ten tonnes daily.

The second most widely exploited GM crop is maize. [iStockphoto]

Ease trade

The farmers want county governments to collaborate and have programmes where they can exchange resources to ease trade.

“It is becoming increasingly difficult for farmers to continue rearing livestock and poultry,” said Ann Ngugi, the Kiambu Poultry Association chair.

“They fail to break even and leave the business. This hurts the entire supply chain. The feed manufacturers are also affected as buyers’ numbers decline. We could even be forced to close down.”

Dr Mwangi warned that Kenya’s reliance on regional countries for its feeds could end up hurting it once such countries’ markets grow to exhaust surpluses.

“Protein component of food formulation should be at the fore of feed production. Tanzania and Uganda produce sunflower, soya and cotton. Farmers in Tanzania are harvesting both maize and sunflower, where the seed cake is used for animal feeds,” he said.

“We keep on importing such from them but soon, they will not manage to sell to us, they will use it all.”

Tanzania recently froze the issuance of new maize export permits to Kenyan traders.

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