Since 1902

By Ferdinand Mwongela

There is a significant increase in the adoption of biotech crops around the world.

Last year, two out of three countries that joined the bandwagon came from Africa. Egypt and Burkina Faso in Africa and Bolivia in Latin America joined South Africa and 21 other countries in cultivating genetically modified crops up from six in 1996.

With a Biosafety Act finally in place and promising signs from biotechnology studies by institutions like Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (Kari) and public universities, Kenya may soon grow genetically modified crops on a commercial scale.

Research on pest resistant crops is well underway and farmers in various parts of the country are involved in growing tissue culture bananas.

Kari Director Charles Waturu says the institute is researching on transgenic cotton Bt (Bacillus Thuringiensis). Genetically engineered cotton carries environmentally friendly insecticide in its plant tissues to counter the African bollworm menace.

cotton collapse

The worm led to the collapse of cotton growing. Production fell from 70, 000 bales in 1985 to less than 20,000 in 2000. Efforts to control the pest takes up more than 32 per cent of production costs.

Dr Waturu says Kari is on track to open field trials by October on land in cotton growing areas followed by trials with farmers to take between three and four years.

In the past, researchers cited lack of legal framework as a hindrance, but this is now set to be a thing of the past.

South Africa, the first African country to adopt the crops, is the eighth largest adopter of biotech crops.

Nearly 13.3 million farmers in 25 countries planted 125 million hectares of biotech crops, leading to the sixth largest growth spurt in 13 years, reports the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications.

The period saw the global hectarage of biotech crops increase by 10.7 million hectares (9.4) per cent. Last year, according to the report, "accumulatively the second billionth acre (800 millionth hectare) of a biotech crop plant was planted only three years after the first billionth acre was planted in 2005."

First billionth

This feat was managed in three years compared to the first billionth hectare that was achieved in 10 years, 1996 to 2005, the first decade of commercialisation of biotech crops," explains the report.

Kenya was one of the first signatories to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, when it was opened for signature at the United Nations Office in Nairobi in 2000.