Kenya’s GMO import plans temporarily put on pause

The High Court of Kenya recently delayed the Kenyan government’s plans to lift the ban on the importation and distribution of genetically modified organisms.

According to The East African, the court temporarily suspended the government’s plans after the Kenyan Peasants League, a lobby representing small-scale farmers, submitted a court application against lifting the ban. According to the group, the government’s decision is unlawful and not procedural.

The Kenyan government announced in October that it would allow genetically modified maize to be imported due to a three-year-long drought which has led to a food shortage affecting 4 million Kenyans. The import ban was introduced in 2012.

According to the court, the government is now prohibited from announcing any directives regarding GMOs in the State Gazette or implementing the cabinet decree aimed at lifting the ban. 

The Kenyan Peasants League infers that GMO products carry health risks for Kenyans, especially for those who fall within lower-income groups. Furthermore, they say that the government lifted the ban without consulting the public, as is required by their constitution. 

According to Wandile Sihlobo, Chief Economist of the agricultural business chamber Agbiz, South Africa has various markets within Southern Africa and the Far East for maize. Kenya could become an additional location, but the delay in the deregulation of GMOs will not necessarily be a problem for South African farmers.

Dr André van der Vyver, Executive Director of the South African Cereals and Oilseeds Trade Association (SACOTA), says that the court order is only a temporary measure and the application will be heard on 15 December. 

Van der Vyver said after the lift on the ban it was announced that Kenya will need to abandon any import tariffs in order for exports to be financially feasible.

He said that South Africa’s stance regarding the tariffs is unclear as of yet. “There have always been countries, mostly in East Africa, that are exempt from the import tariffs for a period of time during the year. South Africa was not one of them.”

He further said that it is being reported that all countries will be exempt as of February 2023, but that is still unverified due to varying reports they have received. 

Besides the GMO and tariff issues, he is unsure where Kenya will receive maize from as South Africa exports most of its white maize surplus to Mexico. “There are few other countries where Kenya will be able to get maize from.”

He said that it depends, however, on the specific period and prices at that point in time, which will probably be four to six months from now.

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