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Ruto Promotes GMO Corn

FILE: A farmer gathers arid corn crops on his farm in Kwale, Kenya. Taken January 27, 2009.
FILE: A farmer gathers arid corn crops on his farm in Kwale, Kenya. Taken January 27, 2009.

With more than 4 million people in Kenya facing acute food shortages after the worst drought in four decades ravaged crops and livestock in East Africa, President William Ruto's new government last month lifted a decade-old ban on cultivation and imports of genetically-modified (GMO) maize.

Kenya President William Ruto said the move to allow pest-resistant GMO crops was necessary to boost crop yields and ensure food security, an argument dismissed by maize growers and a smallholder farmers' group that has filed a lawsuit against the government to have the decision overturned.

Maize grower Dick Olela says GMO crops, which are often seedless, pose a threat to a "sustainable" tradition of recycling seeds, leaving maize growers dependent on big foreign companies that own the patents to GMO seeds.

"This is something that is out to put us into seed slavery, where we have to buy them every time we plant," Olela told Reuters.

Other critics, including the Kenya Farmers Association which represents thousands of maize growers, say the decision was rushed and failed to address long-standing health concerns.

Kenya struggles to feed its population of 55 million and has consistently had an annual deficit of 10 million bags of the maize staple. Imports fill the gap but supply has come under unprecedented pressure in recent years from urbanization and sky-rocketing prices of inputs like fertilizer.

The maize farmers remain sceptical.

"Before we go the GMO way, why don't we ... give farmers subsidies for seeds, fuel, affordable credit?" said Kipkorir Menjo, a director at the farmers' association.