To nip the spread of misinformation in the bud, ISAAA AfriCenter held two significant sensitization events on 28th and 29th May 2024. The two, a Research Officers’ Biosafety Misinformation Sensing short course and OFAB-Kenya Luncheon, were held in Naivasha, Rift Valley, during the 12th Annual Biosafety Conference.

These two brought together stakeholders from various sectors to discuss and strategize on effective communication and outreach activities in biotechnology. In Africa, misinformation surrounding genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has created skepticism, hindering acceptance and adoption of beneficial agricultural innovations. The urgency to address this issue and promote accurate information is critical to unlocking the potential of emerging bio-innovations. The two events, therefore, aimed at significantly pushing the debate towards this cause. 

But it was at the OFAB-Kenya Luncheon, themed ‘28 Years of Agri-biotech Application in Food Production – Where Are the Benefits?’, where the best debates emerged. Here, technocrats, scientists, farmers, and private sector representatives engaged in tough debates to assess the impact of agricultural biotechnology over the past three decades. 

Daniel Magondu, a cotton farmer from Kirinyaga, central Kenya, shared valuable insights based on his extensive experience with growing Bt cotton. From his experience as a consistent Bt cotton farmer, he demonstrated the tangible benefits of using the genetically modified crop, and the relief after years of frustrations with the conventional cotton.

Mr Magondu’s experience underscored the importance of practical, real-world data in understanding the advantages of GMOs. He listed key benefits as higher yields, better pest resistance, and reduced need for chemical inputs. These benefits translate into improved productivity and sustainability for farmers, who often understand the value of GMOs better through hands-on experience rather than theoretical discussions.

Nehemiah Ngetich, the National Biosafety Authority’s (NBA) Director of Biosafety Research and Compliance, reiterated, especially to activists who looked to poke holes into the NBA’s mandate, that Kenya’s regulatory framework for biotechnology is robust and functional. This framework ensures that all GMO products undergo rigorous safety assessments before they are approved for use. 

“The presence of such a strong regulatory system is vital for building public trust and ensuring that the benefits of GMOs are realized without compromising safety,” said Ngetich. “The National Biosafety Authority (NBA) plays a crucial role in this process, providing oversight and ensuring compliance with international standards.” 

A recurring theme was the need for better understanding of biotechnology among pseudo-scientists. Often lacking formal training in the field, they can perpetuate misinformation and misconceptions about GMOs, especially through fear-mongering. It was emphasized that a more informed and educated approach is necessary for these pseudo-scientists to appreciate the scientific rigor behind biotechnology. By taking the time to understand the complexities and benefits of biotech crops and products, they can contribute to a more informed public discourse and help dispel myths that hinder the adoption of beneficial technologies.

The discussions at the Luncheon underscored the importance of clear communication, practical experience, and robust regulation in the field of agricultural biotechnology. By addressing concerns about GMO safety, highlighting the benefits through real-world data, and fostering a deeper understanding among all stakeholders, including pseudo-scientists, we can pave the way for more widespread acceptance and utilization of GMOs. This, in turn, can lead to more sustainable and productive agricultural practices in Kenya and beyond.