On 2nd June 2016, ISAAA AfriCenter, OFAB Kenya and partners under the African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum participated in a public hearing held by the Senate Committee on Land and Natural Resources. The purpose of the hearing was to submit concerns on the Natural Resources (Classes of Transactions Subject to Ratification) Bill, 2015. The Bill has two clauses that could negatively impact GMO research and development in the country. It requires that field trials on Genetically Modified Organisms and permits for material transfer agreements be subjected to parliamentary ratification.
Biotech stakeholders argued that apart from delaying biotechnology research and product development, the Bill will limit Kenya’s competitiveness by denying the country access to a safe technology that has benefitted farmers and the environment for two decades. The National Biosafety Authority who were also present at the hearing made reference to the Biosafety Act 2009 and stated that “the country already had an elaborate Act of Parliament to govern all aspects of GM research.” Stakeholders submitted that the two clauses be deleted from the ‘Classes of Transactions Subject to Ratification’ list. Written submissions were also forwarded to the Clerk of the Senate.
The concerns outlined by stakeholders included:
- Delay in research and product delivery to the end users: The need for Parliament to ratify issuance of permit will require additional time for the applicant to make the application to parliament and for parliamentarians to familiarize themselves with the issue, have it discussed and the decision communicated to the applicant. This is an additional obstacle to research and product development which may not be the case with other competing countries hence Kenyans will be directly disadvantaged.
- Discouragement of domestic and international investors leading to food insecurity and youth unemployment: With prevailing resource limitations where investments are attracted by predictability of the regulatory systems and associated ease of doing business, the requirement for additional and less predictable approval such as Parliamentary ratification is a major discouragement and contradiction to the general call to enhance ease of investing in Kenya. This is particularly important given that investment in GM field trials aim to enhance food security and youth employment.
- Weakening of the robust research policy that the government has set up: The need for additional time for Parliamentary ratification will make research in Kenya costly hence negate the government policy to enhance research. This is because each unit of time spent on research has to be paid for in personnel as well as use of relevant equipment. In addition, resource constraints are limiting funding to research with potential for commercialization. Additional political obstacles will clearly stand in the way of utilization of research products,. The proposal therefore contradicts the government research agenda.