Principal Secretary for Agriculture Research Professor Hamadi Boga launched the Society for Biotech Farmers of Kenya (SOBIFAK) in Mwea, Kirinyaga County, on 11th December, 2018.

SOBIFAK is a registered national farmers’ association that advocates for incorporation of new biotechnology tools – including genetically modified (GM) crops – into Kenya’s agricultural system with the aim of increasing production and protecting farmers’ yields. Registered in September 2017, the society currently has a membership of 500 smallholder farmer leaders spread across 24 counties in the country.

Professor Boga assured farmers that the country is ready to incorporate biotechnology in agriculture to help improve production and protect yield. “Agriculture is driven by genetics, we must not allow our farmers to continue using inferior seeds,” he said. “To be competitive in the region, we must give our farmers the best-performing seeds,” added the PS.

SOBIFAK launch comes at the time the country is carrying out National Performance Trials (NPTs) on Bt cotton to identify suitable varieties for different agro-ecological zones. The biotech crop is expected to be commercially planted by May 2020. Other crops undergoing biotech research in the country include maize, cassava and sorghum.

SOBIFAK members with Kirinyaga County's Deputy Governor H.E. Peter Ndambiri
SOBIFAK members with Kirinyaga County’s Deputy Governor H.E. Peter Ndambiri

Investment and Industry Principal Secretary Betty Maina said the launch offers an exciting opportunity and a message to farmers and county governments that the national government is counting on their support to be able to produce cotton in the amount and quality required. “At the heart of Bt cotton conversation is the farmer. Your money has built our institutions and it is what the government is prioritizing to implement Buy Kenya, Build Kenya initiative,” PS Maina remarked.

Kirinyaga County Governor Anne Waiguru, in a speech read by her Deputy Peter Ndambiri, applauded research on Bt cotton saying the success of the NPTs will add great value to her county’s economic program. “We are training women groups to produce linen items such as curtains, beddings and patient garments for our hospitals. Reviving cotton growing will significantly help close the gap in the textile value chain by providing us with a ready source of raw materials for our commercial outputs,” she noted.

SOBIFAK chair Daniel Magondu said the association will engage with all biotechnology stakeholders including scientists, policy makers, media, women and youth in a concerted effort to achieve a smooth transition of biotech crops from research to product. “Our society is in support of the President’s directive to his ministries to deliver Bt cotton as part of the Big Four Action Plan in revival of the cotton industry,” Magondu said.

Kenya’s agricultural sector faces a myriad of challenges owing to factors ranging from poor seed quality, effects of climate change, crop pests and diseases, overreliance on rain-fed agriculture and lack of optimal agricultural technologies. SOBIFAK supports modern biotechnology, a technology that offers additional tools that could be incorporated into the country’s farming systems to help address some of these challenges, empower smallholder farmers, bolster food security and transform the national economy.

Globally, over the past two decades, modern biotechnology has played a huge role in improving production of key food and cash crops thereby increasing return on farm investment. Biotech crops have delivered substantial agronomic, environmental, economic, health, and social benefits to farmers, and increasingly to the consumers.

According to a report by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), in 2017 alone, up to 17 million farmers in 24 countries planted 189.8 million hectares of biotech crops with economic benefits amounting to USD 18.2 billion (KShs 1.9 trillion). In Africa, only South Africa and Sudan were able to tap into these benefits.

With the constantly growing population and new challenges facing agricultural production, Kenya must be willing to harness the potential of science, technology and innovations in providing feasible solutions. SOBIFAK acknowledges the potential benefits of adopting appropriate technologies developed to improve farming, both in increasing production and reducing the cost of production per unit area. This association makes a strong commitment to supporting technology-based, climate-smart agriculture that not only benefits individual farmers, but also contributes to socio-economic growth of our country.