Prof Eucharia Kenya speaks on benefits of biotechnology for Africa

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Prof Eucharia Kenya

How much does Africa need Biotechnology at this point?

I would say Africa needs the technologies, agricultural and all the other technologies for the reasons that we have seen the impact that these technologies have made in other parts of the world.For example I can give you some statistics 29 countries in the world have now commercialised GM crops among these 29 countries we have 16million farmers growing GM crops on hundred and sixty million hectares of land. Some of these countries have been able to totally turn around their economies from growing GM crops. Africa is bonded, like you know the statistics is there for us to see the increasing population, the reducing natural resources and so on and so forth, so we need to get any technology that can help us add more food to our table as long as those technologies are regulated as long as those technologies are safe. Africans should not fear to adopt after all other parts of the world are adopting this technologies to the benefit of their farmers and to the benefit of their people.

    Now you live in East Africa and here it’s been really a volatile issue and some part of Southern Africa too, what are the real issues that inform these controversies or where they just perception issues?

It is not an issue of perception. It is about safety. When you analyze all the arguments and all the stories that are going round, you will find it all revolves around safety. Is it safe for our environment? Now is it safe for us to eat, we say that these crop have been consumed since 1996 when it was first commercialized the BT corn was first commercialized and this we are now looking at a period of 15 or more years and there has not been a single scientific evidence to show that these food has been harmful and yet these fear has been persisted and the fear persisted because a lot of people do not understand how those crops are made. The issue of genetic modification is scientific, some people think it is very complex and because a lot of people just fear they fear that we can move our gene from bacteria to a plant like maize to get your BT corn. The fact that you can do that, made people fear that you can do anything but it not true. People must realize that the entire technologies are highly regulated and by the time you produce a GM crop that goes into the market, it has gone into our rigorous regulation mechanism and it is almost impossible for you to put out in the market something that will be harmful. So a lot of the fear like a lot of examples we hear people say if they eat the food they will become sterile, that this is somebody’s agenda on Africans because they trying to control us in other ways, some people say if you eat the food you put on weight excessively but we know all the issue of weight is our life style problem, but the point I want to make is that none of these is based on science and all the research people have done have shown that these food are as safe as the conventional counterpart.

    So you are saying categorically that there are no real issues of concern?

As far as we know and looking at what we call history of safe use, there are no issues on this technology. There might be issues in future and we are human beings we cannot see into the future but looking from the experience of several years over decade, there are no real issues at this point in time.

How then do we handle this perception issues?

The only way we can handle this perception issue is to keep putting the facts forward, we need to be proactive we need to get scientist to speak because by the way there is a study we did in Kenya on the use of the sources of information, how people track information and scientist are held in a very high regard but unfortunately they are not coming for as much as we want them to. The only way you can counter misinformation is putting forth the correct information and saying it in a way that people can understand and raising your voice literally having many people talk about it reputable scientists like I said. People said that this is a big science for a big country for big economy and that Africa cannot handle it we don’t even have capacity that is not true we do have capacity to handle this technology.

    Please can you tell us a bit about your background?

    My background is insect science and for my PHD which I did between 1990 and 1995, I actually work on Basuru Steligenes which now forms the basis of a lot of genetically modify crops because we are getting the protein that kills insect from that bacteria and then these small gene is what has been incorporated. So in a way I understand the technology as much as anybody else would the things that are going on and then I have been at the university in the department of Biochemistry and Biotechnology for over 10 years and them currently I have moved to an NGO where am a research consultant on the issues of Agricultural Biotech, issues of Biosafety, issues of biosecurity which is now an emergence area in Africa and then I do a lot of training on science communication. Thank you so much


Posted by on September 18, 2012. Filed under Interview. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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