Westlands, Nairobi – KEPHIS and National Biosafety Authority Boards of Directors have gone through a two-day training on Biosafety Risk Assessment and Genome Editing Technologies, aimed at sensitizing and building capacity to them members as they lead the organizations which are regulators in matters biosafety in Kenya.
The topics taught included the mandates of KEPHIS and the NBA in the regulation of Genetically Modified Organisms(GMOs) and emerging technologies, the mandates of KEPHIS in terms of conducting National Performance Trials(NPTs), variety release and the certification process of GMOs, general considerations for safety of GMOs for commercial release and the food safety risk assessment of GMOs.
Others were environmental risk assessment of GMOs, Socio-economic considerations in GMO making decision making process, the Overview of Proposed Guidelines on Regulating Genome Editing Organisms and Products in Kenya and GMO Applications decision making process.
Bt Cotton has already been commercialized in Kenya; the process included a variety that is resistant to the cotton boll worm that wreaks havoc to cotton production, thus lowering yields. The genetically modified cotton is expected to boost the textile industry, whose production has gone down over the years.
Bt maize is currently undergoing National Performance Trials(NPTs) at various sites in Thika, Embu, Mwea, Kibos, Kakamega, Alupe and DUS tests at Kiboko. The purpose of the trials is to test the new plant varieties for performance compared to varieties currently in the market.
From left: KEPHIS Board Chairman Mr. Robin Achoki, MD Prof. Theophilus Mutui and Board members Dr Rose Njeru and Dr Stephen Kirimi during the two-day training on Biosafety Risk Assessment and Genome Editing Technologies in Kenya at a Nairobi hotel
Development of a genetically modified crop takes between 10 and 12 years from laboratory experimentation to full commercialization. Approval of GM crops involves a scientific risk assessment process to determine both food/feed and environmental safety, public participation and consideration of socioeconomic impacts of releasing the GMO. Some of the socio-economic considerations before approval include contribution of the technology to food security and its sustainability, access to technology by farmers, income considerations, cost of GM seed comparative to existing seeds, co-existence between GM and non-GM crops, any possible trade disruptions at regional and international level, potential economic or social benefits, freedom of choice as the seed packets will be labelled and lastly stewardship plan of the crops.
KEPHIS Board Member Dr. Stephen Kirimi leading the session on Genome Editing in Agricultural Biotechnology during the two day KEPHIS and National Biosafety Authority Board members training on Biosafety Risk Assessment and Genome Editing Technologies in Kenya
Public participation as a key pillar in decision making before release of GMOs involves publications in the Kenya Gazette, at least two newspapers of wide circulation, the NBA website and open public forums.
In Africa, South Africa leads in the production of GM crops; other countries such as Kenya, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and Eswatini have approved commercialization of GM crops notably Bt cotton to manage cotton bollworms.
Recently, emerging biotechnologies such as genome editing have emerged. Most of these technologies unlike GMOs do not involve introduction of foreign genes and there are debates on whether they should be regulated as GMOs or not. Kenya currently regulates them as GMOs using existing biosafety laws but policies are being developed to provide a clear framework for their regulation. This workshop is important to Board members of the two organizations as key policy decisions on these technologies fall with them.