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University students threaten to strike over GMO ban

University students are opting out of biotechnology courses due to fears they might not get internship and jobs after graduation due to the ongoing ban on genetically modified (GMO) food crops by the government.

The students, mainly from University of Nairobi, Kenyatta University, Egerton University, Moi University and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, accused the government of putting their careers on the line by playing politics with the matter.

In a statement read by University of Nairobi Students Union Chairman Babu Owino, the studenrs said the ban was affecting them due to the uncertainty clouding the course that entails intensive research of the GMO products.

Other student leaders present during the press conference at Serena Hotel, Nairobi included Sam Were (Kenyatta), Towett Ng’etich (Moi), Doreen Mwenda (Kenyatta), Anyungu Wanyungu (JKUAT) and Antony Mumo (Egerton).

The students gave the government an ultimatum, that failure to reverse the decision by end of January next year, they will organise a massive strike across all public universities.

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“The power of the people is stronger than the people in power. We will give an ultimatum as from January even if it means going to the streets to protect the rights of our students,” Mr Owino said.

They questioned why the government was paying lecturers and admitting students to take the course, if it does not recognise its graduates.

The National Environment Management Authority’s (Nema) was criticised for declining to issue a permit for GMO field trials to the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO).

FOOD SECURITY

They claimed Nema was out to derail the research that linked GMO crops to cancer, which Kenya relied on to announce the ban and has since been retracted following concerns that it did not adhere to standard procedures.

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“We must support institutions ready to locally produce GMO food crops and reduce the country’s over reliance on imports. This will create jobs and enhance food security,” Mr Owino said.

This comes barely two weeks after Parliament upheld the ban imposed by the Ministry of Health but left a window for its importation in case of food insecurity.

The Agriculture Committee of the National Assembly chaired by Mandera North MP Adan Nooru, in its report said no GM product has so far been tested for safety for human consumption by the National Biosafety Authority (NBA).

But, the students said this was a scheme by the lawmakers to frustrate local cultivation of GMO crops to allow cartels benefit from importations and challenged President Uhuru Kenyatta to crash them.

“The GMOs are labelled and if they can be allowed to mitigate the annual food shortages, it means those talking of safety concerns are engaging in sideshows,” Mr Ng’etich said.

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He said they will not be silenced by politicians who want to frustrate local research in favour of multinationals who want to dominate the Kenyan market and sale their produce at exorbitant prices.

Mr Were challenged the lawmakers to prioritise the war against corruption and tribalism instead of interfering with education matters through decisions that are insensitive to students.

The students said the government has been unwilling to lift the ban on importation of genetically modified food crops that has been in force since 2012 following a cabinet decision, yet its products are in the market.

The Agriculture committee recommended that a law be put in place to ascertain the safety of the products for human consumption.

The MPs said the Biosafety Act that passed by Parliament in 2009 has no specific provision for testing GM products for safety.

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