Kenya Approves Bt Maize for Limited Field Release

Genetically modified maize at Kenyatta University. Kenya has approved limited trials on BT maize

Kenya’s Biosafety Authority has granted a conditional approval for environmental release of insect resistant maize (Bt maize) for National Performance Trials. The Bt maize has been genetically modified to produce an insecticide – Bt protein – that kills certain insect pests. The gene added to the maize comes from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which has long been known to possess an insecticidal effect and widely used in organic agriculture.

The transformed crop will be able to withstand stem borers, known to reduce maize production by an average of 13 percent or 400,000 tonnes of maize, equivalent to the normal yearly amount of maize that Kenya imports. This damage is valued at more than USD 80 million.

GMO maize under confined field trials in Kenya

Other African countries that have already authorised the sale of GM crops include Burkina Faso, South Africa and Sudan. In 2014, South Africa grew 2.1 million hectares of biotech maize of which 28% was Bt maize.

The Kenyan approval was reached after comprehensive review of the application submitted by Kenya Agricultural Livestock and Research Organization (KALRO) and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) in June 2015. The review process included a public participation exercise, where stakeholders submitted written comments on the application.

Kenya has the requisite capacity for GM crop research and regulation. Members of parliament from seven committees, led by the chair of Education and Research committee Hon. Sabina Chege acknowledged this during biotech study tours at various research facilities in the country.

“We have the capacity, technology and science to produce adequate food for our people, through biotechnology,“ said Hon. Dr. Wilbur Ottichilo, a Kenyan parliamentarian.

BT maize process

BTMaize Process

Kenya developed a National Biotechnology Development Policy in 2006 and enacted the Biosafety Act in 2009. This was followed with the setting up of the National Biosafety Authority and publication of four regulations to address the governance of various aspects of modern biotechnology enterprise. These national legislations were developed under the auspices of the project on Regional Approach to Biotechnology and Biosafety Policy in Eastern and Southern Africa (RABESA). This followed the recommendation of the COMESA Ministers of Agriculture in 2002 that “COMESA should develop a common position on GMO’s and other products of biotechnology”. RABESA implementing partners were ASARECA, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), the Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa (ACTESA) - a specialized Agency of COMESA, and the Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS).

This article is adapted from the Crop Biotech Update where it was first published on February 11, 2016 in aSpecial Edition. See original article on  or at

Date Published: 
Thursday, 11 February 2016