Applying biotechnology in a safe and responsible manner

Justification for a biosafety law in Kenya

The purpose of this policy brief is primarily to enhance understanding of the objectives, scope and provisions of the Biosafety Bill, 2007, published by Kenya’s Ministry of Science and Technology. The Bill lays down legal and institutional frameworks for governing genetically modified organisms in Kenya. It is hoped that the brief will encourage objective and constructive debate of the Bill.

Biotechnology and Biosafety Developments in Kenya:

The Kenya government’s vision and commitment towards promotion and application of biotechnology is articulated in the National Policy on Biotechnology that was approved by the Cabinet in 2006. The Government also underscores the need to institute adequate biosafety measures that will ensure maximization on benefits of the technology while minimizing the risks. Biotechnology is any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products or processes for specific use.

Biosafety refers to measures put in place to prevent or mitigate potential risks to human health and the environment resulting from use of modern biotechnology for research or commercial purposes.

Kenya made history in 2000 by being the first country to sign the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. Kenya moved a step further and concluded the ratification process in 2003. Ratification of the protocol implies that a state has agreed to be legally bound by provisions of the Protocol and must comply with obligations stipulated in the instrument. The Protocol’s objective is to contribute to ensuring an adequate level of protection in the field of safe transfer, handling and use of living modified
organisms resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, taking into account risks to human health, and specifically focusing on transboundary movements.

The government recently demonstrated further support for biotechnology by increasing financial allocation to the agricultural sector by 20% from KSh. 24.9 billion in 2006/07 to KSh. 29.8 billion in the budget for the 2007/2008 fiscal year. Among other interventions, the resources will be deployed to spearhead biotechnology research to increase agricultural productivity and self reliance.

The Biosafety Regulatory System:

Kenya’s national biosafety system has evolved over the years to respond to challenges from scientific developments in the field of modern biotechnology. The National Council for Science and Technology (NCST) is the designated competent authority that handles all matters pertaining to biosafety in the country. The objects of the Council was established under the Science and Technology Act of 1980 were two-fold. It has the remit to advise and inform the government and the general public on all matters concerning science, technology, research and development and ensure application of the results of scientific activities to the development of agriculture, industry and social welfare.

In 1995, the NCST initiated a process of developing the national biosafety guidelines and regulations. They were issued in 1998 and revised in 2003 under the Science and Technology Act 1980. The guidelines and regulations made a provision for the establishment of a National Biosafety Committee (NBC) to serve as the technical arm of the Council in overseeing coordination and implementation of biosafety issues. NCST hosts the NBC Secretariat.

In absence of a primary biosafety law, the NBC has applied the guidelines and regulations in reviewing and approving applications to introduce modern biotechnology products exclusively for research trials, under the ambit of existing legislation. Genetically modified products that have been approved for contained and confined field trials include insectresistant maize and cotton, GM sweet potato, virus-resistant cassava and rinderpest vaccine. These guidelines have not themselves, been promulgated into law and as such, lack adequate and streamlined legal enforcement. To fill this gap, the process of drafting a Biosafety Bill commenced in 2002 under the leadership of the NCST. The process was highly participatory and culminated in publication of the Bill in June, 2007. Mechanisms for consolidating inputs from the public on the Bill have been transparent and inclusive.

Wafula, David
Persley, Gabrielle
Karembu, Margaret
Published date: 
International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
Series number: 
August 2007
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