GBM Blog

Kenya, Land grabbing and GMOs

July 26, 2011 - 06:50AM
Published by Francesca de Gasparis

This blog was written by an intern in GBM Europe’s office, Peter Barrett

On July 1st the Kenya government enacted the Biosafety Act of 2009 that allows Genetically Modified Organism (GMO)cultivation and consumption; as a result I started inquiring into the risks and advantages of GMOs. As I went through press releases and the personal accounts of people on the ground, I discovered that GMOs bring about a much larger challenge to Kenya: corporate “land grabbing” and the dependence of local populations to international corporations. 

Indeed, it isn’t just about how the wrong crops are being cultivated in the wrong place, deforestation, the destruction of bio-diversity and traditional ways of life; we are seeing the very livelihoods of Kenyans endangered by the resell and gifting of their centuries old arable land to corporations in order to produce bio-fuels and foods destined to foreign markets.

The Tana River Delta is a prime example of such “land grabs”. Despite the public outrage, the government has distributed hundreds of thousands of hectares of land for biofuels: sugar cane and Jatropha, as well as vegetable and fruit plantations to Canadian, American, Qatari, French and Kenyan firms. Salinisation of arable land, destruction of bio-diversity and the existence of rare and endemic species in the Tana River Delta is happening The government claims that land within Kenya is being sold because of the recent regional droughts and resulting low crop yields. It is also claiming, together with the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA), that allowing these land sales and the cultivation of GMOs will increase the food supply and lower Kenya’s reliance on imported food products. However all the evidence seen until now has shown the opposite; the continued use of GMOs will cause further environmental damage and make it harder for the Kenyan population to grow food and make a living off the land.

If the Kenyan government wants to protect the environment and local communities it must put a stop to this ‘land-grabbing’. The separation of communities from their land and its transfer to profit-driven companies will rarely result in positive outcomes for the environment or for the Kenyan population. Instead of subsidizing GMOs, selling off land, and encouraging unsustainable farming methods, the government would be wise to repeal the 2009 Biodiversity Act and promote the use of organic farming practices. 

The issues of food security and land grabbing are ones that are very important to GBM. “Wangari Maathai and the Green Belt Movement have long pushed for an approach to issues of food security that relies on traditional knowledge systems and engages local people in sustainable environmental practices. As we are seeing with the devastating drought in the Horn of Africa communities are increasingly vulnerable due to climate change and the international community is struggling to deal with the terrible humanitarian crisis. Attempts to address climate change that remove land and control from local communities will only result in greater susceptibility to future droughts and further crises like the one we are seeing now.”
GBM Europe director Francesca de Gasparis.