EAC partner states divided over GMO adoption – report

EALA members during a plenary sitting that debated and adopted a report of the Assembly’s Committee on Agriculture, Tourism and Natural Resources on assessment of policies and laws on GMOs in EAC, on March 14, 2024, in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo: Courtesy

The East African Community (EAC) partner states do not hold the same position on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), with some having an interest in adopting them to address food insecurity, while others argue there is no urgency for them as they already have the potential to feed their population.

This was exposed by a report of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) on the assessment of policies and laws on GMOs in the EAC partner states.

It was presented by EALA’s Committee on Agriculture, Tourism and Natural Resources on March 14, during the regional parliament’s plenary sitting in Nairobi, Kenya.

The oversight activity was carried out by the committee from February 4 to 9, 2024, in EAC partner states, with the objectives of assessing policies and laws of partner states on GMOs and making appropriate recommendations to the Council of EAC Ministers.

GMOs are organisms such as crops that have gene(s) inserted from the same or unrelated organism using genetic engineering methods, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

These genes, FAO notes, confer beneficial traits such as pest resistance, ability to grow in extreme and unfavourable conditions and increased nutrient levels among others.

The assessment was based on the need to have food security in the EAC region as provided for by the EAC Treaty, and the ongoing global debate on the need to embrace GMOs as one of the available technologies used to increase food production and productivity in the world.

It covered six EAC partner states, namely Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Uganda, and Tanzania. The Democratic Republic of Congo was still finalising its election process which took place in December 2023 during the undertaking of this activity, therefore the committee said it decided to undertake a similar activity in DRC in the future.

Somalia, which is the eighth EAC partner state, was not yet a full member of the bloc by the time of the oversight. According to the report, notwithstanding that the EAC region has a huge potential and capacity to produce enough food for consumption and a large surplus for export to the world market, it is still affected by food shortages and hunger.

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Among the notable challenges to the production of sufficient food in EAC, it cited low and unstable production and productivity occasioned by overreliance on rain-fed agricultural production systems; low usage of agriculture production enhancing inputs such as chemical fertilisers, improved seeds, agrochemicals and veterinary drugs; and inappropriate and low adoption of production technologies by farmers due to weak research, extension services, and farmers’ linkages.

General situation of food production in partner states

The committee found that there is generally food insufficiency in the EAC partner states.

Tanzania is reported to have sufficient food production. On the other hand, there is a growing population and a continuous decline in yields of production of food in all partner states.

Partner states’ policies on GMOs

The committee found that Kenya is the only country in the region that has a specific policy on GMOs. For other partner states, some aspects related to GMOs are mentioned or guided by other policies that mainly focus on the control of GMOs.

Laws and regulations on GMOs in partner states

Kenya and Rwanda have specific laws for GMOs (biosafety laws), the parliamentary oversight found.

Uganda is in the process of enacting a specific law on GMOs as its Parliament was considering comments made by the country’s President – Yoweri Kaguta Museveni – on the previous versions of the bill in question, the report indicated.

In all partner states, some aspects of GMOs are regulated by other laws, especially on environment, it added.

The need for GMO food products in partner states

The report showed that Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda reported the need to adopt GMO food to ensure food security and industrial development.

At the moment, no partner state allows GMO food products, the report pointed out. However, it added, that Uganda approved the importation and use of processed food products (including nutrient-rich preparations) from GMOs, according to the report.

“Moreover, with the recent enactment of a law in Rwanda and if the court order in Kenya is lifted, it is possible that we are going to have GMO food products in EAC,” it added.

MP Fatuma Ndangiza, from Rwanda, said the region faces issues including food insecurity and climate change, and GMOs – through agricultural biotechnology, could help address them if properly harnessed.

As per the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2023 report by FAO, Africa was the region with the highest hunger and stunting prevalence in the word, with 282 million people on the continent being undernourished in 2022 — up from 278 million people in 2021 — while 30 per cent of its children (or about 63 million children) were stunted as of 2022.

Ndangiza pointed out that the technology could benefit small countries like Rwanda with a surface of more than 26,000 square kilometres, and a population of more than 13 million – resulting in a high population density and limited land availability for farming.

“So, with all challenges, there was an urgent need that we should really, as a region, think about harmonising our policies and laws on GMOs but in a wider context of biotechnology to solve problems,” she said.

“Whether we like it or not, GMOs are here with us. We have porous borders, there are challenges of lack of labelling, and therefore if we do not work together to regulate, harmonise, and to provide a guideline as a community, it might even be more challenging to control it,” she observed.

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MP Arol Gabriel Garang Aher, from South Sudan, said that South Sudan right now has only 4 per cent of its land is under crop production, with the majority of the land being uncultivated.

“So, South Sudan, as we speak, does not need GMOs because we have to utilise our land,” he said, pointing out that, overall, the problem in East Africa, and Africa in general, is that it is under producing, underutilising its natural resources.

He added that from this time on, what should be done is conduct research on GMOs properly to understand the related technology that is controversial globally.


Based on the abovementioned report findings and analysis, the assembly made resolutions including urging the Council of EAC Ministers to direct partner states to research GMOs to address all the fears and concerns raised by different stakeholders.

It also, among other resolutions, directed the EAC Secretariat to spearhead dialogue among partner states to discuss all issues related to GMOs to reach a common position that will lead to harmonised policies and laws in the region.



Emmanuel Ntirenganya

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