U.S. Promotion of Ag Biotech in Kenya

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U.S. Promotion of Ag Biotech in Kenya describes the role of the United States in trying to introduce and achieve acceptance and adoption of genetically modified organisms in Kenya. U.S. work on this began in 1990, when Monsanto and USAID began working with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and Florence Wambugu on developing a genetically modified sweet potato. This coincided with the U.S. founding of its Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project (ABSP) I, a program that ran from 1991 to 2003. See the article on Monsanto's Use of Humanitarian Projects to Open Global Markets to GMOs for more information on this.

1990-2004: The Trojan Sweet Potato

Following an FAO workshop entitled "Public Agricultural Research: the Impact of Intellectual Property Rights in Biotechnology in Developing Countries" in Rome, the U.S. Embassy in Rome sent a cable reporting:

"Hannington Odame, a researcher for the African Center for Technology Studies of Kenya, and Dr. Sithole Niange of the University of Zimbabwe, placed inadequate IPR capacity in the context of the region's limited scientific resources and suspicion of biotechnology. In the case of Kenya, Odame commented on its low capacity in risk assessment and lamented the lack of extension, the ability to move technology to the local level. He noted that the Monsanto and USAID partnership in sweet potato research, despite being criticized as an attempt to open up the market, stimulated the formation of new biotech regulations. He expressed concern about the sustainability of donor-funded biotech initiatives."[1] (emphasis added)

U.S. Coordination With United Nations

In July 2005, Michael D. Hall, Regional Biotechnology Advisor for USAID's Regional Economic Development Services Office (REDSO) based in Nairobi, Kenya, met with representatives from the FAO and UN World Food Programme (WFP) and with an official from the Vatican.[2] A leaked U.S. State Department cable summarized the meetings as follows:[2]

"Dr. Hall briefed these agencies on [U.S. Government]-supported efforts to develop Africa-focused a) agricultural biotechnology research; b) national policies and regulatory infrastructure for biosafety and intellectual property; and c) greater public awareness on agricultural biotechnology. FAO currently supports the dissemination of agricultural biotechnology (ag biotech) in Africa in a variety of ways and is seeking resources to continue this work, and WFP has well-defined policies in place to accommodate genetically modified (GM) commodities for food aid procurement and delivery in African countries. [U.S. Embassy to the UN in Rome] recommends that USAID consider options for closer collaboration with FAO's efforts on ag biotech in Africa."

Hall briefed FAO and WFP representatives on U.S. work with African organizations like Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and on U.S.-funded work to develop GMOs in Africa. The cable then says: "REDSO supports the design and implementation of locally appropriate regulatory systems for ag biotech. REDSO is trying to address myths and misconceptions about ag biotech by providing accurate and complete information to key stakeholders in policy, media and government."[2]

U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization

The FAO was cooperative with the US effort to promote biotechnology, listing ag biotech as one of its Priority Areas for Interdisciplinary Action (PAIA) and hosting "a 2000-member electronic "Biotechnology in Food and Agriculture Forum." The cable then says:

"Using some U.S. arrears funds, FAO's Crop and Grasslands Services (AGPC) launched an Africa Biotechnology Information Network (ABIN) in 2004 to assist information exchange for the use of biotechnology applications to support food security and poverty alleviation among smallholder farmers, but funds will run out by the end of this year...
"FAO has technical and support functions dealing with the practical aspects of handling genetically modified (GM) seeds, crops and feeds in Kenya and Swaziland (projects are also in development for Benin, Tanzania and Uganda). As part of a global assessment of plant breeding and biotechnology, FAO has surveyed 20 African nations and organized two African-based workshops in 2004 to address expressed needs and demands. FAO has provided technical training for GM seed testing and variety verification in collaboration with the International Seed Testing Association in Egypt and South Africa. FAO's searchable database inventory of state-of-the-art biotechnology products, GMOs and techniques has contributors from 20 African countries. Based on these activities, several of which seem to complement the ongoing work of USAID in the region, FAO staff suggested there might be opportunities for closer cooperation with REDSO in the future."[2]

U.N. World Food Programme

Dr. Hall met with representatives from WFP's Office of Communications. He told them of "a REDSO supported regional biosafety development activity for COMESA that includes reviewing food aid procurement and distribution in East and Southern Africa with respect to GM grains." This discussion occurred in light of a 2002 incident in which Zambia and Zimbabwe rejected food aid shipments of genetically modified foods.[2]

Genetically Modified Food Aid

Despite an official policy banning the importation of genetically engineered foods, Kenya quietly told the UN World Food Programme in 2004 that it would not turn back any food aid because it was genetically engineered.[3] Similarly, in 2005, Kenya also quietly accepted genetically engineered food aid from the United States, asking only that it be labeled as such.[4] The Kenyan government's concern about the GMOs was environmental (if GMOs were planted), not nutritional. Therefore, they expressed reluctance to accept any whole grains of GMOs that could then be planted in Kenya by food aid recipients.

Articles and Resources

Related SourceWatch Articles


  1. [U.S. Embassy in Rome, "Developing Countries Seek Empowerment In Biotech From Intellectual Property Rights, U.S. State Department Cable via Wikileaks, July 24, 2002, Accessed October 14, 2011.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 U.S. Embassy in Rome, "Agricultural Biotechnology Activity In Africa: Usaid/redso Meetings With Fao, Wfp And Holy See," U.S. State Department Cable via Wikileaks, July 29, 2005, Accessed October 15, 2011.
  3. U.S. Embassy in Rome, "Wfp Emergency Appeal For Kenya," U.S. State Department Cable via Wikileaks, July 30, 2004, Accessed October 14, 2011.
  4. U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, "Wfp: Politics, Economics Hinder Kenya's Fight Against Hunger," U.S. State Department Cable via Wikileaks, November 17, 2005, Accessed October 14, 2011.

External Resources

Leaked U.S. State Department Cables









External Articles