A Glance into Kenya’s Biotechnology Industry



Kenya’s National Biosafety Authority (NBA) recently approved genetically modified maize infused with Bacillus Thuringiensis bacterium, commonly known as BT corn. This crop releases proteins that successfully combat some of Kenya’s most harmful insects, which undoubtedly seems like a resounding success for a continent that houses a substantial portion of the world’s starving population. It is the first GMO on the market in Kenya, as the country had previously banned imported genetically modified crops. On the whole, this appears to be an excellent step forward for Kenya, but a multi-faceted government and corporate struggle hinder this apparent progress. In essence, this struggle provides an interesting perspective into the economic dynamics of post-colonial Africa and the role that multi-

The average Kenyan farmer is an apt example to explore the territory of genetically modified crops—that farmer faces a perplexing situation. On one hand, BT corn should theoretically welcome a stronger yield that boosts the agricultural economy almost immediately—the next growing season. Understandably, Kenyans might be overjoyed to welcome multi-national corporation Monsanto, holder of the US patent for BT corn and applicant for NBA approval, for aiding the Kenyan agricultural industry.

Yet there exist a number of troubling implications if Kenya welcomes Monsanto.

Among them are corporations propagating Kenyan and other African nations’ dependence upon powerful corporations, corporations that do not readily seek to aid the Kenyan economy. According to the 2015 report on Kenya Biotechnology by the USDA, Monsanto, Dupont, Pioneer Hi-bred, and even Washington University’s Donald Danforth Plant Science Center were among the American interests with considerable influence in the development of six of Kenya’s eight ongoing agriculture biotechnology developments[iii]. From a western standpoint, it seems terrific that the leading nations are actively helping developing ones.

Although genetically modified crops have yielded significant scientific advancements, there exists one blinding problem to these paternalistic yet optimistically helpful advancements. These organizations rarely act to help the Kenyan population, and this is strongly evidenced in two situations—the history of GMOs in India and the ways in which current biotech companies are active in Kenya.

In 2014, Washington University’s own Glenn Stone wrote an unerring insight on GMOs in India[iv]. Farmers readily planted Monsanto BT cotton during its rapid introduction under this same corporate guise, that there would be significant short term yield boosts—and there were. At the same time, Monsanto was not accountable for the future marketability of the crop, and as a result, insects that BT cotton is designed to kill began to emerge as immune to the bacterium.

As for Kenya, one can simply look at the specific problems of the country to see where foreign corporations fall short. Trypanosomiasis, a disease the USDA claims effects 70 percent of Kenyan cattle, is not included in any US backed private research campaigns mentioned in the aforementioned report[v]. This is glaring proof as the number one priority of these multi-national corporations. They aim to find the most marketable and inexpensive product to develop that they can sell to the world, leaving Kenya to develop its own, less marketable products.

But as many academics including Dr. Stone suggest, why would people expect corporations to act for the good of Kenya’s citizens? They have no incentive, which is why the ban on GMOs existed in the first place, not because Kenyans are ignorant of science but due to the overwhelming issues developing economies find when dependent upon foreign corporations to build industry. Their issue lies in creating an institutional framework that encourages national development. Neither Monsanto nor Kenya are at fault, but rather, the international community is.

Note for publication: Some of these ideas are originally found in my paper “AFRICANIZING” THE CIVIL SERVICE: Kenya’s Dynamic Approaches. So as to avoid self plagarization, copies of this paper are available at request by emailing me at alexpetri@wustl.edu


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