BOMET, Kenya – A maize disease is sweeping through Kenya’s small farming communities
and, in the South Rift Valley, there are few who haven’t been affected.
Holding up evidence of his dying maize crop, a farmer in the Kenyan community of Bomet is the latest to become entangled in the maize mystery.
“Everything is affected, The five acres , all the way,” he says pointing toward his fields, “is all affected.”
The problem has prompted the local farming leader, assistant police chief and the CEO of a cereal growers association in Nairobi to visit the small farm.
“They gave us information, after the first rain in January, that it must be something with the rain,” says Sigei Aron, the farming leader.
Assistant police chief Samsung Ngetich suspects the problem lies elsewhere. “I think there was a supply of the wrong seed,”
Monsanto and the Gates Foundation claim genetically modified crops will revolutionize agriculture in Kenya, but critics warn the technology is ill-suited to the needs of farmers.
Farmers like Kiambaa are central to a push to deploy genetically modified (GM) technology within Kenya. In recent years, donors such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have invested millions of dollars into researching, developing and promoting GM technology, including drought-resistant maize, within the country — and have found a great deal of success in doing so through partnerships with local NGOs and government bodies.
The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), a semi-autonomous government research institution, recently announced that after years of trials, genetically modified drought-resistant maize seeds will be available to Kenyan farmers within the next five years. Trial GM drought-resistant cotton crops are already growing in Kidoko, 240 miles southeast of Nairobi.
Researchers and lobbyists argue that in a country so frequently stricken by food shortages, scientific advancements can put food into hungry bellies. Drought-resistant seeds and vitamin-enriched crops could be agricultural game changers, they say.
But serious concerns about viability, corporate dependency and health effects linger — even while leading research firms and NGOs do their best to smooth them over.