Crop Biotech Update

Juma: Biotech has the Potential for Success in Kenya Just Like Mobile Phone

June 22, 2012

Prof. Calestous Juma, one of Kenya's most influential scientists, has called upon Kenya's youth to make biotechnology promote economic inclusion, in the same way that mobile technology has done for money transfer and banking. He spoke at the Jomo Kenyatta University for Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) where he received an honorary doctorate on 22 June 2012. He stressed the importance of agricultural biotechnology for Kenya as one of the solutions to the major challenges facing the country, such as rising population, ecological degradation, and climate change.

Like mobile phone technology, he said, biotechnology has its detractors. He expelled misinformation about the technology such as benefiting only the rich, destroying the environment, and undermining food security. "It is estimated that the use of agricultural biotechnology over the 1996-2010 period reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 19.4 billion kilograms. Over the same period, pesticide spraying went down by 438 million kilograms hence health benefits by minimizing chemical poisoning among farmers," Juma explained.

Citing examples of studies in the US and China on the effects of biotechnology on the environment, the Kenyan scientist explained that there exists unintended benefits of agricultural biotechnology, whereby conventional farmers report lower pest infestation if their neighbors grow pest-resistant crops. These first studies show positive area-wide impact of biotechnology crops. A vision for biotechnology in Kenya will include meeting the needs of the very poor by developing cheaper products such as diagnostics for crop diseases.

For more news about biotechnology in Africa, email J. Odhong of the East and Central Biotechnology Information Center at