Kenya embracing genetically modified crops

In this week’s episode, the agricultural economist, Wandile Sihlobo, assesses what Kenya’s decision to lift the ban on the cultivation and importing of genetically modified (GM) white maize means.

Kenya’s President, William Ruto, a scientist with a PhD, made this change in response to growing food insecurity in the country. Kenya has struggled with drought in the recent past and remains a net importer of maize.

There will be an assessment of each GM trait by the Kenyan Biosafety Authority before actual imports and cultivation can occur. Assuming some of this scientific legwork has already been done, we could see imports start in the next few months.

In the 2022/2023 season, Kenya needs to import a substantial volume of maize, estimated at about 700,000 tonnes. This is roughly unchanged from the previous season, which also posted poor domestic production.

In the 2021/2022 season several sub-Saharan African countries, including Zambia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and SA, had ample maize harvests. This made it easy for them to meet Kenya’s import needs, with Tanzania and Zambia leading the way.

However, this year things are different. Tanzania’s maize harvest is down roughly 16% year on year to 5.9-million tonnes due to sparse rainfall at the start of the season combined with armyworm infestations and reduced fertilizer usage in some regions because of prohibitively high prices.
The fall in production and firmer domestic consumption means Tanzania will have less maize to export. The numbers I have seen thus far point to available maize for export of just 100,000 tonnes. This is well below the previous season’s exports of 800,000 tonnes, which saved Kenya when the country was most in need of maize.


Production by Lwandiso Gwarubana, Richard Humphries, and Sam Mkokeli.
31 Oct 2022 English South Africa Investing · Food

Other recent episodes

Winter crops in South Africa

The data released this past week by the Crop Estimates Committee continue to paint a reasonably positive picture of South Africa's winter crop harvest, albeit with minor downward monthly revisions of the crop size. The primary issue on farmers' minds is perhaps not crop size but the deterioration in quality…
5 Dec 12 min

Food prices in South Africa

Food inflation has been topical over the past few months, and South Africa saw double-digit levels from mid-2022 to mid-2023. This was not unique to South Africa but a global phenomenon underpinned by various factors, including drought in South America, China's strong demand for grains and oilseed, higher energy prices,…
27 Nov 14 min

SA farm jobs up

The solid production conditions in South Africa's agricultural sector continue to be reflected in the employment data. For example, the data released today by Statistics South Africa showed that in the third quarter of 2023, about 956 000 people were employed in primary agriculture, up 10% year-on-year (and 7% quarter-on-quarter)…
21 Nov 12 min

Biosecurity challenges in SA agriculture

One aspect that remains a major challenge for the domestic animal farming sector and has been raised by our members in various engagements for some time is the weaknesses in South Africa's biosecurity system. Admittedly, biosecurity breaches are not uniquely South African and have become a significant challenge globally. We…
13 Nov 12 min

Prospects for solid summer crop harvest in SA in 2023/24 season

Although El Niño is on our doorstep, we have generally held an optimistic view about South Africa's 2023/24 summer grains and oilseed production season. The excellent soil moisture from the past rainy seasons and prospects of rainfall throughout 2023 have convinced us that there may still be decent summer grain…
30 Oct 12 min