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President Ruto unlocks GMO billions as Kenya okays biotech foods

Kenya’s Cabinet has unlocked billions for firms involved in the genetically modified organisms (GMO) industry after it approved the farming and importation of biotechnology crops in a major policy shift that seeks to make the country food secure and contain runaway prices.

President William Ruto Monday chaired a Cabinet meeting that lifted the 2012 moratorium that restricted importation or open cultivation of GMO crops, making Kenya the second country in the continent after South Africa to allow biotechnology foods.

The approval comes in the wake of a biting drought that has exposed three million Kenyans to famine in 23 counties, forcing the government to intervene with relief food. Firms involved in GMO seed manufacturing will be some of the biggest beneficiaries of the policy shift that will put pressure on farmers to reduce prices or be forced out of the market.

The approval is meant to allow imports of GMO maize that are readily available in the market at a cheaper cost to help in lowering the price of flour which has now hit a high of Ksh200 ($1.65) for a two-kilo packet as the new government drops the subsidy scheme, which Dr Ruto termed as costly to the economy.

In consideration of the adoption of GMO crops, the Cabinet says it put into mind various expert and technical reports including that of Kenya’s National Biosafety Authority (NBA), the World Health Organisation, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, United States of America’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

“In accordance with the recommendation of the Task Force to review matters relating to Genetically Modified Foods … the Cabinet vacated its earlier decision of November 8, 2012, prohibiting the open cultivation of genetically modified crops and the importation of food crops and animal feeds produced through biotechnology innovations.

“Effectively lifting the ban on Genetically Modified Crops, by dint of the executive action open cultivation and importation of white (GMO) maize is now authorised,” reads a Cabinet memo.

Scientists argue the GMO maize variety can yield double what farmers are getting from the conventional breeds given that they are drought tolerant and can withstand pests and diseases.

Timothy Njagi, a research fellow with Egerton University-based Tegemeo Institute, says the decision was long overdue.

“GMO maize is cheaper than the conventional one and once we start importing it will lower the cost of food locally,” said Dr Njagi.

Dr Njagi said GMO imports will also help in addressing the high cost of animal feeds, which have for the last three years remained at a historic high. The waiver on GMO imports, he said, will now see millers import other non-conventional materials used in making feeds such as soya.

Roy Mugiira, the chief executive officer of the NBA, which is the sector regulator, welcomed the move by the Cabinet. “In the coming few days, we shall now be issuing guidelines to be followed in importing or growing of these varieties, but I can say that it is now legal to have GMO crops in the country,” said Dr Mugiira.

The ban on GMOs was announced by former Health Minister Betty Mugo in 2012 after a journal by French scientist Eric Seralini claimed that these crops had a link to cancer after a mouse that was fed on it developed a cancerous tumour. The journal was, however, recalled two years later on grounds that it was not conclusive on the matter.

GM maize testing in Kenya started in 2010 but approval for the environmental release was granted by the NBA in 2016. The scientists completed research on genetically modified maize last year and the material has been awaiting approval by the Cabinet before release for commercial farming.

Read: Kenya rules out GMO maize imports to tame cost of animal feeds

SOURCE

Kenya’s Cabinet has unlocked billions for firms involved in the genetically modified organisms (GMO) industry after it approved the farming and importation of biotechnology crops in a major policy shift […]

Continue reading "President Ruto unlocks GMO billions as Kenya okays biotech foods"

President Samia drops Mulamula in mini Cabinet reshuffle

Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan on Sunday made changes to her cabinet, a few months after she reshuffled the cabinet in April.

In the new changes announced in a statement by the Directorate of Presidential Communication, Ms Stergomena Tax has been appointed as Minister for Foreign Affairs and East Africa Cooperation, replacing Liberata Mulamula.

Prior to the new appointment Ms Tax served as the Defence Minister, being the first woman to head the docket.

Innocent Bashungwa, who was the Minister of State in the President’s Office Regional Administration and Local Government, has been moved to the Defence ministry taking over from MS Tax.

President Samia also appointed Ms Angela Kairuki to replace Bashungwa at President’s Office Regional Administration and Local Government.

The new appointees are scheduled to take oath of office on Monday at State House Dar es Salaam.

SOURCE

Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan on Sunday made changes to her cabinet, a few months after she reshuffled the cabinet in April. In the new changes announced in a statement […]

Continue reading "President Samia drops Mulamula in mini Cabinet reshuffle"

Porous borders stoke Ebola fears across the region

Uganda health officials are suggesting expanded lockdown measures but President Yoweri Museveni has clarified that the government will not enact Covid-like restrictions that saw schools and worship centres shut down

Health authorities across the region are scratching their heads on how to counter the health and economic threats posed by the growing Ebola emergency in Uganda, even as economies struggle to recover from the effects of Covid-19.

This week, President Yoweri Museveni clarified that his government has ruled out Covid-like restrictions that saw borders, schools, entertainment and worship centres shut down for more than one year.

Ebola threat

The Ebola fear is not restricted to Uganda as health officials in the region continue to contend with porous borders that put the entire region at risk.

But an even bigger fear is that restrictions at border points could hurt movement of people and goods.

Read: Uganda Ebola outbreak: Here’s what you need to know

On Thursday, Dr Anthony Kafumbe, the East African Community (EAC) acting deputy secretary-general for Productive and Social Sectors, said the EAC Secretariat would work with partner states to co-ordinate emergency preparedness and response at common borders.

“I urge partner states to enhance surveillance and laboratory testing especially at border areas; to implement appropriate infection prevention and control measures and increase risk communication and community awareness of the disease,” he said.

“I ask partner states to consider the deployment of the EAC mobile laboratories to the strategic outbreak hotspots and at the various border point of entries.”

Taking measures

This week, Rwanda reinstated the use of non-contact thermometers across all its border crossings.

Rwandan health workers, in protective gear and face masks, were at the Gatuna and Kagitumba borders, engaging cross-border travellers, taking their temperature and noting down their travel history.

Although Rwanda has not suffered a single Ebola case in the past, Uganda’s Mubende District – the epicentre of this year’s outbreak – is about a six-hour drive from the border.

“The Ministry of Health strongly urges each and every one to be cautious and seriously comply with the preventive measures against Ebola,” reads a statement from Rwanda’s ministry of Health.

It warned against “unnecessary visits and contacts with people who have travelled to areas affected by the Ebola outbreak.”

The public has been advised to report all visitors from Uganda and observe high hygiene.

Read: Uganda closes clubs, limits gatherings to curb Ebola spread

By Friday, Ebola cases had been detected in Mubende, Kyegegwa, Kagadi and Kassanda across 120 kilometres, the World Health Organisation said in its bulletin.

“Some 400 had been identified and will be monitored as the search continues to identify other people who may be at risk,” it said.

WHO said confirmed cases need supportive care to improve their survival chances. The agency deployed three viral haemorrhagic fever kits with medical supplies, medicines and personal protective equipment to an isolation unit set up in the Mubende Regional Referral Hospital with plans underway for an additional Ebola treatment unit. “More kits will be deployed based on need,” a statement said.

Uganda will also receive $500,000 to support the country’s control efforts and another $300,000 from WHO’s preparedness programme to support readiness activities in the neighbouring countries, including screening, awareness campaigns and isolation centres.

Read: Focus on prevention, no vaccine for rare Ebola strain, Uganda told

The WHO had earlier in the week praised Uganda’s response and especially testing capacity for Ebola, with 5,000 tests having been done by Wednesday.

But health officials in the affected areas are expressing frustration that the localised measures imposed to contain the spread were being violated, and suggested expanded lockdown measures.

So far, there are 31 confirmed cases and six confirmed deaths.

Dr Henry Mwebesa, the Director General of Health Services at the Ugandan Health ministry, said some people suspected to have contracted the disease had escaped from Mubende Hospital a week ago before samples taken from them had been tested. Results for one of the said people turned out positive, but his whereabouts remain unknown.

Risky behaviour

Officials say they have since tightened security at quarantine facilities, but are still worried of a possible community infection.

Yet when detected and treated early, the risk of dying from Ebola is significantly reduced.

In Kasese district bordering DR Congo, another suspected Ebola patient escaped from a health facility on Wednesday morning.

As the emergency escalated this week, the country has reported that five doctors and an anaesthetist have been gone into isolation for treatment after contracting Ebola in the line of duty.

“Initially, there were issues with personal protective equipment. In the areas where the patients reached first, the health workers there were not having PPEs,” Dr Herbert Luswata, the president of an association of doctors in the country said.

One of the health workers, a Tanzanian doctor, died on Saturday while receiving treatment. He was in Uganda pursuing a Master of Medicine in Surgery course at Kampala International University.

Sheila Nduhukire, the spokesperson of the National Medical Stores, says they have since supplied adequate PPE stocks to the Mubende Regional Referral Hospital.

On Friday, Health officials in Kenya said they were investigating a suspected case of Ebola in Kakamega County, western Kenya. The patient had recently travelled to eastern Uganda to visit relatives, officials said.

Mumias West Disease Surveillance Co-ordinator Boaz Gichana said the patient had been admitted at St Mary Hospital isolation unit awaiting laboratory results.

Last week, the Kenyan government issued an Ebola alert and called for screening of travellers at entry points on the border with Uganda.

Read: Ebola survivors to forego sex for 90 days

Tanzanian Minister for Health Ummy Mwalimu has meanwhile directed regional commissioners from high-risk Ebola regions to strengthen the rapid response teams to control possible spread of the disease.

The high risk regions are Kagera, Mwanza, Kigoma, Geita and Mara in the Great Lakes zone and Kilimanjaro, Dar es Salaam, Arusha and Songwe for their high interaction with foreign citizens.

SOURCE

Uganda health officials are suggesting expanded lockdown measures but President Yoweri Museveni has clarified that the government will not enact Covid-like restrictions that saw schools and worship centres shut down […]

Continue reading "Porous borders stoke Ebola fears across the region"

NSE mulls listing shoe retailer on main board after its $4m acquisition binge

Nairobi Business Ventures (NBV) is set to graduate to the main trading platform of the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) after spending Ksh428.75 million ($3.57 million) on the acquisition of four firms in four months.

The shoe retailing firm, which is listed on the Growth and Enterprise Market Segment (GEMS), disclosed through its latest annual report that between April and August last year it acquired the following business ranging from automobile to aviation and the extractive sector: Air Direct Connect Ltd for Ksh15.54 million ($129,500), Delta Automobile Ltd (Ksh130.4 million, $1.08 million), Aviation Management Solutions Ltd (Ksh61.56 million, $513,000) and Delta Cement Ltd (Ksh221.25 million, $1.84 million).

The acquisitions were financed through the proceeds of the sale of 857.51 million shares equivalent to 63 percent of the total issued shares of the firm estimated at 1.35 billion shares.

The new shares were priced at Ksh0.5 ($0.004) per share, helping the firm to generate a total of Ksh428.75 million ($3.57 million) from the share sale.

The firm’s top shareholders include Shreeji Enterprises Ltd (Kenya) which controls 32.69 percent stake, followed by Delta International FZE (30.66 percent) and Soni Haresh Vrajlal (16.42 percent).

NSE chief executive Geoffrey Odundo told The EastAfrican that the firm’s swift growth puts it in a pole position for promotion to the main trading platform of the exchange from the GEMS market that is mainly reserved for the small and medium-sized Enterprises.

Currently, firms seeking to list on either the Main Investment Market Segment or Alternative Investment Market Segment must have a paid-up capital of Ksh50 million ($41,666.66) and net assets of Ksh100 million ($833,333.33). The firms should also have a minimum of 1,000 investors, a minimum free float of 25 percent and should have recorded profits for three years in the past five years.

Strategic expansion

Last year, NBV was acquired by the UAE-based Delta International FZE, with the new owners seeking to use the four companies — Air Direct Connect Ltd, Delta Automobile Ltd, Aviation Management Solutions Ltd and Delta Cement Ltd — to transform it from a struggling shoe retailing firm to an industrial unit.

Delta Cement which is expected to be the most significant subsidiary of NBV, is seeking to set up a cement manufacturing plant with an annual capacity of one million metric tonnes in Mavoko, Machakos County.

“There has been a growing demand for cement in Kenya and the prices of 50kg bags have increased significantly in the recent past. We foresee this demand being sustained over the long term thereby providing us with the opportunity to establish ourselves in the manufacture of cement,” according to the report.

“Management has obtained all the statutory requirements for the establishment of the plant. So far, the factory’s building plans have received the requisite approvals and we have also received approval for the environment licence.”

The NBV management are negotiating on the funding facilities for the project.

Kenya’s cement sector is currently dominated by Bamburi, National Cement Company, Mombasa Cement, Savannah Cement, Rai Cement and Ndovu Cement Ltd.

Delta International also owns other subsidiaries in the region including Delta Holdings Kenya (real estate), Shreeji Glass Uganda and Shreeji Chemicals Kenya, which has an annual sodium silicate production capacity of about 180,000 metric tonnes.

In 2020, NBV shareholders approved Ksh83 million ($691,666.66) capital injection by Delta International FZE.

They also agreed to allot and issue up to a maximum of 415 million ordinary shares of Ksh0.5 ($0.004) each in the company to Delta International subject to payment of the aggregate subscription price of Ksh83 million ($691,666.66) being Ksh0.2 ($0.001) per new share.

The shareholders also approved a proposal to change the structure of the firm’s nominal capital from Ksh50 million ($416,666.66) divided into 50 million shares of Ksh1 ($0.008) each, to Ksh50 million ($416,666.66) divided into 100 million ordinary shares of Ksh0.5 ($0.004) each. There was an increase in the nominal share capital of the company by the creation of 400 million new ordinary shares of a par value of Ksh0.5 ($0.004) each which rank at the same rate and have rights equal to the existing ordinary shares of the company.

SOURCE

Nairobi Business Ventures (NBV) is set to graduate to the main trading platform of the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) after spending Ksh428.75 million ($3.57 million) on the acquisition of four […]

Continue reading "NSE mulls listing shoe retailer on main board after its $4m acquisition binge"

Rift Valley fever vaccine trials get under way

Trials for a human vaccine for Rift Valley fever will soon begin, giving hope that a vaccine will be released in the next five years.

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), which has been working on the inoculation, says trials will take three to four years.

CEPI project leader Mike Whelan said this week that 17 vaccine candidates have been selected to undergo trials for the vaccine, but will first go through pre-clinical stages to determine their suitability.

“We estimate that the initial trial projects will likely take three to four years to complete,” Mr Whelan said.

“After that, depending on available data, successful vaccines will move forward into efficacy trials before a licence for human use can be granted,” he added.

The efficacy trials will determine whether people in the clinical trial who got vaccinated with the Rift Valley fever vaccine are less likely to develop the disease than those who got the placebo shot.

CEPI estimates that approval of the Rift Valley fever vaccine, at least for emergency use, will happen within a five to 10-year period.

Rift Valley fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic disease caused by the Rift Valley fever virus, transmitted by mosquitoes (Aedes, Culex, Anopheles, and Mansonia spp) and blood feeding flies. It commonly affects domesticated animals (such as cattle, sheep, goats, and camels) but can also cause illness in people.

No vaccines are currently approved for human use, even though climate change could increase the severity and frequency of its outbreaks among human communities.

In East Africa, its outbreaks are associated with cycles of heavy rainfall that result in floods and increased vegetation cover favouring high vector density and species diversity.

During the 2006-2007 outbreak in East Africa, the fever caused a $60 million loss of trade due to livestock deaths and animal abortions.

The virus has been reported in 30 countries across the world and there have been heavy cases in Kenya, Mauritania, Uganda and Egypt over the past 40 years.

CEPI is supporting two vaccine programmes at the Wageningen University in the Netherlands and Colorado State University in the US.

Last month, CEPI launched its second phase of funding to advance the development of innovative vaccine programs against Rift Valley fever, including $35 million financial support provided by the European Union Horizon Europe program. Up to $50 million in total will be made available by CEPI to support promising Rift Valley fever vaccine candidates through Phase I and II clinical trials in endemic areas.

SOURCE

Trials for a human vaccine for Rift Valley fever will soon begin, giving hope that a vaccine will be released in the next five years. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations […]

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Erratic weather, global crises push cost of food to record high levels

Governments in East and Horn of Africa have rolled out food aid programmes to communities hit hard by inconsistent weather patterns and global crises that have pushed food costs beyond the reach of many.

This week, Kenya launched a relief food programme for communities trapped in a cycle of four failed agriculture seasons, and Uganda had already been distributing relief food to people in Karamoja regions.

UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha)is predicting the likelihood of a fifth failed crop season. Uganda, which has generally enjoyed above average food production from its arable fertile soils, having two harvest seasons annually, is now increasingly facing food challenges due to less erratic and less predictable rains and unprecedented prolonged dry spells.

According to the Uganda National Meteorological Authority (UNMA), some rainy months now have only 18 wet days compared with 20 previously which impacts on food yields.

According to meteorological information, 40 per cent of all rainfall received in Uganda is influenced by natural features such as wetlands and forests, which have been encroached on and destroyed by developers for housing or peasants for farming and others decimated for firewood and charcoal.

Hilary Onek, the Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, says the Ugandan government has been forced to provide food to areas that have “had pockets of hunger,” costing upwards of Ush19 billion ($4.9 million) in the past three months alone.

According to the Meteorological department, the country steadily been receiving less rainfall over the past 16 years. However, there are those that argue that the food shortages being currently experienced in the region is also effects of bad national policies, rather than the weather.

In Kenya, President William Ruto flagged off relief food to drought-stricken counties on Tuesday, but admitted it was only a short-term measure.

The programme is targeting 3.5 million people. Kenya’s Meteorological Department has declared severest drought in 23 out of the 47 counties.

And Ocha’s National Drought Early Warning data for September 2022, says 10 counties are under an alarming drought phase with at least 4.35 million people in danger.

The Horn of Africa, including parts of Kenya, is facing the worst drought with at least 20 million people in immediate need of food. This includes Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda and South Sudan, and Djibouti and Eritrea

Kipkorir Arap Menjo, the director of the Farmers Association, a lobby for local food producers, said Kenya’s maize growing regions are expecting a harvest early October. But even in countries touted as having almost sufficient food supplies, like Tanzania, prices are soaring and limiting access for many.

As countries struggle to get cheaper grain from traditional sources like Russia and Ukraine, world prices and growing world demand is making the situation harder in the region.

According to the Bank of Tanzania, the price of maize alone has more than doubled over the past year, hitting Tsh87,383 ($37.66) per 100-kilogramme sack in July compared with Tsh43,371 ($18.69) in the same month last year. Other key basic foods like rice and beans have also registered sharp price increases.

In its latest monthly review report for August 2022, the BoT says wholesale food prices had increased “mainly due to low harvests associated with delayed short rains and a high demand for food from neighboring countries.”

SOURCE

Governments in East and Horn of Africa have rolled out food aid programmes to communities hit hard by inconsistent weather patterns and global crises that have pushed food costs beyond […]

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