“Government should lift the ban on GMOs to enable farmers reap the benefits of this Technology”
The foregoing are the words of Dr. Leena Tripathi. She is the Deputy Director of East Africa Hub and Country Representative of International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) Kenya. Dr. Tripathi obtained her Ph.D. in Plant Molecular Biology and M.Sc. in Molecular Biology & Biotechnology.
She has been involved in plant biotechnology research for more than 20 years with specific interests in crop improvement. Tripathi is leading the transgenic research at IITA based at Biosciences for East and Central Africa (BecA) hub. Her primary research focuses on genetic improvement of banana/plantain, cassava, enset (false banana) and yam for disease and pest resistance. She has global collaboration including advanced labs in USA, UK, Australia and National partners in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Malawi and regional partners.
As our personality of the month, AgroBusiness Times had a chat with her at the IITA headquarters in Ibadan, Oyo State capital.
How long have you been with IITA?
I have been with IITA for the past 17 years; I have worked at University of North Carolina at Greensboro, USA, before joining IITA. I worked on Soya beans because it is one of those common crops planted in the United States.
Your experience in Nairobi, Kenya
I did spent some years at IITA headquarters, Ibadan, Oyo state, Nigeria, before moving to Nairobi in Kenya, so I have both the West and East African experience. During my early years with IITA, my focus was on Banana and I have had numerous successes on this crop. Afterwards, I took upon myself more challenges by working on cassava, Yam and enset (false banana) which was traditionally cultivated in Ethiopia. There are about fifteen to twenty million farmers that depend on this enset in the region.
GMOs acceptance in Kenya
Obviously, there have been a lot of debates on GMOs globally and Kenya is not an exception, but the good thing is that Kenya has a regulatory law put in place so they can be commercialized. The Government put a ban on it some few years back, therefore, you cannot import GMOs seeds into Kenya, but that has not affected our research.
We don’t only focus on research; we do a lot of public awareness and capacity building. I basically train students from different countries and I have a lot of PhD students as well. These students are equipped to also help their own country develop home grown products. So, we build capacity from all components starting from the technical and then the communication aspect because communication of new technology is very important.
For instance, when mobile phones were introduced, a lot of people were scared as some groups of people were saying it causes damage to human brain. However, a lot of people are now using the mobile phones without any fear. Maybe, GMOs acceptance is taking too long, however, I will not say it’s taking too long because the adaptation of this technology is actually high, it has increased in 100folds in the last 20years, hence, more countries will join in years to come.
What was the situation before you came up with these advances?
Seventeen years back in Africa, there was a very little knowledge on biotechnology particularly on GMOs. I was among the first scientist who started this technology in the region. For instance, in Uganda, the government built a new laboratory for biotechnology and that is the sole reason I was relocated from Nigeria to Uganda because they wanted somebody who can build the capacity for that, and that is also the same way I was moved to Kenya to build capacity as well. Probably in four or five years, we should be providing solutions to farmers’ problems using the modern biotechnological tools.
The motive behind Government ban on GMOs exportation
There was a publication from Europe that this technology has some harmful effect on humans, therefore, to safeguard the people, the government ban the importation of GMO seeds. After a while, it was reported that the publication lack scientific proof on its claims, so, people now want the ban to be lifted, but the government is yet to.
Your expectation from the government
The government should lift the ban on GMOs; this will enable farmers to reap the benefits of this technology.