“Any meaningful human development in future will be knowledge based and technology driven”, words that reverberated around the auditorium like a hot potato around the confines of a starving mouth. Too powerful to be contained, they found their way through the media outlets present and into the living rooms of a people so misinformed before. These words epitomized the deputy president’s, one; William Samoei arap Ruto, stance on the ongoing GMO debate. A renowned scientist in his own right and an alumnus of his Alma mater from which yours truly hails, his address was not only to the hotbed of scientific conglomerate present but to the general public at large. Keen to embrace him as one of their own who’d ventured into uncharted territories (the ever so fierce and unforgiving battle ground that is the political scene), the masses showed their support, and he repaid their faith by assuring them that the barn on GM products would be lifted in about two months’ time. He reminded them that Kenya was a signatory to the Cartagena protocol and would not be going back on the achievements already made as the research on GMOs is fast approaching a fruitful phase. The skeptical nature of the CBK towards M~PESA’s inception was one analogy that came to the fore when he described the phobia people have towards what they don’t understand. His words were inspirational and assuring, befitting his status as chief guest and one to declare the 4th National Biosafety Conference open.
Those in power seem to have this inherent propensity for late arrival, sometimes so much to a point of vexation. But as is always the case; they are never late, everyone else just came early. And so as the chief guest made his way into the auditorium, mini-entourage in tow and a cool two hours past the scheduled arrival time, the event organizers were sweating over how to fix one and a half hours’ worth of speech and a key note address into a twenty minute time frame. God only knows how the tea lovers must have felt. The wait however, was worthwhile and the speakers that came before him dissipated knowledge and information to the gathering like rainfall on thirsty earth. The conference key note address was particularly interesting as Dr. Ogutu, a researcher from KEMRI, gave a most insightful presentation on ‘The road to the development of the first Malaria vaccine and the power of partnerships’. The Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Professor Jacob Kaimenyi was later in hand to invite the chief guest who officially declared the conference open.
And open it was, as the Kenyan culture dictates: through any forum the belly must be taken care of, so as the gods went on to their customary photo session the commons dashed towards the tea making their presence felt for all intents and purposes.
It was already past noon when the scheduled courses began in the various classes. Quick precise presentations were the order of the day, personifying the quality that oozed ever so vividly from the presenters themselves. It came as no marvel, thus, that time flew by closing the curtains on day one of what was already proving a brilliantly designed and well-timed conference.
The two days that followed were tightly packed, different ideas being shared about how to enhance coordination, collaboration and partnerships for effective implementation of biosafety framework in Kenya. Our very own Professor Nguu managed to shrug off his postprandial somnolence to chair a session in which another of our own, Dr. Magembe gave a presentation on the development of Late Blight resistant potato for Africa. The issue of food security in Kenya and the world over was raised, never before has the future of GM products looked so bright in this country. The youth have embraced it, farmers refuse to be left behind, the politicians seem to be coming around, and the scientists…? Well… let’s just say they’ve never stood on firmer ground before. The major stakeholders however, still remain the consumers: that child in Mandera who still believes that Kenya is a land unreachable akin to the biblical Canaan where milk and honey flow aplenty, that mother in Taveta who wakes up to five empty bellies and an infant, too hungry to cry, staring blankly at her desolate face, that herder in Turkana dreading to take his last two cows to the field for they may not make it back. These are the people the GMO protagonists vehemently fight to inform and empower, and so the National Biosafety Authority has released a public notice request for comments on an application for environmental release (open field cultivation) of genetically engineered maize in Kenya. Further details can be obtained from their website www.biosafetykenya.go.ke.
Learning is said to know no age (whosoever said one cannot teach an old dog new tricks must have been an awful teacher). The lessons didn’t just end in the classes, the luncheon tables proved as good a learning field as any. This one time I found myself using the ‘wrong cover’ as the good chef readily informed me upon my inquiry. Who would have thought the term cover referred to the cutlery and not table cloth? For Sam and Wachira, the definition of success at the time was finishing the meal with an unbroken plate, apparently knives and forks aren’t so popular at klabuu. Orerah seemed to be battling with the sheer magnitude of consumables before him, it’s no marvel thus, that his enzymes (lacking match fitness) went on a go slow by Thursday greatly handicapping his efforts on Friday. ENO anyone…? Only Carol and Elsa seemed adequately equipped for the task at hand exhibiting delicate skill and panache. The rest of us could only watch in awe as they put their prowess into use. It’s amazing how difficult and artistic the simple act of moving food from plate to mouth can be.
Alas! The conference had to come to an end on Friday the 14th this very month. Many of us had accumulated a wealth of knowledge and expanded our networks. Ways had to part…, for the moment. Some lingered, like that crazy uncle who hoovers hours past the reunion hoping for that final bottle. A great conference it was and tribute goes to the event organizers, the National Biosafety Authority with special recognition to Prof. Dorington Ogoyi, Director, Technical Services and a former NUBSA patron for inviting us through our current patron Dr. Muge. Such opportunities rarely come around and when they do one can do nothing more than grab on like a kid does to his favorite blanket. You can imagine how I eagerly await the next conference.