Nairobi — Kenya is withholding approval for field trials of genetically modified (GM) maize because some officials argue that a ban on GM imports applies to controlled growing tests as well, according to a person familiar with the deliberations.

Talks involving representatives from the health and environment ministries and the Kenya’s National Biosafety Authority (NBA) reached a deadlock in meetings held to discuss applications last week, according to the person, who asked not to be identified because the discussions were private.

The National Environmental Management Authority halted the applications to test seeds from Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) last year in October, after the two science research bodies had received the go-ahead from the NBA.

A spokesman for Kalro was not available to comment on the application. A representative from AATF declined to comment on Thursday.

The impasse is preventing Kenya from becoming the second nation in sub-Saharan Africa, after SA, to allow cultivation of GM maize, which is a staple food throughout much of southern and eastern Africa. The committee will need to seek guidance from Kenya’s cabinet on the way forward, the person said.

The trials would have been conducted by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service in multiple locations on small plots of about two acres, and would have lasted about one growing season, or about six months. Kenya is importing maize from Mexico and approved shipments of yellow maize from Ukraine for the first time since 2011, due to a drought. Maize yields in Kenya this season have halved because of the drought, the country’s National Drought Management Authority said on February 6.

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