Kenyan farmers will begin planting genetically modified (GM) maize seeds early next year following the government’s recent lifting of a 10-year ban on the cultivation of GM crops, according to a BBC report.

The drought-resistant seeds were expected to be planted on 202,342ha (500,000 acres) of land, the country’s agricultural authority was quoted as saying.

In October, the government lifted its ban on the cultivation of GM crops, as well as the import food and animal feeds produced through genetic modification, such as white GM corn, the 9 November report said.

Grown in 90% of all Kenyan farms, corn is a staple food in the country and is used to prepare a popular dish ugali, or maize meal.

Following four consecutive failed rainy seasons, Kenya is facing a severe water shortage amid one of the harshest droughts the East African region has faced in four decades. This meant crops were not able to grow, prompting warnings of potential famine, the report said.

However, as the country prepared to commercialise GM crops, there was resistance from some farmers and campaign groups, who questioned their safety, the BBC wrote.

A survey conducted last year by non-governmental organisation Route to Food Initiative showed that 57% of Kenyans did not welcome GM crops.

Supporters of the lifting of the ban on GM crops said the move was prompted by the need to ensure food security and to safeguard the environment.

“Climate change, the severity of drought and the emergence of new pests such as fall armyworms and maize stalk borer, and diseases such as maize lethal necrosis pose a real threat to food, [cattle] feed and nutritional security,” Dr Eliud Kireger, director general of the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization, was quoted as saying.

A state agency handling the general supervision and control of the transfer, handling and use of GM crops said the corn varieties had undergone clinical trials and had passed safety assessments.

“We checked all parameters of safety within international standards and the experience over the last 26 years shows that there hasn’t been any credible report on the effects on human health, animal health and environment,” Dr Roy Muriiga, head of the National Biosafety Authority, was quoted as saying.

Kenya is the eighth country in Africa to approve the use of GM crops, according to the report, and globally they are approved for cultivation in 70 countries around the world to date.