Ghana testing four genetically modified items for production

BY: Samuel K. Obour

Ghana is in the process of testing four genetically modified (GM) agricultural produce for mass production.

These are cowpea, cotton, high-protein sweet potato and nitrogen-efficient, water-efficient and salt-tolerant rice.

Apart from the cowpea, also known as Bt cowpea, which is being developed by the Savanna Agricultural Research Institute (SARI), the other three crops are under the Crops Research Institute (CRI) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

Field trials for the Bt cowpea and the sweet potato are yet to be done, while the rice and the cotton, also known as Bt cotton, have been planted and are under strict supervision.

This was made known to a group of journalists who participated in a training programme on bio-safety in Accra last Friday.

The programme, organised by the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA), in collaboration with Africa Harvest Foundation International (Africa Harvest), was to help the journalists report more accurately on issues of biotechnology.

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Africa Harvest is a non-profit organisation that promotes the use of advanced science and technology products to improve agricultural productivity among Africa’s farmers. Its objective is to free Africans from poverty, hunger and malnutrition.

Legal issues

A representative of the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, Mr Eric Okoree, who took the journalists through Ghana’s bio-safety legal instruments, said currently a technical advisory committee had been formed to conduct risk assessment into all GM applications in the country, adding that institutional bio-safety had been certified for two research institutions — the CRI and the SARI.

Media’s participation in promoting GM products

The Communications Director of Africa Harvest, Mr Daniel Kamanga, said the media in Africa were not doing much in the area of agricultural reporting and called on journalists to be more proactive in their stories, as well as write strategically to set the agenda.

A lecturer at the Biochemistry Department of the University of Ghana, Legon, Dr Yaa Difie, in a presentation, said biotechnology could be used in addressing many of the challenges that farmers faced across Africa.

That was because, biotechnological crops gave higher yields and reduced weeds and pests, as well as farm cost, she said.

She, however, said there was the need to regulate their use to ensure food and agricultural safety.

How GMOs can help the agric sector

A research scientist at the CRI of the CSIR, Dr Stephen Amoah, said although some successes had been chalked up from traditional farming, it was time to use modern technologies to improve yields.

He mentioned challenges in the agricultural sector as declining soil fertility, pests and disease infestations, climate change leading to drought, flood, heat, post-harvest losses and inherent low yields of crops.

He said with the country’s increasing population, there was the need for the adoption of GM technology to produce sufficient food for the people.

A plant breeder and Principal Investigator of Bt Cotton, Mr Emmanuel Chamba, said when successful, the Bt Cotton would help prevent worms from entering cotton bulbs to destroy them.

He said countries such as Burkina Faso had adopted the Bt. Cotton, making that country one of the biggest exporters of cotton in Africa.

By: Rebecca Quaicoe-Duho/Daily Graphic/Ghana