A Scientist with the Council for Scientific and Industry Research (CSIR) has described claims by the Agric Minister that Ghana doesn’t need GMOs as unfortunate.
Dr. Richard Ampadu-Ameyaw said with climate change, pests and diseases negatively impacting agricultural production, farmers deserve to have a choice on the kind of technology they will want to apply to the production of food.
Daily Graphic last week reported the minister Dr. Akoto Owusu Afriyie as describing GMOs as a controversial subject which a section of Ghanaian society was seriously against.
He told a meeting of 19 African country directors of the World Food Programme (WFP) in Accra that “indeed, we don’t need it,” because Ghana is sufficient in terms of improved seeds.
But Dr. Richard Ampadu-Ameyaw who is Ghana Coordinator of the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) disagrees with the minister.
“It is an unfortunate statement. Especially in an era when everybody is moving in terms of technology. If you don’t need it, there are other people who need it. So if a minister makes such an emphatic statement, especially coming from someone who is an agriculturalist, for me, it is an unfortunate statement,” he said in an interview.
“But I won’t fault him so much in the sense that perhaps he doesn’t understand the issues very well. Particularly, the science behind the technology. Because if you understand the technology, you will not talk like that,” Dr. Ampadu who is Ghana Coordinator of the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) said.
Ghanaian scientists have completed trials on the country’s first GMO crop (Bt cowpea) with inherent resistance to attacks by the destructive bollworm pests and are expected to apply for environmental and commercial release soon.
2009 National Best Farmer in Ghana Davies Korboe who is also the chairman of the national farmers and fishermen award winners association says Ghana needs GMOs to ensure food security.
“Looking at global warming and pests and diseases affecting our farms, the best way to go for me is GMOs. Because we could have drought-tolerant seeds and also pests and disease resistant varieties with high yield,” he said.
“With GMOs, we save the environment. Application of chemicals will reduce. Currently, what we are doing is over polluting the environment from weedicide and insecticides and other things. For GMO, we need it,” he added.
Davies Korkoe says there is no way Ghana can compete with other players in the international community unless a conscious effort is made to promote advanced technology.
“Every maturing economy should be time bound. We should be able to see the future. We should be able to match up with technologies emerging all over the world. That is why GMOs are important because that is where the world is headed to now,” he explained.
He is calling for a national dialogue for a firm decision on GMOs to be taken by various stakeholders in the agricultural space.
“So we should have a national dialogue to see whether we really need it or not and to put the matter to rest. We should have a proper national dialogue than allowing a few people to say no,” he added
Ghana already open to GMOs
Ghana in 2011 passed the National Biosafety Act to allow for the production and commercialisation of GMO crops in the country.
Dr. Richard Ampadu says the application of improved technology to food production is nothing new and does not understand why the minister is apprehensive about it.
“Climate change is taking away a lot of the food crops that we have. Therefore, there is a need to bring in a technology that will engineer food crops that will be suitable for our present age. Most of the things we are eating today used not to be like this.
“How did we get the foods we are eating now? It is all through some of these changes and new technologies. And if the minister says we don’t need it, then there is a problem,” he said.
“If you look at the Agric policies that we have in the country, it says clearly that we need advanced technologies. And one of those technologies is GM. Because there are farm diseases and there are going to be more diseases on food crops which current technologies will not be able to help us solve them. And therefore we have to match the diseases,” he said.
Dr. Ampadu is convinced the application of GMO technology to food production fits directly in the country’s development plans. “We have a biosafety law which talks about biosafety and biotechnology, and the minister says we don’t need it? Then why did we pass that law?
“We have the Biotechnology and Nuclear Agric Research Institute (BNARI); it means the vision was there. So why did we develop it? We have people who are in school, in universities, studying biotechnology, what are we going to do with them? Should government spend money on them and then we throw them away? So there are a lot of things around us which suggests that we need this technology,” he said.
Throwing more light on why the country does not need GMOs, the minister for agriculture said the scientific community has researched into and currently registered over 58 different varieties of grains which could yield 10 times what ordinary grains could. Dr. Richard Ampadu fears the comment could draw back Ghana’s plans to commercialise GMOs.
“It is possible this statement can influence the direction of commercialisation. If he sits in cabinet where I don’t sit and no scientist sits and he tables it that we don’t need it, it could affect policy. But they won’t know what others like farmers are saying,” he said.