Government is being urged to remove barriers militating against ongoing plans to commercialise GMOs in the country.
The Graduate Farmers Network (GFN), a group of young graduates who have ventured into farming related jobs in a statement said; “we wish to indicate our support for every initiative by the state to approve and commercialize any modern scientific and agricultural innovation including genetically improved seeds for farmer’s cultivation.”
“We wish to indicate our support and demand for all innovations that can buffer young farmers against the current challenges in the sector with regards to pests, diseases, weeds, drought and other climate extremes that affect farmers’ output.
“For us, genetically improved seeds serve as one of the most effective approaches to deal with these challenges. Special traits that we could not achieve through conventional breeding are being made possible through GMO technology and gene editing techniques,” the statement signed by the group’s head of media relations Evans Okomeng said.
The Graduate Farmers also vouched for the safety of GMO crops, noting, “they have a long term record of usage, cultivation and consumption over the last three decades with serious scientific researches proving their explicit safety.” The group says it’s unfortunate that there have been “unwarranted fears, as well as unproven and unsubstantiated claims about GMOs just to cause fear with misinformation.”
“The state must not sit unconcerned whilst voiceless farmers in the country continue to lose our crops to many factors that could be controlled through the science of GMO technology,” the statement added.
The statement warned that government’s current flagship agricultural programmes including Planting for Food and Jobs “may be a nine-day wonder and maybe short lived if we ignore technologies of improved seeds that are genetically resilient and resistant to many of the challenges on our farms.”
Currently, scientists at the state research institution, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) say they have completed trials on GM cowpea varieties with inherent resistance to pest attack. It is likely they will put in an application for commercial release before the end of the year.
But there has been a lot of resistance with some civil society groups whipping public sentiments against the technology as they’ve rolled out massive anti-GMO campaigns that have been on for more than half a decade now. They have organised demonstrations, petitioned parliament and filed court suits seeking to stop the trials that will eventually lead to the commercialisation of GM crops.
The Graduate Farmers Network says denying farmers in Ghana access when it comes to the application of GMO technology holds dire consequence to the nation’s agricultural future.
“We are therefore by this statement challenging the state and all stakeholders to remove any barriers to agricultural innovations and technologies by opening the gates and making genetically engineered crops available to both farmers and consumers,” the statement said.
The debate on whether Ghana should accept GMO crops have been ongoing since parliament passed the National Biosafety Act in 2011 to allow for their introduction.
Some student associations in Ghana have also waded into the ongoing debate on whether the country should commercialise GMOs, rallying public support for the technology.
“GMO is good for Ghana as the technology will help improve upon agriculture. Issues of climate change, pest attacks, and low crop yield are some of the key reasons Ghana needs GMOs. GM crops could address these problems where other breeding techniques have failed,” Kojo Fosu who is President of the University of Cape Coast chapter of the Molecular Biology and Biotechnology Students Association of Ghana noted.
“With the challenges the world is facing in relation to achieving global food security and the exponential growth in population, GM technology will gradually become the order of the day and therefore there is the need for the nation to invest in developing the capacity for GMOs,” Kojo Fosu explained.
“GMO may not be the only solution to feeding the world but it is the best option the world has got now,” he added.
“Also, the use of high yielding GM crops means more produce on small farmlands. This means farmers will spend less but produce more with ease. This will also impact the economy of the nation as there will be more to export and more for the nation. Adoption of GMO will reduce importation of food into the nation,” he said.
Ghana has been commended largely by the United Nations for making good strides in helping ensure food security. It was the first sub – Saharan African country to meet the Millennium Development Goal on halving hunger back in 2011. But a lot of challenges remain in the agricultural sector.
One in every five children under the age of five years in Ghana suffers from stunting as a result of malnutrition. And about 1.2 million people, representing 5% of the population remain food insecure. Ghana’s annual food import bill stands at about $1.5 billion although the country has the capacity to produce majority of the foods it imports including rice. The nation also loses about $400 million annually to post-harvest losses.
Samuel Oppong who is President of the University of Development Studies branch of the Biotechnology Students Association of Ghana says this is why the nation still needs GMOs.
“GMOs can help ensure long shelf life of perishable goods. It would decrease the losses of farmers. Adoption of GMO would help Ghana increase yield and in turn increase exports and decrease imports if we engineer the crops ourselves,” he said.
President of the KNUST chapter of the International Association of Students in Agriculture and Related Sciences Richard Adu says “Ghanaians need to be educated about GMOs to encourage their adoption.”
“Those against the technology should be open and learn more about the importance of GMOs.”