A new improved GMO cowpea variety developed by CSIR scientists would grow the cowpea sector at an average of about 10% annually over the next six years, analysis of an economic study released this month has revealed.
The study is forecasting the new insect resistant cowpea will add GH₵230mto the cowpea production economy by 2025, if it is commercialised next year.
Scientists at the Savannah Agric Research Institute (SARI), an institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) have completed field trials on the new GMO variety know as Bt cowpea. They are expected to put in an application for commercial release to the National Biosafety Authority, after which it can get into the hands of farmers if approved.
The figure above implies on the average, the new cowpea variety will add about GH₵38m annually to the cowpea production economy which is currently valued at about GH₵415m. This indicates that all other things being equal, the new variety could help grow the cowpea production sector every year on the average by almost 10 percent (9.15% to be specific) if adopted.
The study, however, predicts if regulatory procedures delay the introduction of the new cowpea for five years, Ghana stands to lose about GH₵152m.
The study conducted jointly by CSIR-Science and Technology Policy Research Institute (STEPRI), Institute of Statistical Social and Economic Research (ISSER) of the University of Ghana, and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) assesses the potential producer and consumer impact of commercializingGMO cowpea and rice based on secondary data and the use of the economic surplus model.
The expected gain will be derived mainly from increased yields associated with protection from insects conferred by the new variety. When all other considerations including reduction in the number of insecticide applications, the associated labor cost from spraying and other benefits are factored in, the net present value benefit of adopting the new GMO cowpea will hit GH₵578 over the six-year period.
New GMO cowpea
Insect pests remain a major challenge to cowpea production in Ghana and Africa. The maruca pod borer, for example, can destroy up to 80 percent of cowpea fields when it infects farms. Farmers have to spray fields every week throughout the three-month life span of the cowpea in other to control them, draining their finances and causing damage to their health and the environment.
The new GMO variety was produced by introducing a gene capable of killing the pest into a local cowpea variety, Songotra, making it inherently resistant. Dr. Mumuni Abdulai who is principal investigator on the Bt cowpea project says field trials that compare the GMO cowpea and traditional one shows the new variety cuts down the use of pesticides by about 75 percent. “With the conventional cowpea, farmers spray about 8 times. With the new variety, they spray only two times,” he told Joy News. The field trials also show there was a much lower pod damage by the pests (about 28.6 times lower) in the new GMO cowpea than in the traditional variety.
The trials additionally reveal the new variety gives higher yield as a result of reduction in destruction by the pests. Yield output was 0.925 tonnes per hectare for the traditional variety, compared to 1.925 tonnes per hectare for the new GMO variety, an indication yield more than doubled for the latter.
One of the researchers who led the economic study Dr. Paul Boadu of CSIR-STEPRI explains; “production involves cost and the resultant output gives benefits to both farmers and consumers. Based on a scenario of 0-50 percent seed cost premium, the new variety shows not less than 4.7 percent proportional cost reduction with higher net benefits over the estimation period, compared to traditional varieties.”
New GM rice
The new economic study also shows the adoption of GMO rice currently being developed by the CSIR-Crop Research Institute in Ghana could add up to GH₵334mto the rice production economy over the next six years if released in 2019. This averages about GH₵28madditional benefit every year which is equal to about one-tenth of Ghana’s annual rice import bill that currently stands at more than GH₵209m.
For more than five years now, scientists at the CSIR have been working on the Nitrogen Efficient, Water Efficient, Salt Tolerant (NEWEST) rice which is expected to be more efficient in the use of nitrogen and water, and as well be tolerant to salty soils. Till date, the scientists have only been able to make progress on the aspect of the research involving Nitrogen-Use Efficient (NUE) rice. Nitrogen is the most important nutrient required for the growth of rice, helping ensure enhanced growth, and development of yield and grain. But most soils don’t have enough nitrogen to support the growth of rice.
The NUE rice was developed from the introduction of a gene into the local NERICA4 rice to make it more efficient in the use of nitrogen so the plants yield better. Confined field trials that compared the new GMO variety with traditional varieties showed yield increased by between 14 and 25 percent in favour of the Bt variety.
“We were able to do many trials on many lines and we identified the ones that are best. We set a target that they should be 15 percent better in yield. And the ones we identified met it although in some of the trials, it was better,” Dr. Maxwell Asante Darko who is principal investigator in charge of the GMO rice project explained in an interview with Joy news.
Currently, the field trials for the biotech rice have not been completed and it is not likely the variety will be commercialised by 2019. The study predicts that if regulatory processes delay the introduction of the new rice by five years, the rice sector will lose GH₵200m. Whilst the GH₵334m represents producer gain from adopting the new variety, the net present value benefit from growing the new variety over the next six years if adopted will beGH₵863m.
“From history and experience on the field, adoption doesn’t just happen. And farmers would usually want to see that the variety is actually working and their co-farmers are adopting it and making the gains before they do. So, based on adoption trends and expects opinion, the analysis was done over a six-year period,” Dr. Paul Boadu who led the research explained in an interview with Joy news
Following the passage of the National Biosafety Act by parliament in 2011, scientists in Ghana have been working on introducing GMO crops into the country’s food chain but none have been released onto the market yet. Despite repeated assurances by the scientists that genetically modified crops are safe and potentially beneficial, some civil society groups have objected to their introduction claiming farmers will no longer have control over seeds. Some of the groups have sued government demanding a halt in the approval processes.
Dr. Boadu emphasizes the varieties were developed by Ghanaian scientists to be released according to the dictates of local regulations. He says; “farmers will not lose the sovereignty of the seeds and we will not depend on outsiders to produce the varieties for us. These varieties could be replanted by farmers, but recommended farmers acquire new seeds after replanting for about three years as they usually do.”
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