The National Biosafety Authority says it has put in place the necessary checks and balances to ensure the safe application of genetic modification technology to food production in Ghana.
The authority’s Chief Executive Officer, Eric Amaning Okoree, says both human and technical capacity has been built to ensure Ghana gains maximum benefits from such crops.
“What we have done is to strengthen ourselves. We have our office, we have our staff. We have MOUs with some regulatory institutions to get ourselves ready to do the risk assessments and to ensure that any GMO is safe for the public,” he said at the “Ask About GMOs” Forum in Accra.
Mr. Okoree explained the National Biosafety Act 2011 passed by Parliament has provided the necessary legal framework to allow for the introduction of GMOs onto the market. He added the authority has also published guidelines that will allow for institutions seeking to get GMOs onto the market to do so. Currently, the authority has only given approval for research trials on GMO crops and no institution has applied for a permit to commercialise yet.
Mr. Okoree explained the GMO technology is an advanced process used to improve upon crop plants to yield varieties that are as safe as conventional products. “GMO technology has been able to transfer genes across kingdoms, let’s say from plants to animals, all to make sure that agriculture sustains itself,” he explained.
Ghana Coordinator of the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) Dr. Richard Ampadu Ameyaw disclosed work is currently ongoing on two GMO crops in the country. He said the GMO crops will have superior traits to a lot of their conventional counterparts.
Dr. Ampadu said Bt cowpea variety will have inherent resistance to the deadly maruca pests which have the potential to destroy up to 80 per cent of yield on farms. The Nitrogen Use, Water Efficient, and Salt Tolerant (NEWEST) rice has also been engineered to grow with less water and on salty soils.
Dr. Ampadu rejected claims by some civil society groups that GMOs are inherently unsafe and could jeopardize the economic freedom of farmers. He says the sole objective of producing GMO crops is to help ensure better agricultural production. “Today, water has become a challenge all over the world. And climate change is a big issue. Agriculture is going to suffer. It has become critical that we require advanced technology to combat this. This is just an advanced technology used in production,” Dr. Ampadu said.
He says scientists do not seek to impose the technology on farmers but insists they should not be denied the opportunity to decide either. “I sit here as a scientist and say let’s go for GMOs. But as a farmer, you will have the choice to decide what to grow. But let us not block the opportunity for other farmers to use this technology,” Dr Ampadu said.
2009 National Best farmer and chairman of the National Farmers and Fishermen Award Winners Association Davies Korboe told the forum he is convinced GMO technology is a safe one. “A lot of people have been asking whether GMOs are safe or not. For me GMO is safe. We live in an era where we have issues of climate change. And there is Ghana Beyond Aid. Agric must become the game changer. But we have pests and diseases, climate change and other things. I think the best way to go is GMO to overcome such challenges,” the influential farmer said.
He, however, called for a national dialogue on the way forward for the technology. “There are a lot of issues but I think we need to have a national dialogue. Scientists, farmers, we should have a dialogue on GMOs to help settle this once and for all,” Mr Korboe said.
The ‘Ask About GMOs’ forum organised by Alliance for Science Ghana brought together various agric sector stakeholders for a face to face conversation with the National Biosafety Authority on Ghana’s plans to commercialise GMOs in the country. Executive member of Alliance for Science Ghana Slyvia Tawiah Tetteh told the forum there is evidence from the world over that GMO is a beneficial technology to farmers.
“I will end by re-affirming our confidence in the assurances that scientists all over the world have given repeatedly that GMOs are safe, and that it is a crucial tool that can help revolutionarise Ghana’s agricultural sector,” she said. “Let’s not allow this opportunity to increase productivity and deal with pests and diseases and the negative impact of climate change slip by,” Ms Tetteh added.
Alliance for Science Ghana is a network of farmers, scientists, communications persons, students and other well-meaning Ghanaians working to ensure improved food and environmental security in the country. The organisation works with agric sector stakeholders to enhance access to agricultural innovation as a means of ensuring food security, improving environmental sustainability, and raising the quality of life for farmers.