The High Court hearing the case seeking to delegitimize plans to commercialize GMOs in Ghana has adjourned sitting for the next three months to allow the plaintiffs ample time to secure foreign witnesses to testify.
According to the lawyer for the plaintiffs, George Tetteh Wayoe, Indian anti-GMO activist Vandana Shiva is one of three foreign witnesses they intend calling to testify in the case and more time will be needed to get their testimonies.
“We pleaded with the court that the scientists and experts who will testify on our behalf are not in the jurisdiction and we will need some time to secure them…
“Certainly, we will have Vandana Shiva from India and then possibly one or two experts from the US. Because the US is the hub of genetic engineering. That is where the debate is happening vigorously,” he explained.
John Awuku Dziwornu of the Ghana National Farmers and Fishermen Association (GNAFF) which is one of the defendants in the case has mocked the move saying it defeats claims by the plaintiffs they are fighting against GMOs to protect Ghana’s national interest.
“If you claim that introducing GMOs amount to bringing in multinationals to take over seed systems, and you are bringing in foreigners to defend your case… what is the point? It’s funny?” he said.
He added that they “We will be calling in local scientists from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) to testify for us that GMOs are good and there is nothing illegal happening here.”
Food Sovereignty Ghana and three other groups are seeking among others a declaration from the court that ongoing processes by various government agencies to commercialise GMOs are illegal.
They say requirements in the National Biosafety Act 2011 have been breached because a committee approved the processes instead of the National Biosafety Authority which the body mandated by law. Four government institutions and GNAFF are defendants in the case.
Hearing resumed at the High Court last Thursday for the trial to begin after the Supreme Court ruled days before that the lower court had jurisdiction to hear the case.
The high court ordered the parties to file written witness statements within three weeks but the lawyer for the plaintiffs pleaded that they are given more time because some of those who will testify are outside the country. The judge agreed and gave the parties eight weeks within which to file their written witness statements.
The court will resume sitting a month after that, on October 15, 2019, to review the witness statements and set out modalities for the trial. At this stage, evidence could be challenged and witnesses who have filed written addresses can testify before the court and be cross-examined.
Asked when Vandana Shiva and the other witnesses will be in town to join the case, Tetteh Wayoe explained that will not be necessary because they can testify from their respective bases through the power of technology.
“Right now the court system allows for people to testify before the court electronically. So Vandana Shiva, if she decides to testify, she can be where ever she is, and when the day comes, she can be picked via skype. The courts now allow for that,” he said.
“What they need is to get their documents filed in Ghana here. But when she needs to testify, it can be done electronically. Any cross-examination will be done via skype and it will be part of the court records. So, we are on course. The case has to be dealt with so Ghana can be clear in our minds on the way forward for GMOs,” Tetteh Wayoe explained.
But Dziwornu of GNAFF is not convinced the involvement of foreign experts in the case will make any difference.
“For me, she is not a scientist. She is not an expert when it comes to GMOs. She has no background in science. All she says is based on spiritual stuff,” Dziwornu claimed.
“And if she will be testifying in the case through electronic technology, why can’t that same technology be applied to other aspects of life like agriculture,” he quizzed.
Vandana Shiva has for some time now been involved in the anti-GMO campaign in Ghana. In June 2014, she was in the country to address public fora on GMOs, urging the public to reject the technology.
When the Supreme Court ruled against the Ghana National Farmers and Fishermen Association which sought to challenge the jurisdiction of the High Court in the GMO case last week, Shiva tweeted congratulating the anti-GMO groups on their victory.
“Congratulations @FoodSovereignGH. I remember my trip to Ghana and stand in solidarity with you and all people's movements across the world defending their seed sovereignty and food sovereignty from the assaults of the poison cartel who are trying to control our seeds and food,” she wrote in a Twitter post.
But Dziwornu is insisting the ongoing plans to introduce GMOs does not in any way threaten Ghana’s food sovereignty.
“It’s about reducing pesticide application on farmers. It’s about introducing more technology in our agriculture as the rest of the world is doing. Our farmers will still control their seeds but we cannot continue to do agriculture the way it’s always been done,” he said.
“As farmers, we are happy we will soon have the opportunity to grow GMOs to make us have better agriculture,” the farmer concluded.