The Board of the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) has approved the environmental release and placing on the market of Ghana’s first genetically modified crop – Bt Cowpea or beans which has an inbuilt resistance to pest attack.
This follows the evaluation of information submitted to the NBA by the Savannah Agricultural Research Institute (SARI) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), which addressed the safety of the insect resistance Cowpea and determined that the genetically modified plant “does not present an altered environmental risk or a food or feed safety concern when compared to conventional cowpea varieties in Ghana.
“The Board of the National Biosafety Authority (NBA), in light of the foregoing, finds the proposed environmental release and placing on the market of the cowpea event 709A as of significant benefit to Ghana, and has no increase in risk compared to conventional cowpea varieties.
“The Board therefore grants approval for its environmental release and placing on the market in Ghana for a ten (10) year validity period, with subsequent renewals being administrative-based,” the Authority stated in a report sighted by B&FT titled Decision Document for Environmental Release and Placing on the Market of Genetically Modified Plan.
This approval is granted with effect from 30th June 2022 to 29th June 2032.
On February 18, 2022, the NBA published a notice in the Government Gazette No. 24 of 2022 concerning the application for environmental release and placing on the market of the pod borer-resistant cowpea in Ghana submitted by CSIR-SARI.
The authority subsequently published same in the Daily Graphic, the Ghanaian Times and the NBA website for the public’s general information.
A 60-day period was allowed from the date of first publication for the public to submit comments. From the submissions received, there were 19 letters with a total of 1,567 signatures; 474 individual responses and 2 responses from 2 separate organisations.
From computation, a total of 2,043 signatures were thus received from various groups and individuals with 2,041 being in favour of adopting the technology, and with two organisations against release of the Bt Cowpea.
From the review of the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) risk assessment report; information submitted by the applicant; comments submitted by the public; and the attendant socio-economic considerations, the NBA reasoned that adoption of the technology will be beneficial to Ghana.
Further, findings from the comparisons of Bt cowpea with its conventional counterpart confirmed that the insect-resistance trait does not confer to the genetically modified any characteristic that would result in unintended environmental effects, following environmental release and placing on the market.
The review also concludes that the modified event, and food and feed products derived from it are as safe and nutritious for human and livestock consumption as the conventional cowpea.
Complementing PFJ and making farmers rich
Dr. Jerry Nboyine, an Entomologist and Principal Investigator Bt Cowpea project at CSIR-SARI, told the B&FT earlier this year that his outfit received about 100 seeds of homozygous PBR cowpea in 2017 which have since been multiplied several times – with the institute currently having about 15kg of seeds that were planted this season.
He said the institute expects to get, at least, 200kg of seeds by the end of this year for demonstrations toward its release.
Ghana’s annual demand for cowpea is estimated at 169,000 tonnes. Meanwhile, the country produces only 57,000 tonnes annually. But with Bt Cowpea, farmers can attain the potential yields of most commercially released cowpea varieties which is about two tonnes per hectare – a four-fold yield increment over existing yields.
He said the environmental and commercial release of Bt Cowpea will complement government’s Planting for Food and Jobs programme and lead to attainment of food sufficiency in the area of cowpea.