The Deputy Director of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research-Crops Research Institute (CSIR-CRI), Prof. Mrs. Marian Quain, has rekindled the call for the adoption of genetically modified (GM) crops to brighten the agenda of agricultural transformation to drive economic growth and development.
She observed that with the rising agricultural production challenges such as declining soil fertility, pests and diseases infection, climate change, inherent low yields and post-harvest losses, it is imperative to embrace the GM technology to enhance productivity to ensure food security and protect the environment as well.
“For example, the adoption of GM maize will significantly increase farmers’ yield and discourage excessive use of pesticides to control pests like fall armyworm (FAW). With this technology, the plant will build its own system to fight the worms. You don’t have to spray pesticides to endanger the environment. The increasingly use of pesticides is getting rid of beneficial pests, thus throwing the system out of balance,” she said.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defines GMO as an organism that has been transformed by the insertion of one or more genes (called transgenes), usually from a species. It can also be defined as an organism in which one or more novel gene has been introduced into its genome such that it is able to pass on its new genome to its offspring. The technique used to achieve this is known as gene technology, recombinant DNA technology or genetic engineering. Agricultural scientists say GMOs do not contain any bacteria, viruses or chemicals.
But a section of the Ghanaian public have raised objection to integration of GM crops into the country’s agricultural space. They have cited reasons such as health safety of consumers and imminent commercialisation of seeds, which will eventually push out many small scale farmers out of business as they cannot afford to buy the seeds.
A group like the Food Sovereignty Ghana (FSG) is advocating mandatory labelling of agro products containing GMO for traceability and legal liability for any untoward consequences for consumers.
Prof. Mrs. Quain however, explained that the use of GM crops is just like the conventional use of hybrid seeds where “any serious farmer” has to buy seeds every season to remain relevant, saying “it is not true that the seeds will be owned by individual organisations. The National Biosafety Authority is well-resourced to regulate the use of GM foods in the country; all safety concerns will be addressed, she added.
She was speaking in an interview with the B&FT, on the sidelines of the Bono Regional Research Extension Farmer Linkage Committee (RELC) meeting held in Sunyani. The two-day conference brought together actors in the agricultural value chain to deliberate on identified challenges, retarding agriculture growth and adoption of action plans to turnaround.
The CSIR-CRI Deputy Director also mentioned inadequate funding as a setback for agricultural research in the country, indicating that scientists sometimes have to rely on foreign-sponsored projects for money to produce the needed improved seeds for farmers. She therefore called for an expeditious passage and implementation of the ‘Plants Breeders’ Bill’ to help address the financial challenge that has crippled crop research.
“The Bill when passed will establish a legal framework to acknowledge the achievements of breeders of new varieties, aimed at improving the quantity, quality, cost of food, and raw materials for industry. It will encourage investment in plant breeding and promote the seed industry,” she stated.
The Bono Regional Director of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA), Richard Donkor, raised alarm over excessive use of agrochemicals and its negative impact on productivity, the environment and food safety. He said a study conducted by the Soil Research revealed that a greater proportion of farmlands in the region are acidic, emanating from the incessant misuse of weedicide.
He advised farmers to be meticulous about the use of agrochemicals, adding that MoFA has resorting to educating farmers to adopt farming practices like shifting cultivation and the use organic manual to help breakdown the acidity level of farmlands to boost productivity.