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Alliance For Science Ghana Takes On Agric Minister Over GMO Comments

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Civil Society Group Alliance for Science Ghana has described as unfair and unprogressive comments by Minister for Agriculture that Ghana does not need genetically modified organisms (GMO) technology.

Dr. Akoto Owusu Afriyie at the government’s Results Forum last week said Ghana will only need GMOs in a hundred years.

“I’m a scientist. I believe in science. GMO is a method of science. But it’s like cracking a nut with a sledgehammer. Ghana does not need to go GMOs,” he said.

“The essence of Planting for Food and Jobs is to bring these well-researched varieties created by or own scientists, to bring them to the farmers. And to do that, you need what we call the extension service… So my lady, forget about GMOs. There is no GMO in what we are doing,” the minister said in response to a question.

“It’s only when we have exhausted all the beautiful work done by our own scientists that we may have to fall on it, and that will be another 100 years. Because there is a lot that our scientists have done using traditional breeding methods, not GMO methods… And we don’t need GMOs. And I can assure you, this government is not here for GMOs,” he said.

But Alliance for Science Ghana, a coalition of farmers, students, scientists, and other well-meaning Ghanaians says, “that position is unfair to the millions of farmers across the country who probably need improved technology to help make their work better and there is the need for us all Ghanaians to reflect on this issue further.”

The group says the GMOs being worked on in Ghana are not being done by foreign scientists as the picture is being painted. “Dr. Mumuni Abdulai who is principal investigator in charge of the GMO cowpea (Bt cowpea) project at the Savannah Agricultural Research Institute of the CSIR and Dr. Maxwell Asante Darko who is in charge of the GMO rice (Nitrogen Efficient, Salt Tolerant, Water Efficient – NEWEST rice) at the Crop Research Institute of CSIR in Fumesua – Kumasi are Ghanaian scientists working on the varieties in Ghana,” the statement said.

Below is the full statement

The debate over whether Ghana needs GMOs has been re-ignited by last week’s comment by the Minister for Food and Agriculture, Dr. Akoto Owusu Afriyie, that Ghana will only need GMOs in a hundred years. That position is unfair to the millions of farmers across the country who probably need improved technology to help make their work better and there is the need for us all Ghanaians to reflect on this issue further.

For better analysis, let’s recount exactly what the minister said at the government’s recent Results Fair in response to a question. He said; “I’m a scientist. I believe in science. GMO is a method of science. But it’s like cracking a nut with a sledgehammer. Ghana does not need to go to GMOs. Our scientists have done a lot of research on creating new varieties of all kinds and situations. You will be amazed if you go to the universities and CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) organisations, most of their products are sitting on the shelves and are not coming out to help farmers. The essence of Planting for Food and Jobs is to bring these well researched varieties created by or own scientists, to bring them to the farmers. And to do that, you need what we call the extension service… So my lady, forget about GMOs. There is no GMO in what we are doing. It’s only when we have exhausted all the beautiful work done by our own scientists that we may have to fall on it, and that will be another 100 years. Because there is a lot that our scientists have done using traditional breeding methods, not GMO methods to come up with short gestation varieties, disease resistance varieties, drought resistance varieties. You will be amazed the range that we have. And we don’t need GMOs. And I can assure you, this government is not here for GMOs.”

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First of all, the GMOs being worked on in Ghana are not being done by foreign scientists as the picture is being painted. Dr. Mumuni Abdulai who is principal investigator in charge of the GMO cowpea (Bt cowpea) project at the Savannah Agricultural Research Institute of the CSIR and Dr. Maxwell Asante Darko who is in charge of the GMO rice (Nitrogen Efficient, Salt Tolerant, Water Efficient – NEWEST rice) at the Crop Research Institute of CSIR in Fumesua – Kumasi are Ghanaian scientists working on the varieties in Ghana.

Secondly, if weather patterns are terrible and rain is falling less and pests continue to devastate your farm to the extent that average yield of maize on Ghanaian farms is 1.7 metric tonnes per hectare whilst their colleagues in South Africa are producing averagely at up to 5 tonnes per hectare, it’s unfair to say using advanced science like GMOs on Ghanaian farms is “using sledgehammer to crack nuts.” Do we want to deal with the problem or we don’t? Do we want to increase productivity or we don’t? Do we want to deal with the pest attacks or we don’t? Cowpea (beans) producers in the northern part of the country spray their fields with chemicals between 8 to 10 times in the three month life cycle of their produce every season to control the deadly Maruca pests. Research work done at the Savannah Agricultural Research Institute shows if you use the GMO cowpea currently on trials there, the number of spray reduces to two. Do we want to continue polluting the environment with chemicals and poison the cowpea products with chemicals or we do not want to? Those are the critical questions requiring answers.

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Thirdly, the argument that Ghana will only need GMOs after all available improved varieties developed through conventional breeding have been commercialized is obviously untenable. It’s like saying no Ghanaians should use the latest Iphone 11 Pro until everyone has used all the other earlier versions. In fact, it’s like saying we will not use mobile phones until everyone in the country has used and become conversant with land lines. That has never been our history as a people.

In the USA, more than 94% of soyabean and 93% of corn produced there is GMO. A lot of our imported cornflakes, flour and soya oil, among other products come from there. In fact, in the US, about 70% of all processed foods in grocery shops contains some form of genetically modified ingredient, just as is the case in several other countries like South Africa, Brazil, among others. In South Africa, approximately 99% of all soya bean and 84% of maize grown is GMO. Nigeria recently approved the growing of GMO cowpea and cotton which will be on the market soon as they work towards being a market leader on the continent in the production of these crops.

In total, 67 of the world’s 195 countries have adopted GM crops. Five industrial nations — led by the United States —grow GM crops, and 43 countries, including 26 in the European Union, formally import biotech crops for food, feed and processing. It’s the fastest adopted crop technology in the world. In 2016 alone, GM crops resulted in reduced carbon emissions equal to taking 16.75 million cars off the roads. Biotech crops have also helped farmers cut their use of insecticides and herbicides, or apply the products more strategically, reducing the environmental impact associated with their use by 18.4 percent since 1996. So, who are we deceiving when we say we are not going to grow GMOs in Ghana until 100 years to come? That obviously means we will rather import GMOs into the country than grown them ourselves. That posture sounds very unprogressive.

Recently, the Savannah Agricultural Research Institute of the CSIR announced plans to apply to the National Biosafety Authority for approval by the end of the month to put GMO cowpea on the market. It’s a good time to reflect on what we want for the future of agriculture in our country. But let us allow dialogue to prevail and not jump into conclusions too soon when the debates and conversations haven’t ended.

Signed

Farmer Evans Okomeng

For

Alliance for Science Ghana

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