Experts urge Ghanaians to use and apply modern biotechnology
Professor Walter Sandow Alhassan, Project Coordinator for Safe Biotechnology Management in Sub-Saharan Africa (SABIMA) under the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), made the call in Accra on Thursday.
He said: “Population pressure and the expansion of arable lands, the need for intensification of agriculture, pollution of ground waters from agro-chemical run-offs, intractable pests and diseases of plants and animals, fossil fuel price increases and climate change induced stresses are some of the imperatives for modern biotechnology engagement.”
Professor Alhassan was speaking at a media roundtable discussion on biotechnology and other related issues during the visit of US Biotechnology Expert and Speaker, Gary Blumenthal, to Ghana.
Mr. Blumenthal is on a week’s visit to Ghana, and would deliver lectures on the merits of agricultural biotechnology and the US, Ghana and international perspectives on biotechnology with Ghanaian experts in tertiary institutions in Kumasi, Cape Coast and Legon, Accra.
Prof. Alhassan explained that biotechnology was like any technological application that used biological systems, living organisms to make or modify products.
“Traditional biotechnology has been in use for centuries and involves fermentation used in bread making, kenkey, and alcohol production. Modern biotechnology is based on the developments in cellular and monocular biology that occurred in the second half of the 20th Century “, he added.
Prof. Alhassan said Genetically Modified (GM) technology did not only improve crop yield but also ensured insect resistance which made farmers to save substantial amount of money which should have been spent on pesticides, enhanced nutritional values and increase the life shelve of produce.
Globally, 25 countries are using biotechnology with 14 million farmers cultivating 125 million hectares in 2008.
In Africa, Burkina Faso is using the GM technology to increase her cotton production from 8,500 hectares in 2008 to 15,000 hectares in 2009, Egypt’s maize production has increased by 15 per cent and South Africa is also recording an increase of 17 per cent maize production within the same period.
Only South Africa, Egypt and Burkina Faso can commercialise their GM crops but only South Africa is currently commercialising Bt Maize, Bt cotton and Bt soyabean.
Prof. Alhassan explained that Ghana currently had a Legislative Instrument (LI) approved by Parliament in May 2008, to begin a Confined Field Trials using Bt. Cowpea, Bt. Sweet Potato and Nitrogen Use Efficient Rice.
These field trials would be conducted in Savanna Research Institute, Crop Research Institute and Biotechnology and Nuclear Agricultural Research Institute at the University of Ghana.
Ghana’s Biosafety Bill, which is currently before Parliament, when passed, would specify the framework and level of genetically modification to be conducted on specific crops yet to be identified.
It would also help prevent abuse of the GM technology, which ensures rapid growth, high-yielding of crops and enhances nutritional values.
He said Ghana’s immediate neighbours; Togo, Burkina Faso and Nigeria had promulgated their Biosafety Law allowing for field trials of the GM technology adding, “it is just appropriate for Ghana to pass the bill because such produce from neighbouring countries would find their way into the country”.
Prof. Alhassan said after 14 years of commercial use of GM crops, “no scientifically proved health risk has been confirmed, nevertheless, there is the need to exercise caution in the use of the technology, Biosafety legislation at varying degrees of stringency in place to guide the use of GMOs”.
He said though Parliament was yet to pass the bill, Ghanaian farmer-based organisations had been clamouring for the GM technology to enable them improve their production in order not to be outdone by their Togolese, Nigerians and Burkinabe counterparts who would flood the local markets with such products.
Prof. Alhassan said some GM products had arrived in the country adding that it was not true that such products were unsafe for human health and questioned: if they were unsafe, would people not develop some side-effects?
He called on government to speed up with the passage of the bill to allow Ghanaian farmers to use the GM technology and enhance production which would ensure food security and contribute immensely towards attainment of the Millennium Development Goals.
Mr. Blumenthal said Ghana had capable scientists who could work on the application of the GM technology if the bill was passed and allayed fears of sceptics who held the view that GM products were unsafe to reconsider their position.
He said the country should embrace the modern biotechnology and incorporate it into her newly launched National Science and Technology Policy to ensure overall development.