Ghana turns to GMOs to revamp cotton industry

CottonAmong considerations to revamp Ghana’s cotton industry is the introduction of Bacillus Thuringiensis (BT) cotton, also known as genetically modified cotton.

Mr Bede Zeideng, Northern Regional Minister, said new cotton varieties genetically engineered with BT gene had been introduced globally to contain the boll worm pest that affected cotton.

Mr Zeideng said this in a speech read for him at the Biotechnology and Biosafety Sensitization workshop in Tamale.

The three-day workshop is to build confidence of partnership in safety and benefit of biotech crop and also identify from each target group who can advocate for biotech crops.

Topics to be treated include Principles of Biotechnology, Status of Biotech Research in Ghana, Global Status of Commercialized Biotech Crops and Possible Areas of Collaboration between Farmers and the Media on Agric-Biotech  Communication.

Burkina Faso, one of the largest cotton producers in Africa, introduced the technology since 2008 with a recorded yield increase of 12.5 in their cotton output and a 66 percent reduction in pesticide use.

Mr Zeideng said in partnership with the private sector, the Savannah Agriculture Research Institute (SARI) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) had undertaken six field trials in cotton growing zones of the country to confirm the efficacy of the technology under Ghana’s farming conditions.

Also on trial at SARI is the BT cow pea to control the devastating pod borer pest as well as BT rice trails in the Ashanti Region.

“A proper understanding of this new technology by our farmers is needed to ensure that they are not only properly managed but also sustainable,” he said.

Dr Abdulai Baba Salifu, Director General of CSIR, said biotech in agriculture would ensure access to appropriate improved crop varieties in production to achieve food security.

“I prefer to eat a product that is going to kill me in 30 years time, and I’m not even sure it will kill me, than to stay hungry and die today,” he said adding that it was better than starvation faced by populations in Africa.

Biotechnology in agriculture involves the use of scientific methods to produce genetically modified food crops that are more pest, disease and drought resistant and with short maturity periods.

The Biosafety Law in Ghana was passed in 2011, to allow the application of biotechnology in food crop production involving genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to enter food production.

The law also ensures an adequate level of production in the field for safe development, transfer, handling and use of GMOs.

However, scepticism is still rife in the adoption of GMOs in Ghana, but     Margaret Karembu , Director, International Service for the Aquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), said Africa needed to take advantage of the technology in order not to be left behind.

For that reason ISAAA was sharing information in a timely manner in simpler versions for better understanding to enable farmers and policy makers to engage.

She said the technology had attracted a lot of debate of fear and outright rejection and that the workshop would take the opportunity to correct the misconception and commended Ghana for conducting field trails in that direction.

Professor Eric Quaye, Chairman, National Biosafety Committee (NBC), said the NBC would be vigorous in following protocol and would also ensure that the right procedures were adhered to.

The NBC, he said, had the power to terminate field trials that did not conform to regulations governing it and that it was not the aim of the NBC to threaten investigations into the technology but to ensure that that right things were done.

Source: GNA

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