Ghana’s anti-GMO farm leader adopts pro-GMO position

By Joseph Opoku Gakpo

August 28, 2018

The former leader of the Peasant Farmers’ Association, Ghana’s primary anti-GMO farmers group, has switched sides to adopt a pro-GMO position.

Mohammed Adams Nasiru attributed his shift to receiving accurate information on agricultural biotechnology from the scientific community.

Nasiru was national president of the Peasant Farmers’ Association of Ghana for almost a decade, from 2005 and 2014. He had previously backed the association’s anti-GMO stance, and as recently as 2013 had publicly expressed fears about “taking those kinds of food.”

But Nasiru now disagrees with the group. “A lot of us were misled into believing GMOs are bad, but now I know the truth. I am very comfortable with GMOs… I don’t think there is any harm in going with GMOs,” he said.

He claims those engaged in the anti-GMO activities are doing so because of the money they earn from such activities and don’t seek the larger interest of farmers. “The campaign earlier was done by people getting money from somewhere and getting onto the street to make noise. But after this noise, we have met the scientific community in Ghana and outside. Some of us have understood what they are trying to explain. Those kicking against the technology have their own parochial interests,” he said.

“They are in the big city making the noise. I am speaking to you as a farmer who has gone through the bad weather, used bad seeds, and all…” Nasiru added.

The Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana has over the years taken a strong position against biotechnology, claiming “GMOs are dangerous to health, are a leading cause of carcinogenic diseases, threat to environmental sustainability and threat to ownership of seeds by local farmers.” The association, which boasts about 40,000 members, has repeatedly cautioned the Ghanaian public against consuming GM foods in press statements and has categorically opposed the technology during public forums.

But now Nasiru says he was misled. “Some people in Accra made us to understand GMOs were bad. Until we got OFAB (Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology) talking to us, coming to the grassroots to talk to us, that’s when things changed…,” he told Alliance for Science in an interview.

Following Parliament’s passage of the Biosafety Act 2011, Ghana began conducting field trials of some GMO seeds, as required by the regulatory process before they are introduced onto the market. These include biotech cowpea and rice, which scientists say will be released onto the market soon. But some civil society organizations are demanding a halt in the processes, even seeking court action to block the crops. However, the state research body, Ghana’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), has insisted GMOs are harmless and needed to keep the country food secure.

Nasiru is now asking Ghanaians to embrace such scientific innovations in agriculture. “I just want to appeal to all and sundry, let your parents know that GMOs are not dangerous. If you don’t know the science, you don’t know anything. We want good yields,” he explained.

He is convinced the technology will make farmers better off.  “We have seen farmers who are involved in this technology. They benefit. And their living standards are far better than those who are not embracing it. So I will urge colleague farmers to embrace the technology.”

Dr. Richard Ampadu Ameyaw, Ghana OFAB coordinator, welcomed the news. “This inspires us to want to do more. It is important that we have to sensitize people. We need more people in the pool to be able to do these [outreach] exercises. It tells me clearly that people have wrong understanding of the technology. But when you explain things to them, they understand,” he said.

Ampadu expressed concern there is too much misinformation out there confusing people about the technology. “Unfortunately, the science community sat down and allowed the other group to go ahead of us. And that is what has created this problem. So the wrong information has gone ahead of us and we will do our best to correct the misinformation,” he explained.