Report finds Ghanaian farmers eager to grow GMOs

By Joseph Opoku Gakpo

February 18, 2019

Ghanaian farmers are impressed by the performance of genetically modified crops currently being developed in the country and are eager to grow them to improve food security, a new report has revealed.

The willingness of farmers to adopt the technology is influenced by their expectation that it can potentially help them reduce pesticide use, the report noted.

“In Ghana, many deliberations on biotechnology are done by academia, researchers and government officials from the relevant ministries. That notwithstanding, producers (farmers) are eager to adopt genetically engineered (GE) crops as a means of achieving improved productivity,” according to the Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN) report published by the US Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service.

“For instance, after observing the results of the Bt and GM cotton trials, farmers were highly impressed that cotton could be produced with only two insecticide applications per production cycle (instead of eight), and demanded that the seeds be made available to them immediately,” the report stated.

John Awuku Dziwornu, vice president of the Ghana National Farmers and Fishermen Association, confirmed that farmers are eagerly anticipating the release of the new varieties. “The overuse of chemicals on farms affects our health,” he told Alliance for Science in an interview. “And we are happy this technology can help us reduce pesticide use. We can’t wait to have these varieties in the hands of ordinary farmers so we can plant them.”

Public acceptance

Though no specific study has assessed Ghanaians’ acceptance of biotechnology products, the report predicts the public will accept GMO crops when they are finally on the market. “The Ghanaian producer, importer or retailer, and consumer would accept duly deregulated biotechnology inputs and/or products if it guarantees increased yield and income, lower cost of import and handling, and affordable products, respectively,” the report noted.

The GAIN report also found that Ghana has made significant advances towards commercializing its first GMO crop. “Despite not meeting the reviewed target of commercializing its first genetically engineered (GE) product (Bt cowpea) a year ahead of schedule in 2018, Ghana remains poised to achieve this goal in the very near future,” it stated. “In terms of current commercialization efforts, appreciable progress has been made, especially with regard to plant biotechnology.”

Update on work on GMO crops

Ghanaian scientists have completed field trials on the pest-resistant Bt cowpea, the country’s first genetically modified (GM) crop, and will soon seek government approval for its commercial release. The GM crop is expected to help farmers dramatically reduce their use of pesticides, while also enjoying better yields of this important staple food.

Despite repeated assurances by scientists that GMOs are safe, some civil society groups have been actively pushing for a ban on GMO crops through court actions and demonstrations. The new report warns the actions of such groups are likely to get even more serious as Ghana prepares to commercialize Bt cowpea. “With the prospect of Bt cowpea commercialization, campaigns against the introduction of biotechnology by anti-GE groups and individuals in Ghana could be renewed in the near future,” it said.

Ghana building effective capacity for GMO introduction

The report also noted a remarkable increase in discussions about biotechnology across the country, with the scientific community showing renewed zeal in engaging the public. Several stakeholders have engaged the media on issues related to biotechnology in an effort to convey accurate, science-based information to Ghanaians with regard to genetic engineering technologies. “This has led to a growing interest in having an impartial discussion on the topic of biotechnology across the country,” the report said.

Ghana continues to build its capacity for the development and production of modern agricultural biotechnology crops and the government of Ghana recognizes the potential of biotechnology as a key innovation in the quest for national food and nutrition security, the report found. A common memorandum of understanding between the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) and all other GMO-focused regulatory agencies has been put together to replace the separate bilateral agreements between the NBA and each of the regulatory agencies. The move is expected to help streamline the GMO crop regulatory space.

The report also noted that biotechnology can play a key role in the Ghana government’s latest agricultural policy initiative, which has been running for the last two years. “In April 2017, Ghana’s President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, launched the ‘Planting for Food and Jobs’ program aimed at transforming Ghanaian agriculture through the provision of improved seeds, the supply of fertilizers, the provision of dedicated extension services, a marketing strategy, and the use of e-agriculture,” according to the report. “Improved seeds are part of the improved inputs, and while biotechnology is not explicitly mentioned, it can play an important role in this initiative.”

Ghanaians already consuming GMO products

The report observed that Ghana currently has no restriction on the importation of genetically engineered (GE) products or products containing GE material, and currently imports food products from elsewhere in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, South America and the United States that may contain GE elements.  “Ghana is the recipient of US food assistance under United States Department for Agriculture (USDA’s) Food for Progress program, and there has not been any barrier that impedes importation of GE food aid,” it added.