Ghana’s parliament gives GMO crops a boost

By Abubakar Ibrahim

November 18, 2019

Ghana’s parliament has approved regulations that open the door for the country to commercialize genetically modified (GMO) crops.

The regulations pave the way for the commercialization of insect-resistant Bt cowpea, which will allow farmers to dramatically reduce their use of pesticides and boost their yields. Researchers are also ready to move forward with NEWEST rice, which has been engineered to require less nitrogen fertilizer, tolerate drought conditions and grow in salty soils — and still give good yield.

“To improve crops, we have to modify the genomes. And we are in support of that,” said Kwabena Frimpong Boateng, Ghana’s Minister for Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, who introduced the enabling legislation this past March.

In Ghana, most laws passed by parliament must be backed by subsidiary legislation before they can be implemented. The biosafety regulations that parliament recently adopted operationalize the National Biosafety Act 2011 — the parent law that allows for the introduction of GMO foods into the country.

The newly approved legislation outlines how the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) established under the parent act will work to ensure safety of GMO foods. It lays out specific committees that will help the authority regulate GMO foods.

It also lays out the processes for applying to introduce GMOs into the country, how to obtain permits for import and export of GMOs, how monitoring and enforcement of GMOs should be done and how public education on GMOs should be conducted.

The regulations were approved on June 28, but the action was only announced late last week, when Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta presented the government’s 2020 budget statement to parliament.

The Finance Minister also announced to parliament that a new biotechnology development program will be rolled out next year. It will ensure the authority “continues to undertake public awareness and education campaigns on issues relating to GMOs. This will be targeted at policy makers, students, industry players and farmers in line with [United Nations Sustainable Development Goal] Target 12.a,” Ofori-Atta told legislators.

SDG 12 addresses the urgent need to change the way goods and resources are produced and consumed in order to achieve economic growth and sustainable development in a way that reduces the ecological footprint. It also talks about the efficient management of shared natural resources to ensure people meet their basic needs without harming the environment.

Ofori-Atta also disclosed to parliament that the NBA has made a lot of progress in training officials to handle GMOs safely and appropriately and has secured equipment for the nation’s GMO detection laboratory.

The Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology continues to insist that biotechnology will help Ghana improve its crops, despite the legal actions and demonstrations by anti-GMO groups demanding an end to the processes to introduce GMOs into the country.

Boateng expressed concern that a lot of Ghanaians do not seem to understand GM technology, leading to widespread objections. But he offered assurances that government has the public’s interest at heart and will not introduce technology that could harm the populace.

“I believe people don’t understand GMOs,” he said. “But we love our country. Our children will eat some [GMO foods]. So we as government will not bring in anything that will disturb our agriculture, our health, our economy, and our environment. We will not let that happen.”