According to the scientists, Ghana must also consider mainstreaming biotechnology into its crop and animal improvement plans to guarantee sustainable food security for the populace.
They cautioned that, “If in 10 years time we don’t invest in biotechnology we will face a lot of problems” in terms of food security.
Biotechnology is a technological application that uses biotechnological systems including living organisms or derivatives to make or modify products or processes for specific uses. The living organisms may be plants, animals or micro organisms. While Genetically Modified (GM) crops are formed from the movement of genes artificially from one organism to another, to form new products with desired characteristics.
Some civil society organisations and individuals in the county have however raised concerns about the technological innovation, maintaining that its adoption would create a dependency syndrome that could jeopardize the country’s food sovereignty as its food crop production would be dependent on multinational seed and pesticides companies.
They have over the years held that, “Genetically Modified crops are dangerous to the survival of our agriculture. It will impose a structural constraint on agriculture as it will result in high costs of input. Genetically Modified Crops will not be part of the solution to our problems.”
But, the former Director General of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research(CSIR), Professor Walter Sandow Alhassan, empahsises that GM crops have the potential to address the threat to food security in the country.
According to Prof Alhassan, GM crops could provide surplus food production and also improve nutritional and safety value of food.
Biotechnology, he said, could address environmental factors such as drought tolerance, submergence tolerance as well as tolerance to salinity.
The Prof. was speaking at a joint workshop on media outreach and launch of global status of biotechnology at Bunso in the Eastern Region.
Making a case for the adoption of GM crops, Prof Alhassan said since the commercialisation of GM crops 20 years ago, 179.7 million hectares of GM Crops have been cultivated and out of this figure , 54 percent are in developing countries ,while 46 percent are in industrialised countries.
Prof Alhassan further pointed out that 18 million farmers cultivated GM crops and 90 percent of these are in developing countries. He noted that for the fourth consecutive year, farmers in developing countries, specifically in Latin America, Asia and Africa planted more biotech crops than the other continents.
He emphasised the need to build local capacities in the areas of biotechnology to ensure that Ghana is not left behind. According to him, climate change phenomena calls for more advanced technologies in appropriate seed development and this includes biotechnology.
Dr Lawrence Misa Aboagye, Director of CSIR- PGRRI said, “We need to develop and use different and safe technologies to increase food production for the survival of mankind.”
Dr Aboagye explained that GM crops are developed through the combination of genes to obtain a new desired product. Some examples include early maturity crops; heat and drought tolerant, as well as high yielding varieties.
Biotechnology, he said, are used not only in agriculture but in health, environment and industry for the benefit of mankind. He added that Ghana, can boast of a record 140 crop varieties that have been bred and released by CSIR- PGRRI to farmers.
He said some confined trials are being conducted on three GM crops namely: Cotton, Cowpea and rice in some CSIR Institutes.
He noted, “These trials are being conducted and are supervised by the National Biosafety Authority, the regulatory body which receives and processes applications for confined field trials of GM crops.”
On his part, Professor Kenneth Danso, Director of Biotechnology and Nuclear Agricultural Institute at the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission, re- emphasised the need for the adoption of GM crops and biotechnology in general, stressing that the technology is safe and will improve food security.
Prof. Danso, noted “whether we are food secured or not, we will need GMs; we will need the technology to address some problems.”
A research scientist at the Savanna Agriculture Research Institute, Dr Ibrahim Kwasi Atokple, had asserted in a previous interview with Public Agenda that GM foods are safe and have no adverse health implications as widely speculated.
Dr Atokple told Public Agenda in that interview that a number of researches have been ongoing since the introduction of GM products to ascertain whether or not the products have negative health effects but no such case has been discovered yet.
“So far, nobody has reported of any side effects,” he said, adding “the arguments by these individuals and groups have no basis, and without any scientific evidence.”
Dr Atokple however admitted that there may be a few allergies associated with the consumption of GM foods. “I want to mention that there may be few allergies, but even with the conventional crops there are also the potential for allergic reactions,” he said.
He clarified that Ghana has the human resource capacity and technical expertise to produce the seeds that the multinational companies were producing. Therefore, farmers would not need to necessarily buy seeds from the multinational companies.
For him, the benefits to be derived from GM crops far outweigh the disadvantages. He stated there should be more education on GM crops for the myth around them to be removed.
Source: Mohammed Suleman/Public Agenda