Ghana: Government under pressure to adopt GM crops
Apr. 5, 2011
If Ghana accepts, then she will no longer grow crops like cotton, maize and cowpea or even banana using the traditional farming methods and waiting for the plant to mature through a natural cycle. Rather, through laboratory manipulations "improved varieties" of crops could be developed by shortening the maturity cycle of the plant, as well as, introduced certain "desired traits" such as drought and pest resistance into the plant.
The latest call on Ghana to accept GM crops was made last week by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) at the launch of the "Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2010" report authored by Clive James, Founder and Chair of International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). FARA is the technical arm of the African Union in matters of agricultural research.
However, the Integrated Social Development Centre (ISODEC), a rights-based advocacy NGO, has kicked against the report, arguing that GM Crops are a threat to the survival of the country's agriculture.
"We don't support Genetically Modified Crops because we think they are dangerous to the survival of our agriculture.
Genetically Modified Crops will be 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," explained Mr. Bishop Akolgo, Executive Director of ISODEC, in an interview with Public Agenda.
He expatiated that farming is not just about making money, but a vocation which people enjoy the activity of producing to feed the community. "So when you remove the human element in farming then you are doing harm to the people."
He warned, "We should not introduce this artificial thing. Any government that introduces that is looking for trouble because no farmer will like to vote for any government who will attempt to take away their livelihoods."
But Dr Yaa Difie Osei of the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Ghana has shot down the argument, pointing out that biotechnology is also used in medicine and industry. "Unfortunately, it is when we get to agric that people raise concerns, and it is based on perceived risks."
Prof Walter Sandow Alhassan of FARA, who launched the report on behalf of ISAAA, asserted that After 15 years of commercial GM crops none of the perceived risks such as loss of biodiversity through gene flow, toxicity, destruction of non-target organisms and allergenecity "have been proven scientifically."
Clive Jones writes that in 2010, the accumulated hectarage planted during the 15 years - that is from 1996 to 2010 - exceeded for the first time, 1 billion hectares, which is equivalent to more than 10% of the total land area of the USA (937 million hectares) or China (956 million hectares). "It took 10 years to reach the first 500 million hectares in 2005, but only half that time, 5 years, to plant the second 500 million hectares to reach a total of 1 billion hectares in 2010."
The report also asserts that over the last fifteen years, farmers have consciously made approximately 100 million individual decisions to plant an increasing hectarage of biotech crops year after year, because of the significant benefits they offer. "Surveys confirm that close to 100% of farmers decided to continue to plant, after their first experience with biotech crops because of the benefits they offer.
2010 was also the year when a record 15.4 million small and large farmers from both developing and industrial countries, planted biotech crops, up by 1.4 million from 2009. Over 90%, or 14.4 million, including almost 100,000 in Burkina Faso, were small and resource-poor farmers in developing countries.
Against this backdrop, Clive James argues that "This is contrary to the predictions of some critics, who speculated, prior to the commercialization of biotech crops, that biotech crops were only for the rich and large farmers in industrial countries. However, experience has proven that to-date, by far, the largest number of beneficiary farmers, are small and resource-poor farmers in developing countries."
He predicts that the "trend is likely to even strengthen in the future as most of the growth will be in developing countries."
In 2010, the number of biotech countries planting biotech crops reached 29, up from 25 in 2009. According to the report, the number of countries electing to grow biotech crops has increased consistently from 6 in 1996, the first year of commercialization, to 18 in 2003, 25 in 2008 and 29 in 2010. For the first time the top ten countries each grew more than 1 million hectares; the top five countries in decreasing order of hectarage were; USA (66.8 million hectares), Brazil (25.4), Argentina (22.9), India (9.4), Canada (8.8).
Three countries from Africa have so far commercialised biotech crops; these are South Africa, Burkina Faso, and Egypt. The list of African countries is expected to grow to ten by 2015 when countries such as Mali, Togo, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Malawi join the pack.
Perspectives on Ghana
Ghana's biggest challenge in deciding whether to go biotech or not is posed by the production of biotech cotton in Burkina Faso, according to Prof S. Alhassan.
For the second consecutive year, according to the 2010 ISAAA Briefs, Burkina Faso had a very high proportional increase which was the second highest percentage increase in the world in 2010. "Bt cotton hectarage in 2010 increased by 126% to reach 260,000 hectares (65% adoption) farmed by 80,000 farmers, compared with 115,000 hectares in 2009."
Based on this, Prof S. Alhassan argues that Bt cotton may be smuggled to Ghana for planting by farmers who lack technical know-how on integrated pest control and may ultimately compromise the quality of Ghana's reputed cotton.
He proposes that Ghana must hasten the passage of its draft biosafety legislation to allow for full-scale biotech crop application in Ghana. He also recommends education of the public on biotech crops.
Endorsing the call, Dr Alhassan Yakubu, Member of Parliament for the Mion Constituency and Chair of Parliament's Committee on Agric, said "As a country, we live in a global setting and we cannot afford to be left behind."
He points out that "those who have fears are forgetting that already things are going wrong without GM", adding, "every position we take to condemn GM must be taken from scientifically informed positions."
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