Story by: Fred Yaw Sarpong
Burkina Faso, Ghana, Senegal and Togo are the only countries in the West Africa sub-region that have biosafety legislation in place that can allow the handling of genetically modified (GM) crops up to commercial release.
Nigeria, the fifth country has a cabinet approval for the handling of GM crops up to the confined field trial level.
However, Nigeria law to allow commercial release passed in 2011 by its Senate and currently waiting Presidential assent.
Among these countries, only Burkina Faso is handling a GM crop (Bt cotton) at the commercial level in West Africa. Their project started in 2008.
But on the entire continent, South Africa, Burkina Faso, Egypt and Sudan have laws permitting commercialization of GM crops.
Prof. Walter S. Alhassan, a member of National Biosafety Committee (NBC) said this at a one-day workshop for the media on the process of biotechnology and biosafety policy development and way forward.
It was held at the School of Nuclear and Allied Science at the Atomic Energy in Accra. The programme brought together over 50 media practitioners and all the NBC committee members.
According to Prof. Alhassan, challenges to Africa’s agricultural transformation include low yields and low application of the known/conventional technologies.
Even though Ghana is well known to be one of the few countries in Africa with much focus in Agriculture, Prof. Alhassan pointed out that this country has not done much, as compared to other countries.
Looking at the current agro-input levels, area of irrigated lands in sub-Sahara Africa is 3.7% while Ghana has only 0.2% of its lands irrigated. Similarly, fertilizer usage in the sub-region is 9.9% kilogram per hectare (kg/ha) while Ghana is 8% kg/ha.
Using tractor in Ghana is very low, according report from Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA). For instance, in 2009 tractor per 100 square kilometer on arable land was 4.5%, compared to Nigeria 6.6%, Tunisia 142.6%, India 128.5%, Canada 162%, and USA 271.3%.
Prof. Alhassan said a challenge to the use of GM biotech in Ghana is the high level of ignorance and misinformation on GM technologies. ‘Need to distinguish between the product and the process,’ he emphasised.
He advocates for training at all levels-from scientists to farmer through extension not forgetting the media and the bureaucrat/politician.
‘Building of local capacity in GM research (training and infrastructure support) is very important,’ said Prof. Alhassan. Ghana has just started the confined field trial on BT cotton, cowpea and rice.