By: Fred Yaw Sarpong
The National Biosafety Authority (NBA) which oversees the regulation of biotechnology in Ghana has extended the country’s trials period of the genetically modified (GM) crops to another three years.
The extension was to allow the institutions engineered to conduct the trial go into detail of the field trials. The authority has, therefore granted them additional three year permit to finish the trials and the current permits will expired in November 2018.
The institutions engineered to conduct the trials were initially given three year permits to finish the trials, however they requested for additional period because they were not able to finish assessing the trials within the three year period.
The institutions in charge of the trials are Savanna Agriculture Research Institute (SARI) of Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Crop Research Institute (CRI).
Ghana started a field trial of BT Cowpea, BT Cotton and NEWEST Rice in early 2013 after the passage of the Biosafety Act, 2011 (Act 831).
The Acting Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the authority, Mr. Erick Okore told Daily Express that the NEWEST rice trial is been conducted by the Crop Research Institute (CRI) while the BT Cowpea trial is also been conducted by SARI.
“We granted both permits in November 2012 and the timing is base on the period the permits were given but not when they started the trials,” he told Daily Express.
He indicated that the BT Cowpea is looking at the insect resistance of the variety. “The Cowpea is prick by Maruca Insect and that crop has been engineered to resist that insect attacked. So they are trialing/testing that to see how effective that could be,” he explained.
According to him, the NEWEST Rice has been engineered to make best available use of nitrogen. He mentioned “if a farmer plants the NEWEST Rice on a depleted land where the nitrogen content is so poor, this rice supposed to do well on that land, whatever available nitrogen is there. The NEWEST Rice supposed to utilize the nitrogen and grow on such land. This means it grows in poor soil,” he added.
He said the NEWEST Rice has also been engineered to grow in both draught and marshy areas. “This crop can also grow in where maize and cassava can grow.”
The BT Cotton trial is on-going and is been engineered by the Savanna Agriculture Research Institute (SARI) and it permit expected to expire this year.
Daily Express learnt that with the BT Cotton trials, SARI is looking at two traits which are insect resistance and draught resistance. “SARI is to look at how the cotton can resist insect and how it can stand draught,” Mr. Okore told Daily Express.
Even though the permit has been granted to the institutions allow them to do the second round of the trials, the institutions are yet to start the new trials.
“We are the regulators and our concern is not for their scientific data. That is not our business. Their scientific data is for them and if they do well or they don’t, that it’s for them. Our concern is for them to go by the terms of conditions we gave them, so that they don’t fraught them,” he noted.
He said in order to monitor the institutions activities, the authority go on periodic monitoring and sees how they are observing the terms and conditions given to them.
He further explained that at this stage the institutions are trialing/testing to see whether the crops can do well in Ghana. “What it meant is to see whether these genetically modified crops can be grown on Ghanaian lands. If they do well, which means Ghanaian soil can support it and that is what they are looking at now,” said Okore, adding that the authority don’t want to preempt anything as far as the trials are concern.
“Scientifically the institutions are looking at the trait in these modified crops. For instance, the cowpea can resist the Maruca Insect but not weevils. The Maruca insect attacks the crops when the crops are on the field and destroys it,” said the acting CEO.
Touching on the advantage, he said that if the crops does well and lands in Ghana are able to support it, then it means that farmers have additional option, which is a cowpea that can resist the normal insect which can attack it on the field.
“It is an added option or choice to anybody who want to use this new variety. It will be additional to what we already have as Ghanaians,” he assured Ghanaians.
“It is not an imposition but it rather widens the variety of choice and if the rice is able to do well, which means that we will have cowpea or rice that can do well in dry lands where cassava can grow,” he stated.
“As far as farming is concern in this country, the crops will become an added choice. Farmers will have a choice to make whether to use these trials crops or continue using the traditional crops,” he added. The trials are going in Kumasi and Tamale.