GHANA – The National Biosafety Authority (NBA) and the Ministry of Science and Technology, which regulate Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), have declared that only proven scientific knowledge and not misinformation will inform their decision on whether to permit the open cultivation of the GM pod borer-resistant (PBR) cowpea.
Research to produce Ghana’s variety of GM cowpea has been ongoing since 2008 and the process is yet to be culminated. GM cowpea has already been approved in Nigeria, where farmers are harvesting their first crop.
The NBA CEO alluded that majority of the information being fed to consumers that leads to prejudice is not scientifically sound. He said the NBA appreciates the work of anti-GMO groups in the country as they make the regulatory system effective, but is urging them to base their opposition on science and not emotions.
Ghana’s new Minister for Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation(MESTI), Dr. Kwaku Afriyie, holds a similar position.
Scientists at the state-owned Savannah Agricultural Research Institute (SARI) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Ghana have completed trials on the pest-resistant Bt cowpea (beans) and will soon apply for environmental/commercial release of the variety.
Benefits of GM cowpea
The GM crop is expected to help farmers dramatically reduce their use of pesticides on cowpea farms, while also enjoying better quality and higher yields of this important staple food.
A destructive pest known as Maruca pod borer has been liable for low yields of the protein-rich cowpea causing up to 80 percent losses thus forcing farmers to spray their fields with pesticides up to eight times in the 12-week life cycle of the crop.
The PBR cowpea, assisted farmers to slash pesticide use on their farms by up to 80 per cent during field trials supervised by SARI scientists.
The resistance has been imparted by the introduction of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) gene, a naturally occurring bacteria, that has the capacity to control a range of pests. The Bt variety causes harm to specific pests but not humans or beneficial insects.
The scientists working on the variety are supposedly awaiting the official composition of a new NBA board before submitting the application for commercial/environmental release to the authority. Mr. Okoree assured that the approval process will be transparent and solicit public opinion.
According to Joy Online, following an application, the authority has 180 days to respond. Approval for environmental release will mean the Bt gene has been de-regulated, allowing farmers to grow the varieties at various locations across the country.
Besides the GM cowpea, field trials are also ongoing to produce Ghana’s first GM rice variety. The nitrogen- and water-use efficient and salt-tolerant (NEWEST) rice has been engineered to require less nitrogen fertilizer, tolerate drought conditions and grow in salty soils — and still give good yield.
Confined field trials conducted at the Crop Research Institute of the CSIR in Kumasi on plants with just the nitrogen use-efficiency trait show the variety yields between 14 and 25 percent better than traditional varieties.