GHANA – Ghana’s National Biosafety Authority (NBA) has ticked the import and use of genetically engineered (GE) Bt cowpea event 709A culminating a process which begun in 2008.

The Authority had in March sought public opinion to enable them make an informed decision in the approval process.

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 Savanna Agricultural Research Institute (SARI) began field tests for this event in Ghana in 2016, which assisted farmers to slash pesticide use on their farms by up to 80 per cent.

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.

Given the approval, SARI can now conduct field trials in farmers’ fields in two distinct multi-locational areas in two cropping seasons.

The results from these trials will then be submitted to the Ministry of Food and Agriculture’s National Seed Council’s National Variety Release and Registration Committee for validation and approval, as a new variety to be registered in the national variety catalog.

Only then will SARI be able to kick off seed distribution into the Ghanaian commercial market.

Bt cowpea is the first GE crop to be approved for use in Ghana. It has received a 10-year approval which is renewable.

Cowpeas, also called black-eyed peas, are a staple in over 200 million households in sub-Saharan Africa, according to ISAAA . A nitrogen-fixing, high-protein bean, it is also used for livestock fodder.

Ghana is estimated to produce only about 57,000 metric tons of cowpeas each year, against the demand of 169,000 metric tons. Ghana imports from Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and Niger to make up for the difference.

Ghana becomes the second country to greenlight the use of Bt cowpea following in their West African counterpart Nigeria which approved the beans in 2019. Burkina Faso might soon follow suite as it is in the process of developing its own variety.

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.

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