GHANA – Seed producers and scientists in Ghana have expressed frustration over the government’s delayed approval of a genetically modified variety (GM) of cowpea that can resist insect pests.

The government’s delay in approving GM cowpea for commercial release has created a situation where the crops are continually being damaged by pests, resulting in skyrocketing prices, Alhassan Amadu, President of the Northern Region branch of the Seed Producers Association of Ghana, said in a statement.

“We wish to state that the main reason for very low crop yield by cowpea farmers is the attacks by insect pests at all growth stages… we are not able to harvest up to a tonne of cowpea per hectare, hence, making the price of cowpea grains very expensive on the market,” Amadu said.

According to local news reports, the price of cowpea (beans) in the Ashanti Region has doubled since the beginning of the year. A cup of beans at the Kumasi Central Market that previously sold for 2.50 cedis (US$ 0.40) has shot up to 5 cedis (US$ 0.82).

“The price of the beans keeps going up. That is why we have increased the prices and our customers complain about the new price,” Afia Mansah, a market trader told Joy News.

Nigeria has already approved the GM cowpea, which can resist the destructive pod borer insect pest. Nigerian farmers growing the improved variety are reporting an average 80 percent reduction in pesticide use and higher yields, says Alliance for Science.

Mohammed Hafiz Alhassan, a cowpea grower in Ghana’s northern region lamented as to why Ghanaians were being restricted from reaping the GM cowpea benefits like their counterparts in Nigeria.

“And so, we are thinking if we don’t let our voices be heard, we will continue to suffer, and also pollute the environment. It’s not even healthy because you need to be spraying every four days at the peak of the insects. And so, whoever is in authority and can help get the seeds into the hands of the farmer should do this as early as possible so we can all benefit from this new generational technology,” he said.

Absence of NBA governing board

Although Ghanaian scientists have developed a local variety of GM cowpea, the absence of a governing board for the National Biosafety Authority (NBA), the state regulator of GM foods, has stalled the approval processes.

“It is sad to note that although Ghana and Nigeria commenced work on this GM cowpea at about the same time, the leaders of Nigeria and state institutions supported their scientists to quickly release these varieties to their farmers, but the case is different in Ghana,” noted Amadu, who is also a cowpea farmer.

He added that farmers want access to technology-driven (GM cowpea) seed varieties that would help boost productivity, reduce costs of production and increase crop yield.

Farmers, scientists and seed dealers are asking the government to implement the appropriate structures that will allow the stalled approval processes to resume, with the goal of making the seeds available to farmers and ultimately halting the continuous price hikes.

Scientists at the state-run Savannah Agricultural Research Institute (SARI) of the CSIR last January submitted documents to the authority requesting environmental release of the variety following 12 years of research. But the authority has asked the scientists to hold on and re-apply after it gets a new governing board.

The mandate of all state boards expired Jan. 6, 2021, after the first term of President Nana Akufo-Addo ended. But almost a year on, the second-term president has yet to fill a number of vacancies, including the NBA’s governing board.

The board may not be inaugurated before the end of the year, according to the Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology, which supervises the work of the NBA. The minister has reportedly recommended a list of potential board members and is awaiting the president’s action.

Nevertheless, even if the NBA approves the application for environmental release, it will take some time for scientists to gather and analyze information from field trials at multiple locations across the country. That data would then be submitted to the Ministry of Food and Agriculture’s National Varietal Release Committee for final approval before the seed becomes generally available to Ghana’s farmers. No one knows just how long the process would take.

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