Genetically Modified Organisms in Ghana

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ACCRA, Ghana — Though the nation already imports genetically modified organisms (GMOs), Ghana is ready to introduce genetically modified (GM) crops into its production. The government of Ghana is working to quickly introduce GMOs as part of the Planting for Food and Jobs initiative. This plan strives to improve food security and increase domestic crop production through biotechnology. This change is good news for poor Ghanaian farmers who will be able to save money with these more resilient crops. However, even though there are many benefits to adopting such changes, genetically modified organisms in Ghana aren’t without potential dangers and consequences.

The Biosafety Act,  National Safety Authority and GMOs in Ghana

In 2011, Ghana introduced the Biosafety Act to legally introduce GMOs to the country and ultimately allow farmers to use GMOs in their crop production process. The nation already imports GMOs. The Council for Scientific Industrial Research (CSIR) was still needed since it was required to test and study specific GM crops to ensure their safety for the general public. Despite this law being in place for the protection of the people, GMOs have continued to be a controversial topic in the Sub-Saharan nation. Earlier this month, Amaning Okoree, CEO of the National Safety Authority, declared that the government had built all necessary regulations and all reliable studies had concluded that it would be safe to allow genetically modified organisms in Ghana’s market. “We are ready for any promoter or commercial organization of biotechnology product that wants to release GMO foods,” he declared in a statement. “We have strengthened our capacity to effectively regulate and conduct risk assessment of the product to ensure it is safe for consumption.” CSIR is still researching two main GMO crops and working on introducing them into crop rotation.

Genetically Modified Organisms in Ghana and Poverty Reduction

CSIR scientist Richard Ampadu-Ameyaw recently spoke in favor of GMOs, describing both economic and environmental benefits.  “GMO will save farmers money,” he explains. This is because they will no longer have to spray chemicals on their crops to protect them. Therefore, they will yield more with a lower production cost. He also explained that GMOs are not chemicals so consumers have no reason to fear. GMOs are just the latest in advanced biotechnology. The Canadian Journal of Development Studies recently studied the relationship between poverty reduction and GMOs to understand how introducing GM crops could affect Ghana. Amongst its findings, the study noted that poverty is “a complex phenomenon” but GMOs (specifically in regard to improved seeds) seem to help farmers whose income relies heavily on crop yields.

There is little doubt that GM crops can generate sizeable yield advantages for small-scale farm families by avoiding damage from pests and disease, and that these yield advantages can have a major effect on the welfare of poor farmers who rely on the crop for their livelihoods. For GM crops to reduce poverty, however, more is needed. In general, reducing rural poverty requires broad-based investments in which not only seed technologies and market-based institutions but also education and equitable access to resources such as land play a role.

Though introducing genetically modified organisms in Ghana seems to be a beneficial change, the seeds alone cannot reduce poverty; cheap, efficient crops are just one small facet in poverty alleviation.

Controversies Surrounding Genetically Modified Organisms 

The benefits of GMOs for environmental protection and poverty reduction are significant, but many are still hesitant about introducing GM crops in Ghana. The Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana (PFAG) is concerned with both unintended consequences of GMOs as well as Ghana’s national sovereignty. “Farmers will depend on foreigners for seeds,” says a PFAG statement. “The one who controls your seeds controls your sovereignty.” It fears that foreign companies will have too much control over Ghanaian farmers, potentially forcing regulations on how they use the seeds. It also points out that, currently, the EU bans GM goods from entering the European Market. This means that Ghanaian farmers would be unable to export to any EU nations, drastically reducing their ability to sell products. These fears are certainly not trivial, and farmers should carefully weigh both the benefits and consequences of using GM seeds.

Biotechnology can help protect the environment and can help farmers and consumers save on food-related costs. However, it is not a magical tool to erase poverty and it has several potential downsides to consider. Several Ghanaian authorities have recently ruled that GMOs are both safe and will be allowed into crop production. Others have argued that local farmers should make decisions for themselves and understand not only how GMOs can help them, but how they could potentially hurt their progress as well.

Sarah Stanley

Photo: Flickr

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