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Opinions of Saturday, 20 August 2005

Columnist: Abrokwaa, Clemente K.

Ghana Stops Importation of GM Foods: A Rejoinder

On July 29, the Food and Agriculture Minister, Mr. Ernest Debrah announced ? categorically ? that Ghana would reject, without hesitation, the importation of any GM foods, crops and materials into the country, despite the fact that the new technology might help solve some of the country?s food production and famine problems.

In reality, as stated by the Chronicle, ?this statement implied that the government had resolved to oppose anything to do with GM foods.?

One important missing element from the article at the ghanaweb.com site was that the Honorable Minister?s reasons for such categorical rejection were not included in the Chronicle?s report, or perhaps the Minister?s decision was a unilateral one ? for the government.

At the July 28 workshop on GMOs hosted by the Science and Technology Policy Research Institute (STEPRI), of the CSIR, Professor Emmanuel Owusu Bennoah, Director General of CSIR, while acknowledging the risks involved in any science and technology strongly advocated for Ghana to take advantage of the GM technology to improve its agriculture and food production for food security in the country. He stated it best when he warned that Ghana ran the risk of being left behind in this new era of science and technology, if it failed to take part in it.

Similarly, the Minister of Environment and Science, Ms. Christine Churcher equally acknowledged the controversy surrounding the GM technology but she also pointed out that it had enormous potential to address the country?s food security problems. Finally, Dr. Joseph Gogo, Director of STEPRI assured of several follow up training programs to build capacity of stakeholders to enable the public to make informed choices over the GM technology and GMOs.

Earlier, on July 27, addressing a two-day capacity building seminar at Agona Swedru for members of the parliamentary select committee on environment, Ms. Churcher once again, called attention to the rapidly diminishing forest and other natural resources of the country. According to her, Ghana has already lost over 75% of its forest cover in the last few decades and that the country lost over 2 million cedis per annum through environmental degradation ? especially illegal logging and mining.

The Food and Agriculture Minister?s announcement thus comes as a surprise and great disappointment at a time when attention should be focused on how to save and also restore what has been lost. Perhaps we need to remind our honorable ministers that the loss of such natural resources are irreplaceable and can only lead to desertification, which also means that about 50 years from now Ghana could potentially face severe droughts and most of its land mass could be reduced to desert.

This is a time when most African countries are fast and seriously engaged in the GM technology research to assist in their quest for food security for their countries ? in the long term. Currently Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, also Egypt and others have taken the lead in Africa by applying the GM technology research to fighting crop disease affecting staple foods such as cassava, potatoes, corn, banana, rice, oil palm, coconut and many others. In fact, Kenya has already begun trading in its GMOs with other countries both within and outside the continent. The East African countries have formed an organization called Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA) in their determination to harnessing the new technology in food production to meet the needs of their populations now and in the future.

At the recent ECOWAS Ministers meeting on Biotechnology in Bamako, Mali, Professor Walter Alhassan, coordinator of the Program for Biosafety Systems for West and Central Africa stressed that the introduction of Biotechnology was a tool to complement traditional agriculture for food security and poverty reduction and facilitate the production of new varieties of plants and breeds of animals ? and not to replace the conventional way of farming.

Indeed he pointed out that only Nigeria had shown commitment by promulgating a national policy and creating a Center of Excellence for Biotechnology at Shresto, near Abuja. Nigeria has also established a National Biotechnology Development Agency and Advanced Laboratory, showing that country?s strong commitment. But the Professor also warned that the West African sub-region lagged behind other regions in the advancement of biotechnology.

This is why Mr. Debrah?s statement is disturbing. Does he want Ghana to lag behind without making any attempts at all to research into the new technology? What are his main concerns about the GM technology that elicited such a statement from him? Perhaps the Minister should realize that other African countries ? despite the many unresolved issues surrounding the GM technology ? have rather chosen to embrace it and find solutions to any problems that may come up as they go along in employing it to solve their agricultural and other problems. Ghana should not hold onto just the negatives being preached by the zealous activists who only see just the one side of the issue and never bother to look at the other side for any balanced viewpoints.

At the West African conference on GMOs, once again, Ms. Churcher reiterated her call for capacity building to ensure the sub-region?s use of the new technology and warned that Africans ?should swim with the tide otherwise we will be left behind as did the Green Revolution.?

This article is not about Ms. Churcher but it has become obvious that she appears to be deeply committed to seeing Ghana - and Africa as a whole ? become involved in developing its science and technology capacity to facilitate social and economic growth. Just last week she called for research scientists to be rewarded for their inventions and research innovations for national development, and it would help for such attitude to be shared by our leaders, particularly in the area of agriculture and food security. This is the age of science and technology and the western societies, led by their able scientists and private companies and investors, are rapidly harnessing the unlimited potential of biotechnology to improve the quality of life and maintain their food security programs for their people.

Perhaps Africans ? including Ghanaians ? need to pause to ask how and why western societies have managed to feed their growing populations and still have surplus to feed Africans who have land and unlimited labor supplies. The answer is simply that they have been engaged in constant research to seeking the optimum crop yield to feed the bulging world populations including those of Africa. While African governments throw banquets to toast the news that their countries have been awarded the HIPC status and their politicians and others wallow in corruption and spurious riches, other so-called Third World countries, including India and China ? are slowly but steadily becoming self-sufficient and self-reliant thus reducing their dependency on western nations. It rather appears that African leaders never want to let go this idea of dependency since this is how they enrich themselves.

Ghana should not remove itself from the GM technology race or else it would be too late to take part. Whatever made the Food and Agriculture Minister to make that statement should be seriously reconsidered to avoid taking the country back many years in terms of the use of science and technology for modern day social and economic development.

Dr. Clemente K. Abrokwaa
Assistant Professor of African Studies
Penn State University


Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.