30 August 2010

Ghana: Biotechnology Can Change Ghana's Agriculture

A Ghanaian Biosafety and Biotechnology expert, Prof. Walter Alhassan has said that introducing Agricultural Biotechnology in the country's agricultural sector will not only come to compliment the already traditional methods of farming, but deal effectively with issues of food security and the likely impact on farming from climate change.

He stressed that modern biotechnology is based on the developments in cellular and molecular biology that occurred in the second half of the 20th century, although traditional biotechnology has been in use for centuries and involves fermentation used in bread making, kenkey and alcohol production.

"Biotechnology is any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms, or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products or processes for specific use", he explained.

He was speaking at a roundtable discussion with journalists organized by the United States Embassy, in attendance Mr. Gary R. Blumenthal, a United States Biotechnology expert and CEO of World Perspective International.

"Of the 38 counties experiencing perpetual food emergencies, 25 are in Africa", Prof Walter Alhassan said to the journalists. He added that Population pressure, the need for intensification of agriculture, pollution of ground waters from agro-chemical run-offs, intractable pest and diseases of plants and animals, climate change induced stresses and fossil price increases are all major food security challenges. However Biotechnology tools like Tissue culture, maker assisted selection (MAS), molecular diagnostics and genetic engineering or genetic modification will make the process of planting and animal breeding faster and efficient.

For instance genetic Engineering in plants may genetically engineer plants to produce own toxins, herbicide tolerance, drought tolerance, disease resistance, nutrient improvement, and efficient nitrogen utilization. Other secondary benefits include reduced carbon emission, water conservation, reduced soil degradation, reduced nitrogen fertilizer use from nitrogen, healthier farm labor from reduced pesticide use, and promote biodiversity conservation.

Though there are perceived risks of biotechnology such as toxidity, Allergic reactions, gene flow, Prof. Alhassan said they are all assertions. He called on the media present at the discussion to educate the public with all the information they were being receipts of.

"After 14 years of commercial use of Genetic Modification (GM) crops, no scientifically proved risk has been confirmed due to GM application. Nevertheless there is the need to exercise caution in the use of the technology. Biosafety legislation at varying degrees of stringency is in place to guide the use of GMOs", his report stated.

The report also emphasized that Biotechnology is not a standalone technology. It said an enabling environment for agriculture must be created before biotechnology can show results and they include Agro-input supply, Farmer credit, market infrastructure, Extension support and continuous training and general inceptives.

Ghana's National Biosafety Committee will soon be considering applications to permit field trials of protein-enhanced sweet potatoes and insect protected cowpea, although in May 2008 Parliament passed a legislative instrument that permitted closed field trials and tested of biotech products, but not their commercial production. As of now Government has prepared daft biosafety legislative and submitted to Parliament for consideration and that would allow for broader use and commercialization of biotech products.

In West Africa, Nigeria's legislature is also now considering biosaftey legislature. Burkina Faso has already passed such legislature and about one third of all cotton now grown in the country is produced from biotech seed varieties.

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