31 July 2017

GMO technology crucial to surviving impact of climate change on Agric – Prof. Danso

Ghana should be ready to adopt innovations including GMO technology if the country will be able to survive with the impact of climate change on agricultural production.

That’s according to Director of Biotechnology and Nuclear Agric Research Institute (BNARI) of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission Prof. Kenneth Danso. He is worried the problem of climate change is getting worse by the day and has now gotten to alarming levels.

“I schooled in the north, Navorongo Secondary School, the maximum day temperature used to be 30-33 degrees. Now we see it on TV and it is about 40 degrees and it is quite alarming. And these temperatures are still increasing,” he told Joy News’ in an interview. 

“If temperatures are high and there is less rainfall, it means we will have long spells of drought which is not good for agriculture especially because we largely depend solely on rain for production,” he added.  

Farmers have been collaborating the concerns about the impact of climate change on agricultural production. Alhaji Alhassan Yakubu of the Apex Farmer Organisation of Ghana tells Joy news they are struggling to keep up production numbers as a result of the poor weather situation over the years.

“As for climate change and the weather change, it is affecting us badly. In 2015, the Meteorological Agency said there won’t be much rainfall and many farmers were discouraged from planting. The few of us who did the cultivation, we made losses. We were negatively affected,” he explained.  

Prof. Danso says the solution to the problem lies in breeding for improved seeds that can help plants withstand drought.  

“We need crops that will be resistant to the changing climate. Either we breed for plants with short life cycle so they can complete their life cycle within the short rainy season period….or breed for plants that are resistant to drought,” he explained.

He says tackling such problems will require innovative technologies including the application of Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) technology.

“It is not easy achieving the above using only conventional breeding. Conventional breeding may have a role to play but some of the challenges may go beyond that so we need the gene technology to complement conventional breeding,” he explained.  

GMOs are crops produced from seeds which have been altered to introduce desired traits. Prof. Danso says that is an innovative solution that can be applied to the challenge at hand because conventional methods of producing improved seeds sometimes take too much time.

“If we get a plant that is drought resistant, taking the gene from that plant and putting it into a commercial variety will take a long time so breeding will take a long time but if you use the biotech tools to move it, we are shortening the period. So within two to three years, we have come up with a product,” he said.

Prof. Danso wants farmers, government and other stakeholders in the agric industry to open their minds to the possible application of GMO technology to solve these problems.

There are currently no locally approved genetically modified crops in Ghana although parliament passed the Biosafety Act (2011) to allow for the local production and commercialisation of GMOs.

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research is currently undertaking trials that will allow for the commercialization of genetically modified cowpea (Bt cowpea).

The novel variety produced using GMO technology has been engineered with genes from a naturally occurring pest killing bacteria known as Bacillus thuringiesis that makes it largely resistant to the destructive pest, Maruca pod-bearer.

According to Principal Investigator in charge of the research project Dr Mumuni Abdulai, the Bt cowpea variety has shown resistance to pests, allowing plants to survive with less than 20 percent of pesticide required when farmers grow conventional cowpea varieties.

This, he says will help farmers make more profits by reducing investments in pesticides, as well as keep them safe from the hazards associated with the over-application of chemicals.

“If you are able to reduce the number of sprays from 8 to 2, that is very good benefit for the farmer. In terms of saving him the cost for pesticide purchase and also saving him the risk from pesticide usage,” he said. 

There are plans for other research works on rice with varied characteristics including nitrogen use efficiency, water use efficiency as well as salt tolerant in Ghana.

Former Deputy Agriculture Minister Dr. Ahmed Alhassan Yakubu is also convinced GMO technology holds the future to food production on the continent.

“It is a science for the present and the future and Ghana cannot afford to miss the boat…We want Ghana to become a great country and the only way it can happen is through science and technology,” Dr. Yakubu stated in an interview with Joy news.

“The peculiarities of Africa and therefore Ghana should let us have a re-think about the negative dirt that we throw at biotechnology as a science. It is extremely important we do so,” he added.

Earlier this year, Ghana’s capacity to regulate crops produced using Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) technology received a major boost following the release of guidelines on the use of GMOs in the country.

The eight-page guideline titled: “Biosafety guidelines for handling requests for the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Ghana” was released by the authority a few weeks ago as required by the Biosafety Act 2011.

The first batch of GMO crops are expected on the market next year when trails on the Bt cowpea are completed. 

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