Ghanaian farmers optimistic about GM crops, survey finds

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As Ghana plans to approve its first GM crop, a new report reveals that smallholder farmers in the country are growing optimistic that GM crops offer sustainable solutions to low productivity and farm incomes .

Researchers from Kumasi University of Development Studies interviewed 360 smallholder farmers in 10 districts of northern Ghana, an area characterized by food insecurity due to overreliance on rain-fed agriculture and harsh conditions. erratic weather. Their the results have been published in the African Journal of Agricultural Research.

Some 61 percent of farmers identified the development of drought-tolerant crop varieties as the most important use of GM technology in their region, with early-maturing, high-yielding crop varieties coming second. Other perceived benefits of GM crops included high economic returns, reduced cost of weed control, reduced environmental risks of farming, satisfying consumer tastes, and improved food safety.

Their responses were compiled as Ghana’s National Biosafety Authority considers approving GM Bt cowpea, which was developed by local scientists to be broadly resistant to the Maruca pod borer pest. Confined field trials of GM cowpea conducted by the Savannah Agricultural Research Institute (SARI) in Ghana have shown that farmers can reduce their spraying regimen to just twice per season while gaining up to five times more yield. Farmers in Nigeria, where the crop was approved last year, report higher yields and incomes and reduced use of pesticides.

Dede Ekow, a 36-year-old farmer who has been growing cowpeas, cotton and yams in Chereponi district for seven years, was among those interviewed in Ghana.

“I hope for a breath of fresh air in my farming business when I get the seedlings of Bt cowpea and other new pest and climate resistant crop varieties,” Ekow said. “I have lost a lot of crops to pests and more recently to climate change. But I am convinced that my farming prospects will improve.

The farmers interviewed were convinced that biotechnology would help generate high economic returns and reduce the cost of controlling weeds, diseases and pests. from Ghana Scientific and Industrial Research Council recently said that biotechnology, which received the green light from the National Biosafety Act 2011, has the potential to boost agriculture and ensure food security for all in Ghana.

Since ratifying the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in 2003, Ghana has made steady progress towards adopting and commercializing GM technology. But before the publication of the survey results, very little was known about the expectations and reservations of smallholders who make up 70% of Ghana’s 7.3 million farmers. Many of the country’s cash and subsistence crops, including cocoa, maize and cassava, are mainly produced on small farms.

“Their perceived constraints to growing GM crops were the likely high cost of GM seeds, unreliable supply of GM seeds, likely failure of regulatory agencies, and possible environmental and health risks, among others,” wrote Researchers. “It is recommended that the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) and other relevant organizations address farmers’ concerns and reservations about the possible high cost of GM seeds and the fear that the supply of GM seeds is not reliable.

The results also suggest that farmers have been exposed to misinformation about GM crops, including false claims that the seeds cannot reproduce, the seeds are imported from abroad and will therefore be too expensive, the crops GM crops pose risks to human health and GM crops harm the environment.

Crop pests and diseases are a huge problem for African smallholder farmers. A study published last year by the Center for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI) indicated that the financial burden caused by invasive pests in Africa could total more than US$65 billion per year. CABI also estimated that crop losses in African countries from insect pests averaged about 49% in 2019.

The authors of the survey report estimated that crop losses would be even greater in the future due to climate change. They also noted that developing countries have planted more GM crops than industrialized countries, with smallholder farmers accounting for most of this adoption.

In recent years, Ghanaian farmers have repeatedly called on the government to approve GM crop varieties. Last year, cowpea seed producers in the northern and northeastern regions who had lost their crops to pests urged the government to speed up the approval of GM cowpea seed, according to Ghanaian media reports. They issued a statement claiming that any delay in the commercialization of the GM cowpea variety was a deliberate plan to impoverish them.

Image: A woman tends to her farm in Ghana. Photo: Common Wikipedia/Patrick Sakyi


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