Ghana put on the spot over 'GMO plan' By FRANCIS KOKUTSE in Accra, Ghana | Friday, November 26  2010 at  08:20

Kenyans demonstrate against genetically modified organisms in 2009. The topic has proved one of the continent's more controversial ones. AFRICA REVIEW | FILE  

A Ghanaian government plan to increase agricultural output would ordinarily be welcome news, but it has instead caused a storm over what a campaign group says will provide a door for genetically modified seeds into the country.

Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan has denied that an initiative which he chairs is likely to be a conduit for altered seeds into Ghana--a topic that has so far proved controversial in Africa.

Civil rights group Friends of the Earth (FOE) claims that a government decision to work with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) on improving food production should be seen as controversial as AGRA is known to work with a foreign company that has been in the news over GMOs.

The west African country's agriculture minister Kwesi Awhoi recently announced a programme to increase output in selected areas designated as "food baskets".

Proof that the government intends to work with AGRA was reflected in the 2011 budget in which finance minister Dr Kwabena Duffuor allocated $2 million to be "disbursed to farmers and small and medium enterprises under the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) project."

The head of FOE Ghana, George Awudi, however alleges that this partnership would lead to the supply and sale of genetically modified (GM) seeds to farmers.

He told this publication in Accra that "AGRA is known to have links with Monsata, a US company that is known to be associated with genetically modified seeds."

Mr Annan has denied this charge and told the Africa Review that, "AGRA is not fronting for any company. All that AGRA seeks to do is to provide high yielding seeds to farmers to help them boost their production."

Insufficient

When Mr Ahwoi launched the programme, he said that "about 18,000 tonnes of improved rice and 3,000 tonnes of improved maize seeds will be required per year to supply the aggregated small holders and the commercial farms."

"Local seed production capacities are at present insufficient. For the northern region of Ghana, the current production is about 1,500 tonnes per year whilst potential demand is about 21,000 tonnes," he added.

It is for this reason that the authorities have decided to turn to AGRA in order to reach a local production capacity that meets small-holders needs of 4,000 tonnes per year. It would however look like the government is in for a fight over its involvement with AGRA.

In an emailed response to the Africa Review, the food sovereignty programme coordinator of FOE International, Kirtana Chandrasekaran, said it was wrong for AGRA to be involved with food production because of the likelihood that they would pass on GM seeds to farmers.

An environmentalist says NO

Ms Chandrasekaran dismissed claims that the seeds would help to increase yields.

"There are no GM crops that are designed to increase yields. The largest ever assessment of agricultural science and technology for development by 400 scientists found no evidence that GM crops consistently increased yields. At the same time, conventional breeding techniques have increased yields and are continuing to advance breeding of crops resistant to drought and salt much better than GM techniques.

"In 2008 a UN report found that organic techniques are the best way of improving African agriculture – as they can improve incomes and double yields," she added.

She said that the position FOE has taken should not be seen as a campaign against attempts to increase food production but rather as an attempt to draw attention to what would be a dangerous move if care was taken.

"Many African research institutes for example in Kenya are already producing huge successes in developing native seed varieties that can increase yields, and are resistant to drought or flooding.

"In fact in many cases native seeds can perform better than imported seeds. So we need more efforts into improving native seed varieties rather than depending on a few imported varieties," she added.

Threat

Ms Chandrasekaran said GM crops must be seen rather as a threat to Africa. "They have overpromised and under-delivered. When we look past the hype around the potential of GM crops, to what they have actually achieved in practice over the last 30 years, we get a very bleak picture."

In what can be seen as an indictment against GM crops, FOE says that despite "over three decades of expensive research, development and political support, GM farming has not delivered on its promise of miracle crops, higher yields or a better deal for farmers."

"Experience on the ground in the countries that have adopted GM farming shows farmers are losing out because they have to buy new and increasingly expensive patented seeds each year instead of using the best ones from their previous crop.

"The American Government has been forced to investigate the anti-competitive practices of the seed companies,” said Ms Chandrasekaran.

The group says the use of expensive pesticides on GM crops has rocketed, a 15 fold increase in North America and an 80 per cent increase in Brazil, and that in South America pesticide spraying is causing some serious health problems for people living near GM plantations

The group adds that experience has shown that contamination of traditional and indigenous crops by GM crops is difficult to control.

"Many indigenous and native seed varieties are best adapted to local conditions and we need to protect the diversity of seed varieties in order to give us the best chance to produce a good crops that can adapt to climate change and new diseases.

"Therefore planting GM seeds will undermine our ability to face climate change and produce more food," Ms Chandrasekaran said.