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Open letter to Ghana's president: Support biotech

By Alliance for Science Ghana

Dear President Nana Akufo-Addo,

First of all, congratulations on your swearing in as President of the Republic of Ghana. We are sure Ghanaians voted for you not necessarily because of any physical, material or spiritual considerations, but because they were convinced you have superior ideas to solving the challenges this country faces and they trust in your ability to deliver on those plans. We expect you to work as hard as you can to deliver on those promises so you do not disappoint them.

We bring you warm greetings from Alliance For Science Ghana, a network of scientists, agriculturalists, researchers, civil society persons, academics and farmers working to promote access to scientific innovation as a way to enhance food security, improve environmental sustainability and raise the quality of life in the country.

As Ghanaians, we also have some expectations of your administration that we find it necessary to write to you about. We additionally have some ideas we will want to share with you on how your administration can help improve agricultural production, boost food security and make Ghana a role model in agricultural development so other countries can come learn from us.

Obviously Ghana is not a hungry country. As far back as 2013, it became evident that we had managed to meet the Millennium Development Goal on hunger reduction, two years before the expiration of the goals, and we reduced the absolute number of undernourished people by half between 1990 and 2012. This is something the world rightly acknowledged us for achieving.

But this country still faces major food security challenges that require all the attention they can get from the first gentleman of the land – your good self. This country spends more than $1.5 billion US dollars importing food annually, the majority of which are foods we produce here. We lose about $400 million US dollars annually to post harvest losses. One in every five children under the age of five in this country suffers from stunting as a result of malnutrition. And about 1.2 million people, representing five percent of the population, remain food insecure. The above-enumerated statistics speak to the fact that we are not as comfortable when it comes to our food needs as the impression is sometimes created.

Mr. President, you made the following promise in your party’s manifesto ahead of the 2016 elections that we want to remind you of now that you are president: “Our vision for the next four years is to modernize agriculture, improve production efficiency, achieve food security, and profitability for our farmers, all aimed at significantly increasing agricultural productivity.” This commitment of yourself and your team gladdens our hearts because if you succeed in achieving this vision, poverty will be reduced in rural farming communities and a lot of our food security challenges would be solved.

There are two things we encourage your administration to do to help bring this vision into fruition. First, put scientific evidence at the center of decision making when drafting and implementing policies for the agric sector. And secondly, prioritize agric innovation instead of relying on the same old ideas to solve the complicated problems of the sector that keep getting more complex as the days go by.

One promise regarding agricultural innovation that we will urge your administration to pay attention to and prioritize is the science of genetically modified organism (GMO) food production, also known as genetic engineering or agricultural biotechnology. As we are sure your agric team has told you, following the passage of the National Biosafety Act by parliament in 2011, processes have been ongoing to commercialize GMO foods in the country. The first batch of GMO crops is expected on the local market in the next year or two. We look forward to these processes running smoothly without any hindrance under your watch because scientific evidence (both physical and social) points to the fact that GMO technology is a good innovation that the world needs to ensure food security.

There have been lots of controversies surrounding the production of GMO crops, inspired mainly by misinformation and the pursuit of personal, parochial interests by people who do not see anything good in a technology they do not understand or have deliberately closed their minds to. But the reality is that the technology of GMO crop production and its consumption have been proven to be safe for humans, environmentally friendly and economically beneficial to ordinary farmers.

Statistics indicate that the growing of GMO crops increased from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to 179.7 million hectares in 2015, with about 18 million farmers growing it now (90 percent of them being small scale farmers) in 28 different countries, 20 of which are developing countries. This makes GMO technology the fastest adopted crop technology in recent times. The statistics also show that farmers globally have benefited from at least a 50 percent reduction in the amount of insecticide application thanks to the growing of GMOs, thereby reducing farmer exposure to insecticides and ensuring a more sustainable environment and better quality of life.

Hundreds of scientific institutions including Ghana’s Food and Drugs Authority have repeatedly made it clear that their research points to no adverse effects of GMO crop consumption on human health. The latest such research result is what was published by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine in the US last year which found, after what is probably the most extensive study on the impact of GMOs, “no substantiated evidence that foods from genetically engineered (GE) crops were less safe than foods from non-GE foods.”

Agriculture has seen a lot of transformation over the centuries, from the earliest methods of hunting and gathering, to "domestication" when man brought seeds home to re-grow. Then came the more controversial methods of mechanization, then came the application of chemicals to food production in the form of pesticides, insecticides and fertilizers, followed by the development of improved crop varieties through conventional plant breeding, and today, genetic engineering.

All the latter innovative technologies of food production faced one level of pushback or the other at the time of their introduction that is no different from what GMOs are facing today. They all triumphed over the hurdles that sought to hold them back. So, we are convinced that GMOs will eventually survive this. But delays come at what cost?

During the campaigning season ahead of the elections, your colleague presidential candidates and some of your "generals" made a lot of noise about plans to launch a "Green Revolution" in Ghana’s agric sector if they win the election. The "Green Revolution" they speak of refers to encouraging the use of improved crop varieties and increased application of agro chemicals to improve crop productivity. Currently across our African continent, there are "a million and one" such "Green Revolution" initiatives and projects running.

The sad part is that this "Green Revolution" being championed across Africa today swept across Latin America, Europe and Asia more than 40–60 years ago at a time when Africa just looked on like spectators. Half a century on, we are now going back to chase those same technological innovations to feed our people.

We sure don’t want the story to be same with the technology of GMO crop production. That is what is defining the science of food production today, and the earlier we buy into it, the better for us as a country. We have seen demonstrations and court actions and recently petitions to you to block the ongoing processes to introduce GMOs into the country. If we heed to those demands, the same story will be told 50 years from now when we will come back seeking to introduce GMO technology at a time when the world would have moved on to even more advanced technology.

Mr. President, we know you are a smart, open minded politician of many years' experience who understands the importance of scientific innovation to the development of our country. We urge you this day to stand by scientific innovation and support agricultural biotechnology development in our country. It will be a choice of progress over retrogression. It will be a choice of a better tomorrow over a difficult today. And it will be the choice of a food secured Ghana over a malnourished population.

Signed,

John Awuku Dziwornu

Rufai Ahmed Braimah

Alliance for Science Ghana

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