THE IMPACT OF TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENT ON THE AGRICULTURAL INDUSTRY IN GHANA AND AFRICA
1. Technological advancement in agriculture has brought massive economic and social benefits to the world at large. Current trends also provide some assurance that the necessary growth in food production can be achieved with continued application of modern technology, a fact acknowledged by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the United Nations (UN) (FAO, 2009). According to Motes, 2010, individuals in the United States use less than ten per cent of their income on food while many developing African countries including Ghana spend about half of their income on food. This is because of low agricultural productivity with its associated high cost of food items, a fact blamed on traditional system of farming.
2. Traditional farmers use conservative farming processes. The technology and management systems involved are often characterized by lack of access to, or reluctance to use new information about production, management, public or commercial assistance. On the contrary, in modern agricultural systems, farmers apply technology and information to control most components of the system (Motes, 2010). Much success of modern systems depends on the development and maintenance of soil fertility through the specific provision of nutrients when they are depleted; machine power and technology to create soil conditions necessary to promote plant growth with minimal disturbance and soil loss (Motes, 2010).
3. An important modern agricultural technology that has gained prominence and much attention is biotechnology. Biotechnology is a technology based on genetic engineering or modification of crops. It allows the routine development of genetically modified (GM) plants in which Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) from any source can be transferred to specific crops (James, 2001).
4. There are divergent views on biotechnology as a sustainable technology for improved agricultural production. In recent times, concerns have been raised in Ghana about the benefits and/or potential risk of biotechnology and GM food to society. The purpose of this paper is to examine the benefits and risks/adverse effects of biotechnology and GM food to Ghana. This paper will limit its scope to the benefits, potential risks, and policy framework for the implementation of biotechnology and then make some recommendations.
5. This paper seeks to examine the potential impact of biotechnology in the agricultural sector in Ghana and Africa with the view to making recommendations.
BENEFITS OF BIOTECHNOLOGY AND GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOOD
6. Biotechnology combines cellular and bio molecular practices to develop technologies and products that aid improve the lives and vigour of our globe. Biological processes of microorganisms have been in use for over 6,000 years to create suitable food products, such as bread and cheese (www.bio.org). It offers opportunities to accelerate the efficiency and extent of further crop improvement by the transfer of genes conferring resistance to pests, diseases, herbicides and environmental stress, as well as quality traits such as improved post-harvest storage, flavour, nutritional content and colour (James, 2001).
7. Biotechnology, varying in scope, scale and practice in many developing countries, is full of entrepreneurial opportunities for the technological progress of the developing world. Its role in the economic transformation of Africa is well noted in academic and public dialogue (FAO 2001). Contemporary agriculture using biotechnology gives massive monetary benefits to consumers by improving living standards as food prices drop. Additionally, it increases incomes because it allows better purchasing power for other consumer goods, education, health care, etc. It is globally known that the growth of modern food system has been vital to the improvement of living standard in today’s world (Motes, 2010).
8. The use of biotechnology to modify the nutritional make-up of crops shows promise as a means for reducing malnutrition in developing countries including Ghana. While currently in research stages, modifications such as these could significantly improve the diets of hundreds of millions of people who live primarily on mono crops (PEW 2004). Also, biotechnology uses numerous processes and skills to change comparatively large, unpreserved and uneatable raw ingredients into more valuable shelf-stable and edible nourishments. This contributes to food security by minimizing losses in the food chain whiles increasing food quality, safety, availability and marketability (PEW 2004).
9. Biotechnology, if effectively harnessed can fundamentally improve farming practice by dropping post-harvest loss whiles increasing crop resistance to drought. The application of tissue culture in the production of bananas for instance, has improved harvests for some farmers in parts of Kenya (Mbote, 2002). In order to reap the benefits of biotechnology, collective political commitment and will from all stakeholders at state and regional level is required to generate adequate funding, institutional reforms to efficiently and effectively promote biotechnology in Africa.
10. Biotech yields have contributed to meaningful reduction in the release of greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural practices. Some biotech crops allow farmers to reduce pesticide use. Others allow farmers to leave crop residue on the land from one planting season to the next, providing a reduction or even elimination of the need to tilt the soil. The ability to leave crop residue from one year to the next also provides a natural “trap” for CO2 (Brookes et al, 2006). African leaders must build internal capability in science, technology and innovation so as to be able to determine the sustainability of practices associated with biotechnology.
11. Despite the potential benefits of this new technology in improving the reliability and quality of the world food supply, public and scientific concerns have been raised about the environmental and food safety of GM crops. Thus, the successive paragraphs will examine the concerns raised by the public in developing countries including Ghana.
POTENTIAL RISKS OF BIOTECHNOLOGY AND GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS
12. Biotechnology and GM food are associated with certain risks or concerns. These include food safety, environmental risks, high cost of production and adverse effects on food exports. These are examined in the ensuing paragraphs.
13. Environmental Concerns. The use of biotechnology as a modern method of production has adverse effects on the environment. The technology results in ecological pollution through the accidental gene transmission to weeds, formation of fresh viruses and toxins (Brookes et al, 2006).
14. Food Safety. According to Codex Aliment Arius Commission, 2009, food safety is a technical discipline that delivers guarantee that food will not be harmful to the customer when cooked or eaten according to its intended use. Biotechnology and GM food brings about change in nutritional class of foods, possible toxicity and potential allergy issues, and therefore do not guarantee food security (Uzogara, 2000).
15. High Cost of Production. The cost of production of genetically modified plants and animals are high and need a lot of initial investment. To get back the money that was invested into these productions, governments have introduced the idea of patents. In addition, the seeds harvested are sterile, compelling farmers to always get their supply of seeds from the corporate suppliers (ShaliniBalan 2011). As such growers in emerging nations requiring such seeds have to buy fresh seeds annually from the corporate suppliers owned by the developed nations (Whitman, 2000). The cost involved in such transactions cannot be overemphasised. African leaders must therefore put in place measures to ensure financial sustainability of research and extension services into food items that can be owned locally.
16. Effect on Food Exports. A viable risk of genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) in emerging nations is the likely loss of export opportunities. These might be because some countries protect their marketplace from GMO’s and would not import GM foods. This would lead to an aggravation of the income gap between the rich and poor (ATTRA, 2006). In addition, GM monoculture crops like maize are being harvested for export and not primarily for local consumption. This may result in over dependency on Western companies and affect the life of traditional farmers. Absence of social security system, low harvests may also affect local farmers. The present provision for GMOs therefore endangers local crops and biodiversity (Kaphengst et al, 2013).
POLLICY FRAMEWORK FOR IMPLIMENTATION
17. The President of Ghana adopted the Ghana Biosafety Act, 2011 (Act 831) in December 2011 after the passage of the Biosafety Bill by Parliament on 21 June 2011. The Act establishes the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) as the managerial figure that will see to the employment of all issues related to Biotechnology in Ghana. Crops approved by the NBA for confined trials include cowpea, high protein sweet potato, rice and cotton. However, cotton has been approved for field tests in Ghana. Ghana’s biosafety Act is deemed user friendly as it does not comprise any labelling requirements for GM food products or strict liability provisions. The Act creates an enabling environment for the development and commercialization of biotech seeds and crops (Ashitey, 2013).
18. In addition to regulations at the national level, professionals in AU countries have come together with initiatives aimed at guiding or advising biotechnology regulations at the regional-level. These initiatives can be divided into two categories. The first category comprises a basket of initiatives set up by or through networks of scientific researchers and research-based organizations such as national agricultural research centres. Initiatives from the first category are led by and often carry the imprint of the research community. These initiatives include the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern Central Africa (ASARECA). The second category comprises initiatives from regional intergovernmental organizations such as the AU itself, the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), the Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS), and the East African Community (EAC). Initiatives of this category tend to have input from researchers, but also involve other communities of stakeholders such as citizen groups, industry and policymakers, with scientific civil servants often playing an coordinating role. At the AU level, for example, member countries have accepted what is called the African Model Law on Safety in Biotechnology. This constitutes a guiding framework for regulating biotechnology with a view to protecting Africa’s biodiversity, environment and health (Juma et al, 2007).
19. Globally, technology has played a big role in developing the agricultural industry. With this technology, plants have been engineered to survive in drought conditions. Through genetic engineering, scientists have managed to introduce traits into existing genes with a goal of making crops resistant to droughts and pests as well as quality traits such as improved post-harvest storage, flavour, nutritional content and colour (para 6).
20. Biotechnology, varying in scope, scale and practice in many developing countries, is full of entrepreneurial opportunities for the technological progress of the developing world. Modern agriculture brings enormous economic and social benefits to consumers by improving quality of life and living standards as food costs decline (Para 7).
21. The use of biotechnology to modify the nutritional make-up of crops shows promise as a means of reducing malnutrition in developing countries. The cluster of techniques that comprise biotechnology can, if effectively harnessed and applied, radically transform farming systems by reducing post-harvest loss and increasing crop resistance to drought. In order to reap the benefits of biotechnology, collective Political commitment and will from all stakeholders at state and regional level is required to generate adequate funding, institutional reforms to efficiently and effectively promote biotechnology in Africa (Para 8 and 9).
22. Despite the potential benefits of biotechnology to improve the reliability and quality of the world food supply, public and scientific concerns have been raised about the technology. These include food safety, environmental risks, high cost of production and adverse effects on food exports. African leaders must build internal capability in science, technology and innovation so as to be able to determine the sustainability of practices associated by biotechnology. Additionally, African leaders must therefore put in place measures to ensure financial sustainability of research and extension services into food items that can be owned locally (Para 10 and 12).
23. The President of the Republic of Ghana signed the Ghana Biosafety Act, 2011 (Act 831) in December 2011 following the passage of the Biosafety Bill by the Ghanaian Parliament, in June 21, 2011. The Act establishes the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) as the administrative body that will manage the implementation of all issues related to Biotechnology in Ghana. In addition to regulations at the national level, professionals in AU countries have come together in different forums and initiatives with the aim of guiding or advising biotechnology regulations at the regional-level (Para 17 and 18).
24. Conclusively, it clear from the above discussion that biotechnology has a potential positive impact on the agricultural industry in Ghana and Africa as a whole and should therefore be adopted for improved agricultural productivity.
24. The following recommendations are made:
a. There is the need for collective political commitment and will from all stakeholders at state and regional level to generate adequate funding, institutional reforms to efficiently and effectively promote biotechnology in Africa (pa(Brookes et al, 2006)ra 21).
b. African leaders must build internal capability in science, technology and innovation to enable them determine the sustainability of practices associated with biotechnology (Para 22).
c. African countries must ensure financial sustainability of research and extension services in biotechnology related activities (Para 22).