A twelve-member Ghanaian delegation has been to Abuja, Nigeria to understudy the country’s biosafety and biotechnology infrastructure that has been deployed in Nigeria to address food security.

The tour was to strengthen Ghana’s biotechnology regulatory system.

The delegation was led by the Chairman of the Environment, Science and Technology Committee of Parliament, Dr. Emmanuel Marfo, and accompanied by the ranking member, Ebenezer Tei Larbi.

Other members of the delegation were some board officials of the National Biosafety Authority, researchers from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, CSIR, and one official from the Ministry of Food and Agriculture and selected journalists.

The Chief Executive Officer of Nigeria’s Biotechnology Development Agency, Prof. Abdulahi Mustapha who welcomed the delegation reiterated the importance for Africa to develop its own biosafety infrastructure to produce adequate food to feed its increasing population.

Last year, Nigeria released its Genetically Modified, GM cowpea or beans onto the market after almost a decade of trials like Ghana.

But Ghana gazetted its GM beans in February 2022 to solicit informed comments from the public.

Stating the significance of beans in diet, Prof. Mustapha noted GM beans in Nigeria “is helping a lot in food security and also eradicating poverty and bringing wealth into the country”.

He said Nigeria produces 47% of the beans consumed in Africa and 46% consumed globally.

With Nigeria’s huge population, it consumes 50% of the beans it produces. Prof. Mustapha said the GM beans have received tremendous support from farmers and added that “the three companies certified to produce the seeds for the planting season are not able to meet demands from farmers”.

He hinted that Nigeria has also genetically modified cotton and that of maize and rice are in the pipeline.

Responding, Dr. Emmanuel Marfo acknowledged the importance of the tour and added that,

“the understanding we have obtained will enable us to persuade Parliamentarians to get the support in terms of budgetary support for science and technology”.

He called for an engagement with fellow Parliamentarians in Nigeria to, “Start networking among ourselves at Sub-regional and Continental level by Parliamentarians with oversight responsibilities on science, to learn among ourselves to promote South-South Corporation”.

The delegation visited the National Biosafety Management Agency of Nigeria; an institution that regulates modern biotechnology activities and release into the environment, handling, and use of genetically modified organisms.

As part of the tour, the delegation visited a four-acre GM foundation seed farm at Nasarawa state.

The farm was owned by a private Company, EcoBasicSeed in partnership with Pandagric. It was evident that claims by anti-GM groups that insects do not survive near GM plants are false.

There were other insects around the GM Cowpea plants apart from the Pod borer or Maruca insect.

A food bazaar labeled EATING -is-BELIEVING was organized at the National Biosafety Development Agency, NABDA using both indigenous and GM beans in a variety of dishes.

It allowed the participants, including officials from NABDA, farmers to sample a variety of dishes made of beans and draw conclusions about differences in taste regarding which ones were made from GM beans or indigenous ones. None of the people I spoke with came up with differences in taste.

Cowpea or beans is a popular, protein-rich staple crop eaten by millions of people globally. But it’s vulnerable to the Maruca pod borer pest, which destroys about 80% of the crop.

To control the pest infestation, farmers typically spray their fields with pesticides between eight and ten times in the 12-week cycle of the crop.

The GM variety, which includes a gene from a naturally occurring soil bacterium known as Bacillus Thuringiensis, BT, is resistant to the pest.

Commercial trials in Nigeria and confined trials in Ghana have shown that farmers can reduce their spray regimen to twice per farming season while gaining five fold increase in yield.