Genetically modified food (GMF) is when food is produced from organisms that have had their genes (DNA) engineered. This has been available commercially since the 1990’s. When we discuss GMF we are normally thinking about fruits and vegetables (crops). These foods are adapted to increase yield, size, flavour or taste.
In 2011 Ghana legalised the use of GMO’s in the country and in 2013. Now the country prepares for the commercial release of genetically modified cowpeas in 2018. The aim is to improve agriculture production and keep the country food secure. Food security can be defined when ‘all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life (FAO)’. GMF’s could increase food production in Ghana thus helping the physical and social access in Ghana. GMF’s are able to provide food at an affordable price thus helping the economic access in Ghana.
Despite this innovative new path for the country, it has been met with resistance. An example of this resistance is the anti GMO group ‘Food sovereignty Ghana’, who marched the street of Accra in protest. Countering these resistant groups are those who welcome GMF in Ghana such as the US embassy in Accra and The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.
This prompts the question as to whether GMF is and will be either a risk for Ghana or an opportunity for growth and development?
What the Health?
There is limited research on the health risks of GMF. This is due to GMF’s being a recent development, therefore it would be difficult for health authorities to test people over a long period of time (e.g. 50 years). Despite the lack of research there has been sources that link GMF’s to health risks such as ‘toxic and allergenic reactions’ (Zhang,2016).
Soo does Ghana take the health risk of commercialising transgenic crops?
If Ghana was to commercialise transgenic crops and consequently there were health problems, how will the country survive? Ghana is not a rich country therefore; the country would have a lack of resources and limited capacity to deal with the aftermath. Such a risk could create a food insecure nation due to the physically unhealthy lifestyle in which GMO’s could produce and the mass access to unsafe food it allows.
Despite the risk of health issues, we must also acknowledge the public health opportunities that GMF foods can contribute to the country. Ghana has a vitamin A deficiency problem with around 75.8% of the population lacking. One way to tackle this is through GMF’s such as golden rice. This is a genetically modified crop that is created to increase the nutritious value through the addition of beta carotene which converts to vitamin A in the human body. With rice being a large part of Ghanaian cuisine this could transform the nation.
Improving the vitamin deficiency problem in Ghana, would in turn improve the likelihood of falling sick and the severity of disease. It would also be cost- effective, for it would reduce the economic cost of undernutrition and the burden it has on the healthcare system, this in turn allows people to live a healthy and active life. It would also aid in the food secure objective of producing ‘nutritious’ food (FAO).
What About Farmers?
When talking about GMO’S the focus is greatly on the environment and the health risks, there has been a lack of interest in the socio -economic impact (Appiah, 2016). What about those who are effected the most? What about the farmers? Farmers can be deemed as the most important factor in this whole debate, for ‘whoever controls the seed controls the whole food chain’ (Food Sovereignty Ghana).
GMF’s create a great risk to Ghana’s wealth especially for farmers, due to the would be change in approaches to seed and agriculture. It is reported that ‘saved seeds in Ghana constitutes 90% of maize seeds planted’ (Apraku et al, 2005: 98). GM companies such as Monsanto make this practice of reusing seeds illegal. This would mean that Ghanaian farmers would have to buy new seeds every year accompanied with GMO technology. With a Ghanaian farmer earning less that $1 a day, GM production would be a financial and economic risk for farmers. It is not set in stone that the people will buy the GM crops, therefore profit is not inevitable. This economic matter could produce the problem of inequality within the food system. For farmers may not obtain their rightful economic exchange for their labour, creating a unjust food system.
With the pressure for famers to move towards GMF, there is the increased risk of diminishing food justice and sovereignty in Ghana. For it allows external actors other than farmers the right to define the food and agriculture systems. It goes against the human rights of farmers, for it challenges the right to grow and sell.
The Way Forward?
There is an ideology that Africa is hungry, has little food production and that the seeds are unproductive. From this ideology, there is the consensus that GMF is necessary and a great opportunity to rid of poverty and food insecurity in these developing countries.
Though for a relatively new country like Ghana we need to acknowledge the great risk of GMO’s. In terms of health and the socio-economic effects. The need to develop with the rest of the world will always be a present factor when it comes to farming and agriculture. Though the question is how can this be done in a healthy way and to the socio- economic advantage of the ones with the most to lose?
In terms of the lack of information on health and the risk, Ghana could conduct their own research and formulate their own knowledge to ensure that GMO’s are safe, rather than wait 50 years to see how the western world faired.
Philanthropic and aid ventures such as the Gates Foundation could be deemed a solution socio economic dilemma that farmers may face. This foundation donates technology and seeds to African farmers. In turn lessening the burden of debt and biotechnology costs. Though the possibility of an American external actor in this debate opens the door to post-colonial agendas, which is another discussion for another day.