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29.06.2005 General News

Expert urges Ghana to harness biotechnology


Accra, June 29, GNA - Ghana would fail to safeguard the health of the population, the environment and to generate wealth if biotechnology were not harnessed, Professor Eric Quaye, a bio-safety expert, said in Accra on Wednesday.

The country would also upgrade health care systems, improve food security, quality nutrition and raise the quality of life if biotechnology were harnessed.

Speaking at the launch of Ghana's Programme for Bio-safety Systems (PBS), he said biotechnology was being driven to a large extent by market forces in the developed world.

"It is imperative that Ghana, like other developing countries, builds on and strengthens existing initiatives to increase its involvement in the global biotechnology market."

Prof Quaye said biotechnology had its advantages and disadvantages, as was the case with any technology. The contentious debate surrounding it was how people had equated biotechnology with genetically modified (GM) crops and foods.

This, he said, had led to the intense controversy about the perceived risks to human beings and the environment "though scientific evidence of the associated risks continues to be debatable".

PBS is a three-year USAID supported project as part of their collaborative agricultural biotechnology initiative. It is to empower partner countries for science-based bio-safety decision making while strengthening capacity to implement it through an innovative system. Bio-safety is also a term used to describe efforts to reduce and eliminate the potential risks resulting from modern biotechnology and its products.

Prof Quaye said while developed countries established domestic bio-safety regulatory regimes, many developing ones, including Ghana, were now establishing their own national regimes and accompanying guidelines to address all the perceived risks associated with the use of GM products.

He said that for Ghana to reap the benefits of biotechnology, she needed a visionary leadership, strong political commitment, an adequate policy and legal and regulatory framework.

Prof Quaye reiterated that biotechnology offered a significant opportunity to improve health care, meet food security goals, produce high value-added products from rich biodiversity and develop sustainable methods for afforestation and reforestation.

He said the country needed to urgently develop appropriate policies, strategies and set priorities and avoid increasing technological dependence by promoting and supporting innovation. Dr Gheysika Agambila, Deputy Minister of Environment and Science, said modern biotechnology was a powerful tool that offered several opportunities to exploit biological diversity for socio-economic development.

He said there were a number of fascinating biotechnological products and services that were in commercial applications in the field of medicine, agriculture, health, industry and environmental sanitation. Dr Agambila said since biotechnology exploited the capabilities of living organisms and was, therefore, entirely dependent on existing biodiversity, Ghana considered it prudent to accede to the convention on biological diversity and ratified the associated protocol on biological diversity.

He explained that the UN Environment Programme's Global Environment Facility had given Ghana a grant to support the development of a National Bio-safety Framework.

Dr Agambila said the Government was committed to providing the enabling environment for proven technologies to enhance the productivity of the agriculture sector.

Professor Walter Alhassan, PBS Coordinator of West and Central Africa, said the objective of the PBS Project was to promote the judicious use of modern agricultural biotechnology in Ghana in order to increase agricultural productivity, leading to marketing opportunities and higher rural incomes.

He explained that the bio-safety legislation was before the Ministry for study and it would forward it to Cabinet for approval. He said Ghana was poised to develop its own-grown biotechnology products including those involving transformation to solve the country's problems in agriculture for food security and wealth generation in a safe environment.

Mr Clement Eledi, Deputy Minister of Agriculture, said traditional breeding techniques had not yielded fast and effective solutions. However, with advances in science, technology and new traits into plants using genetic engineering, there had been improvement in agricultural yields.

He called for the effective execution of the PBS project to provide Ghanaians with the requisite skills to bring the positive impact of agricultural biotechnology to the people.

Mr George Sarpong, Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Law of the University of Ghana, Legon, giving the overview of the national bio-safety framework, said it would address issues including regulatory regime, systems to handle notification, request for permits including risk assessment, monitoring and enforcement, systems for public participation, offences and penalties, civil liability and redress and interpretation. 29 June 05