Commercialising GMOs: in whose interest?

Recently, Ghana’s National Biosafety Authority (NBA) approved 14 GMO products for commercialisation. This approval of the commercialisation of these GMO products was not done in the interest of the majority of Ghanaians, be they farmers or otherwise. The commercialisation of the 14 GMO products was not because it could advance the national good, such as making more nutritious and culturally appropriate food more accessible to all who live in Ghana. The commercialisation of these 14 GMO products was passed to satisfy the financial interests of a very small set of individuals and organisations. It is up to Ghanaians and others who live in Ghana, not only farmers, but eaters to repeal this noxious pronouncement.

Before examining what makes this decision by the NBA unhealthy, let’s figure out who aims to profit at the general public’s expense. We can start with Ghanaian scientists. There are certainly Ghanaian scientists involved in biotechnology. Some of them probably aspire to “own” patents on genetically modified organisms, which when commercialised may profit them.

The National Biosafety Authority also seeks to profit from its decision to continue the opening up of Ghana to GMOs.  If the NBA receives a considerable amount of its funding and support from entities such as AGRA (formerly Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa and the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology), then it should not surprise anyone that the NBA’s decisions are aligned with that of its supporters. This “successful” commercialization may open up new funding streams.

Read also: Ghana has not granted approval for 14 GM seeds for cultivation – NBA

The corporations who own the patents to the overwhelming majority of GMO patents are probably confident that this commercialization of these 14 GMO products in Ghana is another battle won in their war against Ghana’s, in fact, Africa’s, food sovereignty. Here is a table listing the 14 GMO products approved for commercialisation. Thirteen of the 14 products are from one company: Bayer West Central Africa. The latter is a subsidiary of Bayer, a mammoth transnational corporation at the forefront of seed monopolisation. Currently, four transnational corporations control more than 60% of the global seed market. This concentration of economic and political power is undemocratic. It is these transnational actors that are likely to gain the most from the commercialisation of GMO products in Ghana.

We have identified some of the winners. Who will lose?

Eaters, those who enjoy kenkey, akple, and ‘oblayo’ will lose. If you eat soya or maize or the animal that you feed the soya or maize to, you are also an eater and now a loser. What did you lose? You have lost peace of mind. Now you must wonder more than ever before if the ‘dokono’ you are about to enjoy was made with GMO maize laced liberally with glyphosate.

You will note in the table of approved GMO products that 11 of the 14 of them have been engineered to withstand the use of glyphosate. Popularly referred to as “condemn,” glyphosate is an agrotoxin, used to kill unwanted plants. Glyphosate is probably carcinogenic to humans, this is according to a 2015 monograph by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Growers, peasant farmers, and our family farmers are also likely to be losers. The culture of saving, reusing, and sharing seeds served to keep often limited financial resources in the hands of farmers.  Indeed, farmer-managed seed systems continue to a critical role in agriculture. The existence of farmer seed systems constrains how much profits seed companies can make. Just imagine if all Ghana’s peasant farmers had to buy all their seeds (at least for commercial crops) every year from Bayer West Central Africa and Syngenta. Do not forget this: these seeds are engineered to tolerate the same herbicides and pesticides these companies sell. Seed and chemical companies will profit; family farmers and eaters will lose.

Yet, peasant farmers have a history of resistance to exploitation, or at least to faulty products. Like their counterparts in Burkina Faso, who initially embraced Monsanto’s GMO cotton in, but eventually abandoned them when the problems of BT cotton became apparent, farmers in Ghana will reject these GMO products, sooner or later.

The sooner it happens the better for Ghana’s eaters and growers. The General Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU), small-scale and commercial farmers and aggregators in northern Ghana, the Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana, the Center for Climate Change and Food Security and the Ghana Journalists for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture (GJESHA) have all signalled that they will battle for what Ghana’s farmers need: irrigation, rural roads, appropriate and affordable finance, and basic income guarantees, to name a few.

The struggle for a Ghanaian food system that is pro-people, sustainable and equitable is about to intensify. This election year raises the stakes involved. Education of the general public will have to increase. Holding politicians and technocrats accountable will have to be intensified and sustained. Eaters and growers will have to clarify and then articulate more compellingly what they want the Ghanaian food system to valorise and realise. I can imagine banners all across the country.

One reads: Repeal the commercialisation of all GMO products in Ghana now. Another says: Ban the trials of GMOs in Ghana. Yet another look back to move forward: Revoke the Plant Breeders Bill. A fourth banner states: Impose a 20-year moratorium on the planting of genetically modified crops in Ghana. Many more banners call for the protection of farmer’s rights to save and share seeds.


Chaka Uzondu (Ph.D.) is a participatory facilitator, researcher and policy analyst. His writings cover topics ranging from agroecology, climate change, economic justice, food sovereignty, health, housing, political ecology/economy, and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH).

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