Science minister-designate to stop $40million annual palm importation
Ghana is expected to roll out a strategy to reverse the importation of approximately $40 million worth of oil palm annually.
The President’s nominee for Minister of Environment Science and Technology, Dr Kwaku Afriyie, said he was ready, if approved, to collaborate with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture to implement a plan.
Even though Oil Palm is native to West Africa, the leading producers are Malaysia and Indonesia, together accounting for 86% of global production.
Ghana’s import of palm oil has increased in the last decade.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates a total of 305 758 hectares of oil palm under production, more than 80 per cent of which is cultivated by private small-scale farmers.
It is estimated that 243 852 tonnes of palm oil is being produced and that Ghana currently has an unmet demand of over 35 000 tonnes of palm oil.
This could be up to $30milllion to $40 million, depending on world prices.
Taking his turn at the Appointments Committee of Parliament on Friday, February 19, Dr Afriyie said: “Indeed, Ghana is importing oil palm products”.
This was after the Ranking Member for the Committee had inquired about the failure to acquire enough foreign exchange from the product.
In response, Dr Afriyie pointed out that Ghana has the capacity to increase production “to make up for the deficit”.
However, farmers were too dependent on archaic varieties instead of improved seeds.
Palm oil is used primarily in food products such as cooking oil, shortening, margarine, milk fat replacer and cocoa butter substitute.
Concerns by industry players
While Dr Afriyie believes in improved varieties, the Africa Regional Director of ProForest, Mr Abraham Baffoe, has cited a lack of technical know-how and best management practices to improve production on the part of local smallholder farmers.
He cited examples in oil palm growing areas where local farmers occupy about 80% of the farms.
Yet private companies are getting about 16 to 20 tonnes per hectare compared to only four to six tonnes per hectare by the smallholder farmers.
He believes that the Tree Crops Development Bill, passed in 2019, should address the situation to make Ghana a net exporter of palm.
Tree Crop Development Bill currently includes four tree crops (cashew, oil palm, shea and rubber), with provisions to allow future inclusion of other tree crops.
Among other things, the Bill stipulates establishing a Tree Crops Development Authority as a corporate body.
The institution’s task is to regulate the management, production, processing, and trading of tree crops.
Dr Afriyie embraces GMOs
The debate on adopting Genetically Foods Organisms (GMOs) in a country abundant with fertile land has been raging.
For Dr Afriyie, GMOs “are safe”, but he will not be drawn into a discussion of legalization since he does not have all the details to make a definite pronouncement.
He said GMOs were essential in research, and he had also not come across significant mortalities associated with GMOs in countries like the US, where the products are permitted.
Parliament has adopted biosafety regulations that operationalize the National Biosafety Act 2011.
The Act will regulate modern biotechnology and its products, including any framework for Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).
The National Biosafety Act 2011 and the Plant Breeders Bill has not settled well with anti-GMO groups.
The Food Sovereignty Ghana, The Coalition For Farmer’s Rights, Advocacy Against GMOs, Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Convention People’s Party, and various individuals have argued against GMOs.
Activists consider genetically modified food as a health hazard, neo-colonialist (in that it hands the power to developed nations), a threat to economic and food sovereignty, and national security.
Increasing the number of researchers in Ghana
Dr Afriyie is advocating the admission of 60% of students for science programmes in tertiary institutions to produce more scientists for the country.
Incentives such as scholarships and improvement in remuneration are high on his list for Ghana to have a large pool of professionals for institutions such as the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).