Accra, Ghana – A ruling in Ghana’s High Court Thursday morning overturned a temporary injunction on the commercialization of genetically modified (GM) rice and cowpea.
This was the first legal contest over GM seed in Ghana, where a heated debate over the legality and desirability of GM seeds has been raging over the last few years. Field trials are currently underway for GM rice, cotton and cowpea.
The case was brought forth by civil society organization Food Sovereignty Ghana (FSG) versus the Ministry of Food and Agriculture and the National Biosafety Committee. Ghana’s 2011 Biosafety Act requires the creation of a National Biosafety Authority as a regulatory oversight body to handle issues pertaining to genetic modification. At the time the case was filed, a Biosafety Committee was instead in place.
FSG claimed that a Committee was not equivalent to an Authority, and was thus in violation of the 2011 Act and the Cartegena Protocol, of which Ghana is a signatory. FSG thus filed for an injunction on the commercialization of GM rice and cowpea, and a temporary injunction was granted for the course of the trial.
The case, which was first heard early this year, was further complicated when a National Biosafety Authority was inaugurated on February 17th, 2015, the same day the case was first heard in court.
Addressing a packed room, Justice Dennis Adjei dismissed FSG’s application for injunction, arguing that it was without merit and that the defendants would endure harm if the injunction was upheld. He did not specify what those harms might entail.
Speaking to the media after the ruling, FSG’s lawyer George Tetteh Wayo disagreed that an injunction would harm the defendants: “the defendants have not spent a dime; these monies have been given to us by so-called donors and corporate bodies who are fronting GMOs: Monsanto, Sygenta and DuPont.”
The judgment was welcomed by Kwabena Mantey Bosompem, board member of the Biosafety Authority, who said that Ghana has the “administrative[,]…policy and regulatory mechanisms” in place to safely regulate GM production and cultivation. He stressed that current research on GM seeds is happening within “recognized state research institutions.”
FSG has said they will appeal the court’s decision.
Soon after the ruling came in, people around the world began sharing reactions. The Cornell Alliance for Science (CAS), a “global agricultural communications platform” who is “funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation” (who also funds GM trials in Ghana), called the court decision “breaking news.”
Rufai Ahmed Braimah, a Programming Assistant for OFAB Ghana and Technical Officer for CSIR-Food Research Institute tweeted “science wins in Ghana.” The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications AfriCenter echoed, tweeting: “Another win for Science in #Africa! Court dismisses #GMO case in #Ghana!”
Not everyone shared this excitement. Citizen journalist Nii Ayerty Aryeh called the decision “a major setback for the anti-GMO campaign in Ghana.” Jonathan Mairu tweeted “Ghana’s executive authority is in the pocket of the GM lobby & their lords. Obedience for donations.”
GM in Africa
Genetically modified crops are one of the “climate smart” interventions that are being endorsed by big name donors in many countries across Africa. Their introduction has created a whirlwind of controversy across the continent.
Critics say that GM trials and seeds are at the behest of foreign donors and corporations, and that they threaten the seed sovereignty of smallholder farmers. In Ghana, scientists involved with the projects have not denied their ties with donors, citing a lack of state research funds available. Adopting GM seeds, they argue, will increase food production and profit for farmers.
But some say that improved seeds and yield size are not the issue. Speaking after court last week, Edwin Kweku Andoh Baffour, Communication Director for FSG, said that Ghanaian farmers produce more than enough, but that there are issues with storage, transit, and accessible markets. He called for government “investment in roads, warehouses, managing post-harvest loss,” and added, “this is not about the efficiency in agriculture, this is about the control of the food supply of nations.”
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