Ghana will in about a year see the commercial release of pest-resistant Barceló's Thurigensis (BT) cowpea seeds to the food value chain for mass cultivation by farmers.
The BT Cowpea, which would be the first genetically modified (GM) crop to be released in the country, would contribute to food security, improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers by reducing the pod's damage, promote grain quality and reduce seasonal crop loss.
The release of the BT cowpea follows an over seven-year laboratory research and field trials at different locations by scientists at the Savannah Agriculture Research Institute of the Council Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR-SARI).
Professor Walter Alhassan, a former Director-General of CSIR, who confirmed this to the Ghana News Agency on the sidelines of a media briefing in Accra, said the Scientist working on BT Cowpea had prepared a dossier on indicators, including; the toxicity, efficacy and profitability of the BT to the National Biosafety Authority for assessment.
He said once the Authority approved it, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture would take it up for assessment and field demonstrations before its release.
Prof Alhassan said biological technology was not new to humans, explaining that the insulin used in the field of medicine and the traditional brewing of 'pito', a local beverage, were all forms of biotechnology.
He reiterated the call for Government to devote resources to research and development to ensure good health, food security, and safety.
Dr Derry Nboyine, a Researcher on the BT Cowpea Project, said pod borer infestation was a major constraint to cowpea production in the country, which resulted in between 30 to 80 percent of yield.
"In the absence of resistance genes in the cowpea germplasm, a new [biotechnological] innovation has identified a resistance gene from a bacteria species BT. This has been transferred into Songotra, a local cowpea variety to kill the pod borer and also reduce the harmful effect of many insecticides sprays the farmers are exposed to."
He said working with farmers confined trials were conducted at SARI-CSIR, in Nyankpala, Tamale, Bawku and Damongo.
Dr Issoufou K. Abdourhamane, Project Manager Cowpea of the African Agriculture Technology Foundation (AATF), said the choice of cowpeas, was due to the important role it played in the nutritional needs of Ghanaians, especially those in the Northern Region.
He said cowpea was rich in nutraceuticals compounds such as dietary fibre, antioxidants and polyunsaturated fatty acids and polyphenols.
Dr Abdourhamane said the crop was widely cultivated and that consumed cowpea was an important legume for the nutrition and health of people in many countries hence the need for Ghana to boost its production.
Dr. Ibrahim Dzido Kwasi Atokple, a retired SARI Scientist, said farmers did not need to regularly buy seeds to plant, but could re-use their seeds for more than two seasons.
He said it was healthy and safe to consume BT cowpea saying "CSIR-SARI is a public institution and will not endorse acts that will pose danger to the health of the public.
"The imported chicken, we enjoy are all fed with BT soybean grown in countries like Brazil and Argentina. Same with some vegetable oils we consume. Make no mistake we are already consuming biotechnology produce."
BT Cowpea is among three other crops – cotton, rice and sweet potatoes, cleared for confined trials and evaluation.
Scientists sought to create a cowpea variety resistant to the pod borer or maruca, a species of moth that targets bean crops.