Farmers back Agric Minister-designate to take up job despite opposition

The Ghana National Association of Farmers and Fishermen (GNAFF) is backing Minister-Designate for Food and Agriculture Dr. Owusu Afriyie Akoto to take up the job despite opposition to his nomination.

The association is asking Parliament’s Appointment Committee to approve his nomination because they are confident he is the best person to develop the sector.

“We at GNAFF believe it is only science and technology that will help us achieve food security and that is what the minister stands for,” Vice President of GNAFF John Awuku Dziwornu told Joy news in an interview.

Civil Society Group Food Sovereignty Ghana (FSG) issued a statement last week indicating it is strongly opposed to the nomination of Dr. Afriyie Akoto as Minister-Designate for Agriculture. The group called on the president, Nana Akufo-Addo to drop his name for the slot, and petitioned Parliament to rejects his nomination. The minister-designate is expected to appear before the 26 member appointments committee on Tuesday.  

The group’s demand stems from what it says is the minister-designate’s support for plans to introduce Genetically Modified Foods (GM Foods) into the country’s food chain, claiming “Dr. Afriyie Akoto has already demonstrated profound ignorance on the subject of GMOs and a shocking indifference to the lives and wellbeing of Ghanaians,” citing a media interview he granted in 2014. The group claims GM foods are dangerous and has been responsible for causing health problems in the USA, but the Minister-Designate supports its introduction into Ghana.

But Mr. Dziwornu is questioning the capacity of FSG to contribute to agric policy discussions in the country. “Between the minister and Food Sovereignty Ghana, who understands GMOs? If you look at the background of Food Sovereignty, they are not farmers…. So, they don’t represent farmers. The minister is a farmer, and I think his knowledge about how government can drive Agric through science and technology is very paramount and he understands the role that GMOs can play in our food security better than Food Sovereignty Ghana,” he said.

Mr. Dziwornu is confident Members of Parliament’s Appointments Committee will not heed to the request. He accused FSG of embarking on a campaign to scuttle government’s efforts to improve agriculture through the use of science and technology.

Following the passage of the Biosafety Act by Parliament in 2011, the previous administration began processes to commercialise GM crops in the country. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is currently undertaking field trials of GM cotton, cowpea and rice as part of regulatory procedures before they are introduced onto the market. These crops have been engineered with various traits including pest and drought resistance.

Research Scientist at the Biotechnology and Nuclear Agriculture Research Institute (BNARI) of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission, Dr. Daniel Osei Ofosu agrees with the farmers. He says the issue of the minister designate being pro-GMO as the basis for his disqualification is a nonstarter.

“FSG has not been able to prove that GMOs are dangerous. They are just fear mongering. World bodies like the World Health Organisation and Food and Agriculture Organisation have attested to the safety of GMOs,” Dr. Osei Ofosu explained.

He says President Akufo-Addo in his speech at the University of Ghana during the New Year School called for innovative ways to address Ghana’s agricultural challenges, and GMO technology fits that purpose.

“Ghana has the requisite laws to safeguard the general public and has the institutions with the capacity to regulate the technology. FSG should, therefore, give the minister a break,” he added.

Already, chairman of the Appointment’s committee and MP for Bekwai Joe Osei Wusu has hinted the demands being made by FSG in its petition for the minister’s disqualification will not be met.

“It’s only a matter of opinion… Because you believe A is the best and he believes B is the best, he is not fit to be a minister? Do we know how many other people believe in the minister? If any such person has an issue, he could formulate a question and use any one of the members to probe,” he told Joy news. 

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