Business News of 2014-04-17

Ghana urged to accept GM maize to boost yields

The low yields in crop production, particularly maize, has been attributed to the inability of farmers to purchase nitrogen based fertilisers to boost production in the country.

Consequently, an Associate Professor from the John Innes Centre, an independent, international centre of excellence in plant science and microbiology, Professor Giles Oldroyd, has urged Ghana and other African countries to accept maize crops that have been genetically modified with nitrogen to save them the cost of buying fertilisers at prohibitive prices.

Speaking to the Daily Graphic at the centre in Norwich, United Kingdom on April 9, after a field trip to the centre, he said, “The biggest problem of growing maize is that it requires a lot of nitrogen-based fertiliser, because the plant needs nitrogen to grow particularly, in developing countries such as Ghana”.

The trip was organised by Biosciences for Farming in Africa (B4FA) for its 19 award winning journalists and fellows of the organisation from four African countries; Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda and Nigeria.

“Here in the UK, the farmers are buying nitrogen-based fertilisers, but for most farmers in Ghana, they can’t afford this kind of fertiliser so we are looking at alternative ways to get nitrogen into the maize crop using genetic modification, and if we can do that, then we can deliver seeds that do self-fertilisation and do not require the expensive organic fertilisers,” he said.

The revelation is expected to be good news for farmers in Ghana, particularly, at a time when the government has removed subsidies on fertilisers, a move the farmers in the country have described as unfortunate and demoralising.

In Ghana and many other African countries, maize is a major staple used in the preparation of a variety of meals taken at any time of the day.

It is considered as one of the cheapest cereals on the market.

Scientific research has shown that the ability to take up mineral nutrients, particularly, nitrogen and phosphorous, is generally considered to be a major limitation to plant growth.

As a result, farmers across the world, particularly those in the developing world such as Ghana, apply nitrogen and phosphorous through fertiliser application to promote crop growth.

Sustained yields are dependent on this fertiliser, but this, according to Professor Oldroyd, comes at a high cost, both in the cost of the fertiliser and the environmental damage that results from its use.

Asked about what crop rotation can do instead of using genetically modified (GM) seeds, Professor Oldroyd said, “I think crop rotation has a useful role to play whether it is co-planting or whatever.”

However, he noted that “It will only give you a certain level of yield; it is not going to give you the yields that, say, a UK farmer gets or a mid-Western farmer in the US gets when they fertilise their maize.”

“You will improve yields, you will improve soil fertility but it is not going to radically transform your potential but I think in the first instance, co-planting and crop rotation is a useful process to improve soil fertility,” he admitted.

Source: graphic.com.gh
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