Ghana is poised to release its first locally developed genetically modified (GM) cowpea, the Bt Songotra variety, for commercial cultivation by the end of the year. This groundbreaking achievement comes courtesy of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)-Savannah Agriculture Research Institute (SARI), which has successfully produced early-generation seeds and is working towards their distribution through seed companies to farmers.

The introduction of the Bt Songotra cowpea is expected to have a profound impact on crop production, food security, and pricing in Ghana, as cowpeas are a staple in the country. Dr. Jerry Nboyine, the Principal Investigator for the GM Cowpea project at CSIR-SARI, announced this milestone during a scientific community workshop in Accra. He also revealed plans for additional GM cowpea varieties, including Bt Apagbaala, Bt Padituya, Bt Wang-Kae, and Bt Kirkhouse Benga, set to be released post-2023.

This initiative is part of ongoing efforts to develop a second generation of Pod Borer Resistance (PBR) Cowpeas, expressing Cry 1 Ab and Cry 2 Ab, to enhance food security and improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa. The workshop, organized by the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), brought together scientists to discuss GM technology activities in Ghana and highlight significant progress in developing GM products, specifically the PBR cowpea, at CSIR.

Ghana’s annual cowpea demand stands at approximately 169,000 tonnes, while local production reaches only 57,000 tonnes each year. The low yields are attributed to insect and pest infestations, highlighting the necessity of biotechnology solutions.

Prof. Paul Bosu, Director-General of CSIR Ghana, underscored the workshop’s significance, emphasizing the importance of effective communication to convey the benefits and implications of GM technology to stakeholders, policymakers, and the public. He noted that obtaining environmental release approval for the PBR Cowpea was a significant milestone, but effective communication remains vital.

Eric Okoree, CEO of the National Biosafety Authority (NBA), highlighted the authority’s work on guidelines for the regulatory process of genome editing, aimed at ensuring the safe development, transfer, handling, and use of genetically modified organisms. These guidelines, set to be released in September, will play a crucial role in promoting responsible biotechnology practices in Ghana.