The following transcript represents only part of exploratory interviews that focused on GM cassava technology

clusteriranianBiotechnology

Oct 23, 2013 (3 years and 9 months ago)

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The following transcript represents only part of exploratory interview
s

that focused

on GM
cassava technology

IQ1
-

What is your general understanding on application of modern biotechnology

(e.g.
genetic modification (GM) technology)

for crop improvement?

W
e have traditional biotechnology like tissue culture to improve cassava va
rieties and other root
crops…

this has

not been able to solve
the
problem

of cassava mosaic disease

(CMD)
,

but it
depends on the time and how severely they get attacked. S
ome strain
s of improved cassava
varieties are different because it gives good yield
, however, this is not

enough to have desired
yield.


W
e need modern biotechnology
like GM technology to solve
CMD
problem and improve
other a
gronomy traits of cassava
(KNUST
-
R1
).


CM
D

is a major problem in Ghana and it affects cassava production

which results to low
yield
..
.
again after harvesting
,

cassava

root
deteriorates faster which can quickly result to
spoilage
….
and the use of tissue culture as plant breeding technique to clean d
ifferent cassava
v
arieties either for
increasing the

shelf life

or diseases

has not been successful

but
GM
technol
ogy ha
s great potential to address this

problem

(SARI
-
R1
).


In terms of
sustainable
fo
od production
, our traditional biotec
hnology has not bee
n effective…so
applying

genetic engineering to increase agricultural productivity

and fight pest and diseases
proble
m

will
benefit scientists and farmers in the long run…promoting other

aspect of
biotechnology such as marker assisted selection, tissue cult
ure and micropapagation is also
important, because combining all of these tools can solve m
any problems in today’s African
agriculture

(BNARI
-
R1
)
.

The use of chemicals such as pesticide and insecticide is harmful to

the

health of farmers,
maybe
GM cassava

or other crops

that requires less spray can limit exposure to the dangerous
chemicals. Shorter growth cycle of cassava through GM technology will be important as well
(RADU
-
R1).

We have weather problem such as drought due to
the
erratic rai
nfall

in the nor
th
ern Nigeria
, pest
and diseases

which modern biotechnology like GM is capable of solving, I think we need to take
the advantage of this technology
(UI
-
R1
).

GM technology has great potential t
o address some of
the
agronomic

problems
of the

root tubers
in t
h
is country. CMD alone is a big

threat to cassava production
with devastating effect on its
yield
. For example the yield can be as low as 4ton/ha or less when compared with normal
average yield of 8ton/ha in Africa due to CMD attack, this is below potentia
l yield of cas
sava in
some other places…
GM technology can

probably

make a big difference
(UI
-
R1
.
1
).


IQ2
-

How well has the government

informe
d the consumers

on GM crops

or what is the
general level of awareness of GM crops among the public
?

The level of aw
areness among the public is very low, even farmers know little or nothing about
GM crops
(LSADA
-
R2
).


Many people are not aware of GM crops

and

foods but we did a lot of workshop and educating
the public across different provinces in Ghana including televi
sing some of these activities by
seeking their opinions on the use of

GMO products when

developing biosafety b
ill in the
country
,
and despite the workshop
,

the awareness level among the public including the farmers is
still low

(BNARI
-
R2
)

Few people unders
tand GM foods and the awareness among the public is generally low, previous

contamination of improved cassava
variety generated a lot of heated debates on this hybrid
products…media are not educated about biotechnology
….
they report what they hear and

the
n
ews can
spread
very quickly
across the country
w
hich can create fears among the
public due to
health concern

(SARI
-
R2
)

If you mention GMOs to

the public they wil
l think you are bringing

demon or
poison due to the
negative report from

the media…for example
, the processed improved cowpea in the north got
contamin
ated and
the
story has gone everywhere

that

it is a poison…that is the work of the
media…they need to be educated
(UI
-
R2
).

Our farmers, traders and public don’t even know what
is
call
ed

biotechnology

not

to

talk of
GM
because
majority of them are illiterate,
education and awareness is important
(UI
-
R2.1
).

People are skeptical of biotechnology because they don’t have proper understanding of it due to
awareness problem, and also the negativity associate
d with biotechnology is what makes far
mers
and public not interested,
of course media adds to this problem. Even people who can interact
with

the

rural folks don’t understand the subject matter themselves
…I mean the extension
officers

(CRI
-
R2
).


IQ3
-

What
is the status of capacity building to support GM research?

There are no basic facilities such as
laboratory
equipments and
power

supply

that are

required to
do

experiments using

traditional biotechnology

technique

not talk of GM research….
power

is
one of
m
ajor problems that hampers biotechnology development in Nigeria
,
for example
,

tissue
culture or micropropagation experiment is difficult to do as it re
quires constant supply of power
,
although we are aware of few institutions including the

International In
stitute of Tropical
Agriculture (IITA)

in the country with sophisticated instruments to GM research
(LSADA
-
R3
).



We have some personnel across different

research

institutes that are trained in biotechn
ology and
molecular biology

abroad

but facilities are
lim
ited to work with
(KNUST
-
R3
)
.

I think we only have few trained
scientists in biotechnology…
.
necessary too
ls to carry out

biotechnology research is still lacking in majority of research institutes

and the universities

(BNARI
-
R3
)
.

There are no facilities
to test or confirm biotech products
that come to the
labs

as our people
want to be in control and manipulate

the things them
selves...the things are just being imported
from where the facilities are available. Ghanaian
s

must be able to do the experiments th
emselves
,
but
in most cases we have to rely or depend on foreign expertise or scientists before we continue
research and this can
be time consuming
.

For example, I know of a Kenyan scientist who was
trained on GM potato

used in
the
United States

but when i
t was brought to Kenya,
the research
on
GMO product could not continue due to

some

problem

on this particular trait,

and

lack of
adequate facilities

also hinder the continuation of the
experiment
.

I see this as one of my major
concerns

and obstacles

on GMO

research

not only in Ghana but the rest of African countries

because you may get the same story if you go to Kenya or Nigeria

(BNARI
-
R3
).


Strengthening Capacity for Safe Biotechnology Management in sub
-
Saharan Africa (SABIM
A)
project is a
Forum for Agric
ultural Research in Africa

(FARA)

initiative sponsored

by Synge
nta
foundation in Ghana; it is a capacity building project for safe application of
biotech products
which has

train
ed some of our scientists, also contribute
d

to raising
the level of awareness
among
farmers and the public
in the country
(CRI
-
R3
).

If we move from research institutes to the universities the facilities are not the best, the genetic
engin
eering research is

only restricted to the
CRI
and SARI
…if there is


and t
he support for
general
agricultural research is very limited, so if we single out biotechnology
,

the support is not
even

in

existence

(CRI
-
R3.1
)
.


Some of our trained
personnel

have to go IITA in Nigeria to work and bring improved cassava
varieties to grow in Ghana as we don’t

h
ave

resources and facilities to carry out the research

in
the country
(SARI
-
R3
)
.

Our facilities are very limited for GM research; we still need to send samples abroad before we
can carry out further analysis…only few scientists are trained in this field
….
w
e have scientists
that are trained abroad as part of capacity building project of the United States

(US)

on GM but
they return back

to the US and other countries
due to

the

lack of facilities
. M
oreover things don’t
work in this country because we don’t hav
e steady supply of power, for example
,
we have to use
generator

to run a tissue culture lab
(NRCRI
-
R3
).

We were trained for tissue culture, embryogenesis, transformation and learnt relevant techniques
with regards to GM cassava at the Donald Danforth Plant

Science Center (DDPSC) in the US
(NRCRI
-
R3.1
).


We are talking of Africa where we have limited resources to work with on biotechnology
including GM research

I don’t think modern biotechnology or GM technology will be a
solution to all our problems….but go
vernment should look at other aspect that can contribute to
development of agriculture sector
(UI
-
R3
).


IQ
4
-
Are you aware of
any
GMO field trial in the country?

I am aware of GM cassava trial at the NRCRI...and I know the first tr
ansgenic cassava was done
by
Professor (X) at the IITA but because of politics which I don’t want to talk about here the
project was transferred to NRCRI and this may

have

contribute
d

to whatever problems scientists
are having…I think we should leave and progress to the next questi
on
(UI
-
R4
).

The work on GM cassava actually started at the IITA before it was moved to NRCRI but there
was lack of full cooperation among the scientists between these two institutions....collaboration
exists and sometimes it appears it does not..IITA shoul
d not be excluded because they were
originally part of the work….we can’t go into the detail here....but at our university here….we
collaborate with
IITA particularly in training M
Sc and PhD students in plant biotechnology
particularl
y on cassava and other

root
tuber
s

project
(UI
-
R4
.1
)
.

I am aware of different GM cassava traits that are undergoing field trials in Nigeria. Also, I heard
that at one point some GM cassava traits encountered problems in Nigeria due to lack of
incorporation of local traits
(BNAR
I
-
R4
).

I know scientists in Nigeria are working on GM cassava, GM cowpea and GM sorghum
(KNUST
-
R4
)
.

I am one of the

team

member
s

in Ghana who will be working on GM cowpea when the confined
field trial starts in the country

we will be collaborating

with s
ome Nigerian scientists as well

(SARI
-
R4
)
.


IQ5
-

Does the current biosafety law support the ongoing confined field trials of GM
cassava

or any GMO products
?

Yes..in Ghana
we have regulatory framework in place…and it i
s part of biosafety law called
legislat
ive i
nstrument (LI) which spelt out the procedures to conduct confined field
trials...though we are yet to start field trial on GM cassava but I am aware of trials in Nigeria…
and we may not necessarily start another GM cassava field trial here….but GMO pr
oducts must
be well regulated when they are available…at least we have to wait and see the results from
Nigeria
(SARI
-
R5
).


The biosafety bill which has been passed by lawmakers makes it possible to regulate ongoing
confined field trial of GM cassava at th
e NRCRI including other GM crops field trials in the
northern part of the country
(NABDA
-
R5
)

Nigeria is signatory to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB) as described by the
Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and this part of the protocol facili
tates ongoing
confined fields trials of GM cassava in this research institute
(NRCRI
-
R5
)

We strongly adhere to the rules of biosafety law for the current field trial of GM cassava by not
allowing any of GMO products into the environment or eaten by the ani
mals. And any unused
plant materials after the experiments are incinerated and properly disposed off
(NRCRI
-
R5
.1).


IQ6
-
Who are the initiatives behind the GM cassava?

Nigeria and Kenya are the two African collaborators of
BioCassava Plus (BC+) project
s. Th
e
BC+ project is made up of consortium of scientists from developed and developing countries
including the United States where the product was developed

and

funded by the Bill Gate
Foundation…we have the director of BC+ project with us now…maybe I will ask

him to shed
more light. The Nigerian government contributed in a way, for example, we are funded by the
Nigeria
n

governments to do research in the institute, the facilities, manpower and the logistics
also come from the Nigerian government
(NRCRI
-
R6
).


We

know that United States and IITA have been funding GM cassava in Nigeria
(UI
-
R6
)


IQ7
-

What types

of
confined
field trials of GM cassava are
going

on at this institute
and
why?

Please explain your answer in as much detail as possible.

The confined field t
rial

(Phase I)

of enhanced beta
-
carotene of GM cassava has been completed
and the product has been developed. Also, we have the iron and zinc GM cassava plant under
confined field trial as well but they are just few months old. Some confined field trials h
ave also
been tested in
Puerto R
ico before the trial started in Nigeria. The aim of the BC+ project is to
deliver essential micronutrients that are not present in local cassava varieties that will be
available to the consumers, women and young children in
Africa to improve their health as they
are lacking the important nutrients in their balanced diets
(NRCRI
-
R7
).

BC+ project is about providing the nutrients that are lacking in normal

local

cassava

varieties
.
Cassava is an energy rich crop it can provide ab
out 80% of daily calorie
s
.
Unfo
rtunately, it is

deficient

in protein, iron, zinc and vitamin A which are essential micronutrients. And the aim of
BC+ is to provide these nutrients in substantial quantities that can be made available to African
people.

Labo
ratory development will be carr
ied out under Phase I, while

Phase II will be done
under product development, field testing and the other regulatory tests that are essential will be
carried out as well. The confined field trial can last between 9 to 12 mont
hs. We provide the
usual agronomic treatment for GM cassava that are normally done for the local cassava
varieties…the difference this time

around

is that the experiment is confined and we put
measures in place to ensure there is no inadvertent escape i
nto the environment. There is 10
times vitamin A in GM cassava when compared to the non
-
GM cassava based on the preliminary
laboratory test which is a significant improvement in terms of nutritional value. The expected
range

in terms of vitamin A improveme
nt

for this particular GM cassava trait is 10
-
30

(NRCRI
-
R
7
.1
)
.

The GM cassava that was transformed is a local variety from Nigerian farmers called
germplasm
60444
. This particular germplasm (60444) was developed at the research institute in the 1960s,
Ibad
an and it was later transferred to IITA for improvement through breeding. Then it was being
cultivated by the Nigerian farmers but later abandoned due to susceptibility to the diseases. Since
then the germplasm was being used as a susceptible check in the
1970s for bacteria blight
-
standard susceptible variety. The reason 60444 germplasm was chosen for transformation at the
US was because it was more amenable than other local cassava varieties in Nigeria and the proof
of concept was adopted for this particul
ar germplasm. The challenge we had during the confined
field trial at Puerto Rico was that there is no CMD whereas in Nigeria there is CMD. The 60444
germplasm grown in Nigeria is susceptible to CMD regardless of whether it is GM cassava or
no
n GM cassava
.

The current 60444 germplasm GM cassava was not genetically modified to be
disease resistant, of course, it is a challenge for us, however, the problem is being solved now.
We have sent another germplasm that is disease resistant for transformation which w
ill be part of
Phase II trial
(NRCRI
-
R7
.2
).


It is important to understand that some of the traits we targeted apart from beta carotene are not
present in 60444 germplasm, but GM technology offers much more effective approach to
increase the potential of t
hose ones that already exist in the germplasm. There are two points
now;

1)

We do not have answer to those traits in the 60444 germplasm including disease
resistance

with the application of traditional plant breeding in the past

2)

We can improve available trait
s in the germplasm through GM technology

(NRCRI
-
R7
.3
)


BC+ project expects to progress through multi
-
stage lead events. First of all, the local

cassava

variety

which is of interest
for the farmers is
transformed with

nutrient enhanced cassava

traits
,

all t
his will be done
because

it is local to the farmers and it has good market value

(NRCRI
-
R7
.4
)
.





IQ8
-

What are the risk assessments of GM cassava

(e.g. nutritional assessment, gene flow
testing, etc)

or future plans for GMO products
?

I believe the risk

assessment and
safety issues will be taken of
before GM cassava is released

(BNARI
-
R8
)
.


My view is totally different…
I have some fears regarding the safety and risk assessment

as we
come from developing countries like Africa
. In developed countries
, the
procedure
s are

fine

and
excellent, because
they can be assured of safety measure
s that are
properly adhered to in terms of
risk assessment

in line with
the
international
protocol
,

and it can be well taken care of in terms of
monitoring and regulation.
How
are the authorities in Africa putting necessary strategies in place
to ensure safety and proper risk assessment

of GM cassava or any gene incorporated into our
crops? How do we know the gene being given to research centers such as BNARI or CRI is the
true
gene that we are interested in? Because the gene comes from foreign countries and we don’t
have facilities

and experts

to
test or
monitor it
(BNARI
-
R
8
.1
).


GM cassava will go through multi
-
stage field testing and at the later stage, it will go through
reg
ulatory trials such as environmental and health safety
. W
e are still doing the field trial
s

we
can’t comment

on the detail yet. W
e have spent considerable time as a group to provide answers
on safety evaluation of GM cassava
. Once it passes through all the
se stages, approval will be
requested from the government before it is released

to the farmers and commerc
ialized
(
NRCRI
-
R8
)
.


IQ
9
-

Do you have concerns about

genetically modified crops, for example, GM cassava?

We have to exercise caution particularly on
potential enviro
nmental impact of GMO product
because
the GM cassava may introduce what we don’t know yet in
to our traditional
agriculture…
the impact may be severe if it is not properly controlled
(UI
-
R9
).

As a scientist, I will eat GM food because I don’
t have problem with it….after all our
government is importing food from GM producing countries and some of the imported food
product may contain GMOs because we don’t have law to stop that, particularly labeling the
food products that we are importing fro
m these countries….one of my concerns is the way GMO
products are being introduced, whether GM cassava or not, it must not be introduced without
local trials and testing….I mean doing proper risk assessment and ensuring the safety of human
health and the e
nvironment
(UI
-
R9.1
).


As an individual and as a scientist I don’t have problem about h
ealth risk and I am all for it.
I feel
the fear of
unknown is what is worrying people….I would rather eat something that will extend
my life for one day than refuse to e
at and die immediately….because I may not even die out of it
but will have chance to live long…that is my view but others don’t l
ook at it from that
perspective
but for the environment we
have to be very careful as

we don’t know anything about
the long ter
m impact of GMOs
(BNARI
-
R9
)

How can environmental impact of GM cassava be controlled among our farmers with low level
of education if it does exist….is there any way we can educate them if they are available?
Because if our indigenous crops are suppressed

by the GMO products we are doomed
(KNUST
-
R9
).

We have reasons to worry in Africa as we don’t know the long term effect of GMO products
with regards to

the

gene flow, impact on biodiversity and many others that is why our
government should carry out their
own trials by their local scientists and certify the products
safe, by doing so, it will make it a lot easier to communicate to the public and farmers about any
GMO products to be released
(KNUST
-
R
9
.1
)
.


IQ10
-

What are the efforts

and plans put

in place to

transfer GM

cassava
technology to the
farmers?

The intellectual property

right (IPR)

issue can’t be ignored when transferring the technology and
we don’t have the policy in place not

only

for GM cassava but
for
other GMO products that may
be available in
futur
e …
I am aware of draft policy

contained in the biosafety l
aw which is not
designed
or

meant for
the
I
PR but for plant variety
that protects the researchers working on
biotechnology research

(
CRI
-
R10
)
.

I believe taking the local cassava variety from th
e farmer for genetic manipulation is part of the
consultative process to transfer GM cass
ava technology to them when this GM

product is
available in future…this is the right step we have taken and it wi
ll make it easier to adopt the
new technology

(NRCRI
-
R
10
)
.

We are failing in many ways to get the new agricultural technology to the farmers, apart from the
confine field trials, there should be farm plot trials where a good number of local farmers should
participate, for example initial and confirmation
tria
ls should be part of the process of
introducing the new agricultural technology
. Moreover, extension services and adaptation
strategy must be put in place

to facilitate the adoptio
n…as well as providing training, courses,
seminar and open debates

for relev
ant stakeholders to participate on this issu
e

(UI
-
R10
)
.

But
…you should

know

this is Africa….
we don’t go t
hrough the due process because
government
, the major players always think that it is their right to choose technology for the
farmers and impose it on
them without assessing the advantages and disadvantages, but the same
thing will not happen where the technology is coming from…what we are asking for is type of
measures being put in place to introduce GM cassava to our farmers and whether

we have it is
n
ot clear to us
(UI
-
R10
.1
)
.


IQ11
-
What do you think farmers would consider in growing GM cassava or adopting any
GM crop traits?

The
profitability and
high yielding GM cassava will encourage farmers to grow it
(SARI
-
R11
)

Improved
nutritional value

such as t
aste, cooking palatability and storage will persuade the
farmers to cultivate GM cassava as consumers desire all these important qualities in their foods
(RADU
-
R11
).

If GM technology can solve post
-
harvest deterioration of cassava, farmers will definitely
be
happy to embrace this new technology
(LSADA
-
R11
)


IQ12
-

Can GM

technology

ensure food security or improve health in Africa
?

As the population is growing, we need to increase the food production ….cassava is one of major
food crops in Nigeria….GM technol
ogy can play a role in this regards particularly through
boosting agricultural productivity which can enhance food security
(LSADA
-
R12
)
.

The nutritional value we have in cassava is not enough due to high level of carbohydrate but
improved cassava through G
M technology can help solve the problem of malnutrition among
Nigerian population…
consumers will accept it

if it has high quality nutrition. I am a nutritionist,
we need enough nutrition in cassava as majority o
f people consume this crop

a lot….cassava
mos
tly is needed for improvement particularly putting v
itamin A and protein in cassava. W
e
need them
,

and we had some hybrid
cassava in the past

with the help of IITA,

but not with
enough
improved nutritional value…we are talking of balanced diet
….
the improve
d nutritional
quality of cassava is the key
(LSADA
-
R12
.1
)

I am thinking of cassava all the time…just like mentioned…we need to improve on cassava
varieties particular in terms of increasing the yields, creating traits with pest and disease
resistance. In
as much as population is on increase, our local cassava varieties must be improved
to increase the yields, for example if
local variety produces 10 ton/ ha
, the use of improved
varieties like GM…
may be able to produce 30 ton/ha
….

when we have enough food
like
cassava…I don’t think we can go hungry
(LSADA
-
R12.2
).


The use of modern biotechnology is important to enhance food sufficiency and to improve
quality and quantity of crop varieties. Nutrients incorporated into the less endowed cr
op products
such as c
assava

and others can improve the health of our people

(RADU
-
R12
)
.

In Ghana, we consume a lot of carbohydrate in our diets,
nutritionally,
cassava is an important
food crop that needs to be enhanced for protein and vitamin for young mothers and the childre
n
(CRI
-
R12
)

Apart from
improving the nutritional value
, BC+ project will play an important role through GM
technology by improving agronomy traits of cassava such as increased in yields, disease resistant
and other traits that can lead to increase in cassa
va produc
tion that will be sufficient to
feed
Nigerians and other African

countries

where malnutrition is endemic
(NRCRI
-
R12
).



The following abbreviations are used for the coding purposes

as well as identifying the responses
of each institution.


IQ= Int
erview Q
uestion. R= Response
. X= Anonymous
. Numbers are coded as IQ1
,
IQ1.1

plus
the name of the institution.

Ghana


Biotechnology and Nuclear Agriculture Research Institute

(BNARI)


Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technolog
y (KNUST)


Crop Research Institute (CRI)


Regional Agricultural Development Unit (RADU)


Savan
nah Agriculture Research Institute (SARI)

Nigeri
a

National Root Crops Research Institute

(NRCRI)

University of Ibadan (UI)


Lagos State Agricultural Development Authority (LSADA)

National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA)