Authors: Yahaya Sumara Sulley and Shamsiyatu Murtala (Department of Biotechnology, University for Development Studies, Tamale )
Ghana is one of the top agricultural-producing countries in Africa, but the issue of hunger is a very significant subject as far as Sustainable Development Goal 2 is concerned. Hunger is a very significant subject in most African countries, making the continent a region known for a high state of undernourishment, poor food supply and access to food, low food availability and food insecurity as a whole.
Lack of food security is a formidable challenge that has been faced by Ghana and most postcolonial Sub-Saharan African countries. The effect of food insecurity has been extremely damaging and destabilizing for the country’s economy with climate change, pest and disease prevalence and poor soil quality considered by many as major factors contributing to poor agricultural output (1).
It is not surprising that Ghana has moved from being an exporter of food to a more significant importer of basic staples such as rice, wheat and potato including vegetables such as tomatoes from European and nearby African countries respectively. In the animal agriculture sector, specifically the poultry sector, the state imports large quantities of frozen broiler meat, hatching eggs and day-old chicks from the European Union, the USA and Brazil (2).
Accelerated food production programs to help reverse the declining effect of food production per capita and to also facilitate the reduction of dependency on food importation has been launched in Ghana since the 1970s as 1972 saw the Government inaugurate its ‘Operation Feed Yourself’ which in the end did not result in any significant increase in food production (3). In the year 2017, Ghana launched the “Ghana beyond aid” initiative which set out national plans and strategies to make the country self-reliant. Policies such as planting for food and jobs, one district one factory and planting for export and rural development among others constitute the government’s economic transformational agenda through agriculture and it is very apparent that reaping the benefits of these policies is going to be challenging if the leadership and the people of Ghana do not shift from partisan politics to a system of setting out clear policies towards a proper nation building agenda (4).
Sustainable development goals are an action call to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure all people, in particular, the poor enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. Among the goals is SDG 2 which is focused on ending hunger, achieving food security, improving nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture (5).
Sustainable agriculture can be achieved with biotechnology which is a potentially effective scientific discipline to enhance the quality and quantity of food produced in Ghana. Major global threats such as climate change, water scarcity, land fragmentation, increased population, biodiversity and introduction of genetically diverse and wild species are impediments to agricultural policies, however, it presents the need for a more proficient sustainable agricultural strategy to ensure that Ghana achieves zero hunger by 2030 as envisioned by the UNESCO.
Biotechnology harnesses the potential of living organisms in the ecosystem to develop products for the benefit of mankind (6). Irrespective of criticisms, crusades, scholarly debates and publications concerning the negative impact of biotechnology in agriculture, it does not only present the potential to feed more people or help produce more food for exportation.
Biotechnology also comes along with additional benefits such as generating bumper yields from less accessible or small-sized arable lands, causing less harm and damage to the ecosystem and possessing less damage to renewable or non-renewable resources in the environment because agriculture is both a cause and a solution to environmental problems.
Biotechnological tools include marker-assisted breeding and genetic engineering techniques such as molecular pharming, which are other advanced applications used for crops and livestock production and improvement. Molecular diagnostics, protein engineering and vaccine technology are also modern technologies that help in the detection, treatment and management of livestock diseases (6).
Recombinant DNA technology is a technique in biotechnology which involves the introduction of a gene or gene sequence into an organism to achieve a required and the desired outcome (7). For example, crop varieties can be engineered to express a bacterial gene that controls certain insect pests, thereby reducing the need for harmful synthetic pesticides.
Nutrient and water cycling issues are major challenges in the agriculture sector as a result of unchecked pollution and land degradation. However, our soils can be improved through bioremediation (8) and other environmental biotechnological advancements through the use of higher degree enzymes of specificity to decontaminate soils and arable lands off microbes that are limiting the potential of agricultural lands.
To successfully achieve sustainable development goal 2 through biotechnology mainstreamed into sustainable agriculture, both social and scientific issues need to be addressed. A typical example is an emphasis on scientific communication in the advocacy for biotechnology as a tool for sustainable agricultural development in Ghana to erase negative perceptions and give proper information to farmers, consumers and the country as a whole.
To feed the growing population of Ghana, there is the need to double food production per farm size with prudent approaches such as the strategic use of the human resources within the country. Thus, employing graduates from departments of biotechnology, schools of engineering and technical universities across the country to use their available skillset and mindset to harness living organisms and resources in the ecosystem to close the food importation gap and increase the yield gap per farm size through sustainable means.
Finally, the implementation of policies to bring on board other allied agricultural and non-agricultural sectors to support the agenda to minimize food waste, maximize the employability of young graduates in agriculture biotechnology and its related programmes, and provide people engaged in agriculture with their needs and requirements to enable the production of more food for consumption and surplus for export to generate revenue for the state.
- West and Central Africa: More than 15 million cases of acute malnutrition expected in 2020 [Internet]. [cited 2020 Dec 12]. Available from: https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/west-and-central-africa-more-15-million-cases-acute-malnutrition-expected-2020
- Food imports cost US$2.4bn annually – Graphic Online [Internet]. [cited 2020 Dec 12]. Available from: https://www.graphic.com.gh/business/business-news/food-imports-cost-us-2-4bn-annually.html
- Girdner J, Olorunsola V, Froning M, Hansen E. Ghana’s agricultural food policy. Operation feed yourself. Food Policy. 1980;
- Wucharey EK. Ghana Beyond Aid. Mordern Ghana News [Internet]. 2017;1–61. Available from: https://www.modernghana.com/news/822272/ghana-beyond-aid.html
- United Nations. Take Action for the Sustainable Development Goals [Internet]. [Cited on 2020 Dec 14]. Available from: https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/
- Briggle A. Biotechnology. In: Encyclopedia of Applied Ethics. 2012.
- Shah NJ. Recombinant DNA technology. In: Introduction to Basics of Pharmacology and Toxicology: Volume 1: General and Molecular Pharmacology: Principles of Drug Action. 2019.
- Dua M, Singh A, Sethunathan N, Johri A. Biotechnology and bioremediation: Successes and limitations. Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology. 2002.