Highlights of the visit
Gordon Conway visited Ghana from November 24th to 30th
His first purpose was to see progress on the so-called ‘Breadbasket’ of Northern Ghana which is subject to a major programme of AGRA (the Alliance for a Green Revolution for Africa). He flew up to the capital of the region, Tamale, in the company of Dr. Kehinde Makinde, AGRA’s Country Officer for Ghana. The region is predominantly savanna land with shallow rolling watersheds where the farmers grow rice of differencing varieties, as well as cassava, sorghum, millet, soybeans and tobacco. They first visited theSavannah Agricultural Research Institute which is producing new varieties – especially of rice, maize and sorghum – that perform better in the region. They also called on a leading agrodealer who has a network of sales points throughout the region, providing seeds, agrochemicals and fertilisers to farmers.
The following day they drove east to Yendi. There they visited one of the villages supported by theEvangelical Presbyterian Development and Relief Agency. A leading farmer described how the creation of Farmer Based Organisations allowed farmers to get better deals when buying their inputs from the Agrodealers in Tamale and also when in selling their harvest to the Savanna Farmers Market Company, where the farmers have part ownership. His soybean yields had increased from 5 to 7 bags per acre, due to using certified seed, planting in rows, applying a pre-emergence herbicide and then a later hand hoeing. This translates in to an extra income of about $90 an acre.
In Accra Gordon also visited the West African Centre for Crop Improvement, funded by AGRA. Initially there are 36 students undertaking a five year course in crop breeding leading to PHDs. It is a genuinely cross West African programme, half of the students from anglophone countries and half from francophone. The potential is to create a community of West African crop breeders who have trained together and can collectively develop new crop varieties suitable for the West African conditions, i.e. able to cope with salinity and aluminium toxicity, a variety of devastating pests and disease and able to tolerate drought.
Gordon’s final purpose was to attend the First Pan African Biotechnology Stewardship Conference in Accra. This brought together 80 scientists, breeders, agronomists, policy makers, government officials, representatives of the industry and farmers to develop appropriate guidelines for stewardship of GM and other biotech crops. Several African countries are at various stages of developing GM crops and speakers provided evidence of carrying out very thorough stewardship programs that are building trust among the various stakeholders.
Gordon’s keynote speech can be found here