Ministers from the Economic Community of West African States have agreed to use biotechnology to increase food production in their region. The agreement was reached at the third ECOWAS ministerial meeting on biotechnology and bio-safety, held in Accra, Ghana. Efam Dovi reports for VOA from Accra.
For four days, experts and ECOWAS ministers of agriculture, environment, science and technology discussed the issues surrounding the use of biotechnology in farming. Though it has been shown to increase agricultural production, some fear it could harm the environment. It is also costly, requiring expensive research.
In a communiqué issued at the end of the meeting, the ministers came down strongly in support of using biotechnology. The communiqué said it will improve productivity, make the farming sector more competitive and ensure sustainable management of natural resources.
But the communiqué also stressed that safety measures should be put in place, both at the national and regional levels, as part of the implementation process.
Marcel Nwalozie is from the west and central African Council for Agriculture Research and Development, an umbrella organization that co-ordinates agricultural research for west and central Africa.
"There is no technology that has no risk, but they have safety systems," he said. "So what we are trying to do is assure people that this technologies have risks and we have to put in place safety mechanisms."
Nwalozie says, to take advantage of developments in biotechnology, ECOWAS hopes to get financial support from regional development partners and from other sources.
"We are thinking of a regional approach, given the fact that this technology is expensive, but we know we need it," he added. "So how can we pull our resources together to make sure we are able to use this particular tool? It's not going to be very easy. We expect our development partners to come to our aid, we expect the governments of the various countries gathered here to also mobilize some resources."
The agriculture sector in West Africa faces a number of challenges. Among them are severe weather conditions and inadequate infrastructure, including poor transportation and storage facilities. Some say those issues needed to be addressed instead of adopting modern biotechnology.
But Ernest Debrah, Ghana's minister of Agriculture, says a comprehensive approach is being used.
"We are doing so many things concurrently to make sure that we move forward. So it is not a question of we are doing nothing about the basics, we are doing something about free flow of goods and services, we are doing something about common agriculture policy. What is so important about what we are doing, is that we are now doing all these things as a sub-region."
But the communiqué is only the first step. It is now up to ECOWAS heads of state to implement it.