Maize is the most important cereal in terms of production and use in Ghana. The crop is produced in all the five agro-ecologies, characterised by significant climatic variations with frequent periods of drought and other stresses, resulting in crop losses.

In Ghana, the Council for Scientific Research (CSIR) Crops Research Institute (CRI) based in Kumasi has contributed immensely to maize improvement. The contributions of CSIR-CRI Maize Breeding Programme to Ghana’s development can be found in every household where a maize product of local origin is consumed.

The focus of maize breeding at the institute has been to develop stable and high-yielding maize varieties with the capacity to perform well in all the agro-ecologies in Ghana. 

It is estimated that over 80 per cent  of improved maize varieties grown in Ghana were developed and released by CSIR-CRI with support from its partners. Prior to the official release of maize varieties, maize cultivation in Ghana was dominated by unimproved land races whose yield potentials were less than one ton/ha but now hovers around 1.9tons/ha on farmers field (See graph). Other maize-breeding objectives are focused on enhancing nutritional benefits of the crop to consumers. 

Hybrid development

The development of hybrid varieties has been embraced by Maize Breeders at CSIR-CRI. Hybrid breeding is a tedious process that involves the identification of suitable parents which when crossed, will produce offsprings that are far more productive than their parents (Plate 1). Farmers will always have to buy fresh seeds every year/season for planting if they want sustained yields, a situation most Ghanaian farmers have not woken up to! 

Drought resistance/tolerance

Drought constitutes a major threat to maize productivity worldwide. With climate change and irregular rainfall, the need for maize varieties with resistance/tolerance to drought is needed. In collaboration with international partners, CSIR-CRI has developed and released commercial varieties that are drought resistant.

Nutritional improvement

CSIR-CRI was the first research institute/organisation in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa to breed for quality protein maize (QPM) varieties rich in lysine and tryptophan. The famous ‘Obatanpa’ maize variety released in 1992 by CSIR-CRI is currently grown under various names in about 20 African countries and continues to stand tall both in terms of yield and nutritional quality. One estimate showed that over 80 million US dollars have been saved to the country upon the development of QPM varieties. Other nutritionally superior varieties rich in beta carotene and high yielding have been released by CSIR-CRI. Beta carotene rich maize are good for children, pregnant women and poultry. 

Agronomic packages

Important agronomic packages for improved productivity have been developed by the Institute. These range from good land preparation, timely planting, proper planting, fertiliser application, weed management, timely harvesting to proper storage of all the released varieties which are available. 

Challenges and the way forward

The major challenge to maize improvement efforts have been inadequate funding. According to a report prepared by Ghana’s Millennium Development Authority (MiDA), Ghana has a shortfall in maize production of about nine per cent to 15 per cent of national requirements and this is projected to increase. Adequate funding for the development of new varieties is needed to close this gap.

Low adoption of hybrid varieties is another challenge. Rapid adoption of hybrid maize varieties has the potential to triple farmer yields from the current 1.9 tons/ha to over 4.5 tons/ha or even higher in farmers’ fields. 

The challenges of poor seed supply systems in the country cannot be over-emphasised. Perhaps, with the promulgation of the Plant Breeders Bill, maize breeders can liaise with emerging private seed companies to help disseminate newly released hybrid varieties for rapid adoption. 

Other important areas that need research attention are breeding for improved popcorn and sweet corn varieties for the Ghanaian market. Farmers can earn decent incomes from the cultivation of these varieties. However, serious efforts are underway to attract funding from potential donors to support the breeding of these types of maize in the country.

The challenge posed by pests and diseases is not completely won as new and potent pathogens and pests keep emerging. The recent outbreak of army worms in some parts of the country is a case in point which had a toll on maize productivity in 2016. To overcome these challenges requires constant monitoring and breeding interventions to curtail any catastrophic consequences. 

We conclude by requesting the support of the Ghana government, donor agencies and organisations interested in food security to support maize improvement research, particularly at CSIR-CRI, to develop new higher yielding and preferred varieties for the diversified users.

The article was written by 

Allen Oppong, Manfred B. Ewool, Priscilla Ribeiro, K. Obeng-Antwi and Stella A. Ennin

To improve on the health benefit of smoked fish for consumers, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has developed a new oven known as Ahoto to phase out the Chorkor smoker, used by fish processors to smoke fish.

The new ovens emit less smoke and, therefore, have reduced high levels of potential of hydrogen (pH) found in fish, smoked locally using other smokers.

A Technical Advisor to the National Fish Processors and Traders Association (NAFTA), Apostle Dr Queronica Quartey, made this known in an interview with the Daily Graphic in Accra to throw more light on the effects of smoked fish on health.

The interview was after she had made a presentation on “Women in Fisheries” at a consultation programme with stakeholders to gather women’s concerns on gender and women empowerment organised by the Women in Law and Development (WiLDAF).

According to her, recent research shows that smoked fish from Ghana had high pH levels which were not acceptable for human consumption and, therefore, could not pass international standards. 

She said fish smoked using the Chokor smoker had high levels of cancer causing agents and toxic  compounds and needed to be faced out.

Dr Quartey added that a number of improved ovens were, therefore, being developed to salvage the situation.

Explanations

Chorkor smoker is a locally made oven which was developed in the early 1970s by the Food Research Institute (FRI) in collaboration with women fish processors in Chorkor, Accra with assistance from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). 

The oven is widely used for drying fish and was an improvement over the traditional rectangular oven with a fixed surface.

The pH is a measurement of the hydrogen ion concentration in the body. The pH range is from zero to 14, with 7.0 being neutral. Anything above 7.0 is alkaline, and anything below 7.0 is considered acidic. 

A healthy blood pH without cancer has acid + alkaline balance being almost equal. A healthy body is slightly alkaline measuring approximately 7.4.

Apostle Dr Quartey, who is also the Technical Advisor for the West Africa Regional Fisheries Programme, Ghana, said the initial purpose of the Chorkor smoker was to save women from the laborious ways in which they processed fish by smoking.

However, she said, decades later, it had emerged that the high levels of smoke emissions from the oven as oil from the fish dripped directly into the fire, left the fish with high acidic and alkaline levels which could cause cancer and other diseases in the near future.

“Chokor smoker has a lot of cancer causing agents, we should not be consuming fish that would bring us ailments,” she said.

Source: Graphic online

Lifestyles impact heavily on our health, especially the food we eat, but increasingly, the exploitation of our natural resources for our livelihood poses a major risk to our well-being.

The use of weedicides in preparing the land for the cultivation of all kinds of foods and cash crops threatens food security and safety.

Also, the activities of illegal miners do not only threaten land and water bodies but the safety of food and water in the mining communities also.

Scientists warn

For this reason, Ghanaian soil scientists say an imminent medical problem,  including deaths, is likely to hit the country, following the consumption of food crops with ‘heavy metals’ from mining communities.

A recent test conducted by the Soil Research Institute (SRI) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) revealed that most oranges produced from Obuasi, for instance, were contaminated with heavy metals which could be injurious to consumers.

The Director for the SRI in Kumasi, Dr Joseph Opoku Fening, told the Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, Prof. Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, at the end of a two-day familiarisation tour of some institutions under the CSIR in Kumasi last Wednesday.

The research was to determine the threshold levels of chemicals in food crops and it was found out that mercury and lead, which were the main chemicals for mining, were dominant.

Dr Fening said the results were alarming because it was difficult for consumers to know the source of the food items.

The research further revealed that 40 per cent of farmlands have been taken over by illegal miners, popularly called galamsey operators, with the Western Region topping the chart by 70 per cent.

The experts say the phenomenon needs to be reversed quickly to avoid food shortage which can lead to hunger.

Being the main lynch-pin on which agriculture thrives, the institute is urging the government and its relevant bodies to help farmers adhere to its mapping or zoning of the country’s farmlands to ensure increased productivity and quality production.

Depending on the quality of the soil, the country has been demarcated into zones, indicating which particular area or soil is good for a particular crop type.

Dr Fening said the mapping was also to guide investors so that they would not invest in unproductive areas.

Prof.  Frimpong-Boateng also toured the Building and Road Research Institute (BRRI) and Forestry Research Institute of Ghana (FORIG).

Similar researches by WRI

Similar researches by the Water Research Institute (WRI) found that the Birim River contained levels of arsenic higher than the recommended limits of the Ghana Standards Authority (GSA).

The water also contains suspended materials of 1,000 milligrammes per litre (ml/l) which is higher than the 40ml/l allowed by the Water Resources Commission (WRC).

The Birim River takes its source from the Atiwa Forest Range and has been identified by research scientists as one of the most polluted sources of water in the country because of the activities of illegal miners who use all kinds of chemicals in the process.

However, the yellowish water, said to be filled with metals dangerous to human health, is used by vegetable farmers along its banks at Akim Oda and its tributary, Mmor at Akwatia, for irrigation.

Ghana’s mining laws require that mining companies treat water used for mining activities before they are discharged into the environment but in the case of the illegal miners, water bodies are the centre of operation, a situation that makes communities living along the river vulnerable to the risks of the dangerous chemicals. 

Communities along the Birim depend on it heavily for both domestic and agricultural purposes, a situation that makes them vulnerable.

With little regard for the environment, the illegal miners mine in the river, close to the river banks or direct the course to mine minerals from the river basin.

WHO warnings

Traces of two heavy metals, arsenic and mercury, found in the river by the WRI research, have been tagged as harmful by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Although the WRI found small traces of the dangerous chemicals in the river, the WHO paints a deadly picture of the chemicals, saying even small amounts may cause serious health problems, and are a threat to the development of the child in the womb.

According to the WHO, arsenic is highly toxic in its inorganic form and water contaminated with the chemical used for drinking, food preparation and irrigation of food crops poses the greatest threat to public health.

 On the other hand, mercury, the more popular of the two chemicals, in illegal mining, is considered by WHO as one of the top 10 chemicals or groups of chemicals of major public health concern.

“Mercury may have toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, and on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes. People are mainly exposed to methylmercury, an organic compound, when they eat fish and shellfish that contain the compound,” the organisation said on its website.

President on environment

The alarming rate of the destruction of the country’s environment was not left out of President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo’s Independence Day speech last Monday.

“We are endangering the very survival of the beautiful and blessed land that our forebears bequeathed to us. The dense forests that were home to varied trees, plants and fauna have been largely wiped out. Today, we import timber for our use, and the description of our land as a tropical forest no longer fits the reality. Our rivers and lakes are disappearing, and those that still exist are all polluted.

“It bears repeating that we do not own the land, but hold it in trust for generations yet unborn. We have a right to exploit the bounties of the earth and extract the minerals and even redirect the path of the rivers, but we do not have the right to denude the land of the plants and fauna nor poison the rivers and lakes,” the President said.

NPP manifesto on forest sector

In its manifesto, the New Patriotic Party (NPP) outlined plans, including promoting sustainable water resource management, ecotourism\launch of an apiculture forest conservation programme, support conservation of biodiversity and priority ecosystems, support bamboo and rattan plantation development and restoration of degraded areas and plantation establishment. 

The government’s policy on forestry resources seeks to rehabilitate degraded forest reserve areas through the planting of fast-growing indigenous and exotic species, conservation and sustainable use of natural resources.

The manifesto targets 30,000 hectares of degraded areas within and outside forest reserves for reforestation and plantation development, using fast-growing indigenous and exotic species.

The party also pledged to conduct regular assessments of effluent into our river bodies with the view to controlling pollution.

Source: Graphic Online

The Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI) is to set up a business development unit to help highlight various technology and innovations of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

“You have done a lot except that people do not know what you are doing, and we will make it known to the public so that what is happening here would be highlighted because it is good for our nation,” Professor Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, the Sector Minister, has said.

“If I look at what is happening in the area of water research, it will improve not only the health of Ghana but businesses and also your incomes as well,” he said.

Dr Frimpong-Boateng was speaking during an interaction with management and staff of the Water Research Institute of the CSIR in Accra. 

During a working visit to the institute, Prof. Frimpong-Boateng said he was very impressed with the work that went on at the CSIR, especially the Water Research Institute and that the change Ghana wanted would start from the Ministry, because without science and technology agriculture would not improve and there would be no industries.

“My joy is that the President of the Republic has set the tone and I am serious with what I am saying, he has said that we cannot continue like this, we cannot continue to rely on an economy that is based on the export of raw materials alone but we need to go into industrial goods and services and be independent from foreign capital and influence. This is what CSIR is about,” he said. 

He said government had also planned to increase research and development budget from 0.3 per cent to one per cent and ultimately to 2.5 per cent of Gross Domestic Product which would help in the innovation, modification and improvement of the country.

The Minister expressed misgivings over the wanton pollution and destruction of the environment with pesticides, weedicides and plastic waste saying; “I wish we could ban weedicides which is destroying our land”. 

“We have to take a stand on weedicides; it affects crops like yam and the habitats of animals and birds like vulture. Weedicides also affect the pollination by insects,” he said.

Dr Victor Agyemang, the Director General of CSIR, said the Centre was bracing itself to work with government to ensure the economic progress that Ghana sought.

He said the one village one dam policy project and the one district one factory programme of the new government would well fit into the activities and work of the CSIR and the staff was ready for any collaboration.
Dr Agyemang said there were 10 issues of national interest which the Council had prioritised and needed special attention.

These were illegal mining which was destroying most water bodies, aquaculture decline, the need to monitor the constant treatment of sachet water, issues of industrial effluent discharge into water bodies, pollution of ground water by oil the sector as well as the challenge of commercialising the technologies of CSIR. 

He said there was also the issue of encroachment of CSIR lands, the use of pesticides and its effects on surface water bodies and water rigs and funding research.

 

Source: GNA

A proposal has been made to the government to rehabilitate existing or abandoned dams in order for it to realise its vision of one village, one dam. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research-Water Research Institute (CSIR-WRI), which made the proposal, said: “The majority of such dams are either heavily silted or have collapsed in sections due to heavy overland flows and weak construction.”

At an in-house seminar in Accra held yesterday to review its activities over the years, the CSIR-WRI also proposed that the government should identify new communities and construct new dams to serve their needs as well as boreholes to meet domestic and animal watering needs.

Speaking on the theme: “Rainwater harvesting for livelihood support (Towards the government’s one village, one dam project)”, a  senior research scientist, Dr Frederick Amu-Mensah, said: “To enhance the effectiveness and value of the dams to the communities, CSIR-WRI proposes the introduction of aquacultural practices to improve the nutritional and income earnings of the communities.”

He also called on the government to create storage by creating dugouts in the flow paths in the northern parts of the country where, he said, the lands had “fairly even elevations making it difficult to dam water courses where there are no natural barriers”.

He said the CSIR-WRI “had expertise in training the communities to better manage the facilities and to conduct social and anthropological studies to help reduce negative human influences of the dam and its use”.

Proposed baseline study

Presenting a proposed baseline study on water storage and management, a research scientist, Dr Esther Wahaga, said the CSIR-WRI was proposing to undertake a project on water storage and management for livelihood support in the northern part of the country.

She said the three northern regions were known for their unreliable short rainy season and long dry season which did not promise a dependable water supply for domestic, irrigation and industrial use.

Dr Wahaga, therefore, said a baseline study would help to establish the status of water storage and management practice and techniques, as well as water usage in the three regions.

The acting Head of the WRI, Dr Barnabas Amisigo, who gave an overview of the review activities of the WRI, said the institute aimed at providing appropriate technologies for water resource management, among other activities.

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