Selective breeding: a way to protect crop yields

The practice of selective seed breeding is not a recent development. Since time immemorial, farmers have known this practice of selecting the best type of their seeds for re-planting. Since the birthing of farming, farmers would take seeds from the biggest and strongest plants and grow them, improving the quality of crops over time. This practice is known as selective breeding.The idea behind this practice is to enable farmers have good yields as a result of planting the best seeds of their saved seeds from their previous growing season. 

Selective breeding or artificial selection simply refers to a process when humans breed plants and animals for particular genetic or desirable characteristics. Breeders select two parents that have beneficial phenotypic traits to reproduce, yielding offspring with those desired traits.

For instance, through the process of selective breeding, ancient farmers were able to develop maize from the teosinte plant. The early Mesoamericans managed to develop corn from its grassy ancestor by selective breeding. Maize was bred from a wild grain called teosinte.

It this ancient process that modern scientists have modified through biotechnology in what is commonly known as Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) or Gene Editing.

Although the ancient procedure yielded some results, biotechnology is specific and achieves a specific purpose unlike the ancient selective breeding which only targeted achieving good yields or big yields.

With modern selective breeding through biotechnology, scientists are able to engineer crops that are able to resist pest and diseases, withstand drought, salty soil, soils with low water holding capacity as well as soils that lack some nutrients. These biotech crops have been developed by scientists because of how the impact of climate change is affecting food crop production in the world, particularly in developing countries such as Ghana.

Farmers in Ghana and other parts of Africa continue to record low crop yields. This is because scientists have warned that when farmers replant from their saved seeds from period to period, it affects the quality of yields.

The GM or biotech technology is one of the fastest adopted technology in the field of agriculture in our world today. Globally, in 2018, cultivated area for biotech crops increased to 191.7 mHa, (2% over the 189.9 mHa in 2017 which also increased by 3% over the 2016 record).

Additionally, over 17 million farmers cultivated various biotech crops in 2017 with major crops under cultivation being maize, soybean, cotton and canola.

According to information sourced from the website of Alliance for Science, biotech maize occupied 58.9 mHa globally, and forms 31 per cent of the global maize production in 2018.

The reason why many farmers are now adopting GM or biotech crops is that these crops have been enhanced to resist pests and diseases as well as the adverse effects of climate change, which currently remained the greatest threat to farming in the world.

Apart from biotech crops resisting adverse effects of climate change, they also reduce the use of agro-chemicals such as pesticides, weedicides and fertilizers. The Science Codex supports this view by saying that “GMOs reduce pesticide use 37%, increase crop yields 22%, and increase farm profits 68%.”

A Graphic Online article of September 20, 2013, titled: “GM crop production making progress” written by Jojo Sam quoted the then Deputy Director at the Ministry of Environment Science and Technology (MEST), Mr Eric AmaningOkoree, of having said that the GM technology is used in food production to improve yields and nutrients or strengthen resistance to diseases and pests.

According to him, Ghana’s interest in biological technology (biotechnology) began in 1992 when it became a signatory to a global convention on biological diversity.

Biotechnology is a safe technology and do not pose threats to humans, animals and the environment in general. For instance, Ghana passed a Biosafety law (Act 821, 2011), to regulate biosafety technology in the country with the purpose of protecting the health of the people and the environment and also allow for commercial production of genetically modified crops. The Act also allows for genetically modified crops to be imported into the country.

Considering the significant number of people in the agriculture sector whose livelihood depend on their crop yields, it will be appropriate for farmers to adopt the right technologies such as the GM crops which have been bred scientifically to achieve optimum results.

By Benedicta Gyimaah Folley

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