Food and agriculture in Ghana – a sector in difficulty

Feature Article of Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Columnist: Akoto, Owusu Afriyie

By: Hon
Dr Owusu Afriyie Akoto, MP, Kwadaso

1. Introduction
For some time now, there has been an on-going debate
about the performance of the food and agricultural sector in satisfying the
nutritional and economic needs of the nation. One assessment suggests that the
sector has performed creditably and what is required of it now are more
resources to accelerate development. This
view is typified by The State of The Nation Address delivered by President John
Mahama on 21st February, 2013.

Although it is acknowledged that there have been some
improvements in the well-being of Ghanaian consumers (of staple food) and
agricultural producers, there can be no doubt that large sections of the rising
population continue to suffer deprivation of hunger and rising poverty. This
contrasts sharply with the glorious picture painted by statements such as those
expressed in the latest two State of the Nation addresses.

A close examination of the evidence provided in
publications put out by the Ministry of Food and Agriculture and other
institutions in recent years clearly shows a rather deplorable condition of the
food and agricultural sector. Real growth in agriculture has consistently
nosedived from 7.4% in 2008 to 0.8% in 2011. The share of agriculture in total
allocation has fallen steadily from 3.0% in 2009 to 1.9% in 2012. This has resulted
in reduced food security
for consumers and low productivity and income for farmers.

2. Food

The production of basic food staples (cereals,
legumes, roots and tubers) has seen stagnant growth in the last few years. This
has reduced food security in farming communities and among the poor in urban
areas. The large yearly fluctuations witnessed in the production of maize and
rice and the sharp increase in the imports of rice from 395,400 metric tonnes
in 2008 to 543,465 metric tonnes in 2011 attest to the deepened food insecurity
in Ghana.
The steady growth in the roots and tubers sub-sector
can clearly be attributed to policy initiatives undertaken by the NPP
administration from 2005 onwards. The production of meat and fish which
constitute the bulk of protein supply to Ghanaian consumers has been stagnant in
recent years with corresponding increase in imports to meet domestic
demand. Imports of livestock and poultry products have
risen from about 128,000 metric tonnes in 2008 to just below 140,000 metric
tonnes in 2011 in spite of the punitive levy imposed on poultry products. This
requires urgent attention if protein
deficiency amongst the population is to be arrested.

3. Agriculture
The Ghanaian farmer continues to suffer from low
productivity because of inadequate supply of improved inputs (seeds,
fertilizers, and agro chemicals) and lack of market access and farm credit. The
mass smuggling of subsidized fertilizers and other farm chemicals across our
borders to neighbouring countries is a clear testimony of the failure of farm input
policy. This points to the urgent need to review the current invoice system of input
distribution to farmers.
In spite of the
pressing needs of the farmers, the NDC government has not adopted adequate
measures to reduce the burden of Ghanaian farmers, contrary to the rhetoric and
propaganda. Lack of focus of agricultural policy is reflected in misplaced
emphasis on window-dressing schemes such as the Youth in Agriculture and Block
Farming Programmes. Such programmes designed to address youth unemployment in
the short term, are now absorbing disproportionate public resources away from
the pressing needs of the millions of small-scale farmers around the country
producing the large bulk of agricultural output. The Buffer Stock Company
established by the government in 2009 is highly undercapitalized for the task assigned
to it to support the local grain market.

Inadequate provision of infrastructure and marketing
facilities is deepening poverty among farmers in our rural areas with all the
social consequences. The recurrent
promises contained in the Budgets and State of the Nation Addresses of this
government to provide irrigation and other infrastructure, have remained only a
lip service.

4. Fisheries
The government established the Local Premix Committees
(LPC) to ensure a fairer distribution of premix fuel to fishermen to avoid
artificial shortages. This policy has
clearly failed as persistent reports of shortages abound in all fishing
communities. The fisheries laws (Act 164
and LI 1964), designed to protect the dwindling fish stocks in our coastal and
inland waters and to shore up collapsing annual tonnage of catches, are not being
implemented vigorously for political convenience. This can only deepen the already
poverty levels prevalent in the fisheries sub-sector.

5. Cocoa
The country attained a peak of one million metric
tonnes of cocoa production in the year 2010/2011. This achievement was a result
of policies and programmes adopted by the NPP administration under President
J.A. Kufuor which witnessed the doubling
of production from 360,000 metric tonnes in 2001/2002 to 736,000 metric tonnes
by 2004/2005 and then to one million metric tonnes in 2010/2011.

Since the attainment of this record production there
has been a fall in output to some 879,000 metric tonnes in the 2011/2012 crop season.
It is indicated that production of the current 2012/2013 crop is likely to
yield only 800,000 metric tonnes. This steady reduction is a reflection of the
poor implementation of policies pursued by the NDC administration in the past
four years.
These include:

· Unreliable supply of inputs to farmers;
· The
politicisation of the mass spraying programme;
· Smuggling
of subsidised inputs into neighbouring countries.
· The
inability of the government to pay annual production bonus to farmers on a
timely basis; and
· Delay
in payment to farmers for their produce.

If these measures are not addressed urgently, there is
a danger that production could decline further to the 2004/2005 levels of below
740,000 metric tonnes in the coming seasons.

6. Conclusion
As we can see from the account so far, it is clear
that the state of food, agriculture and cocoa is a deplorable situation. The
NDC in 2008 promised Ghanaians that by the end of 2012 they would have “…
modernised agriculture to assure food security for the people and dependable
raw materials source for industry”. No such deed has happened. The government
has to act urgently to avoid Ghana falling into the Dutch Disease with the emerging
oil and gas industry.

The Author, Hon. Dr. Owusu Afriyie Akoto, is the
Ranking Member for the Parliamentary Select Committee on Food, Agriculture and
Cocoa Affairs