We will be remorseful of criminal inattention, without vindication, if we permit the famine in Upper East of Ghana to happen. The area is already poverty stricken with a myriad of issues. Ghana cannot tolerate that guilt.
Concerning practices and policies of government, irrespective of an augmented civic promise to evidence-based policy in our agriculture, too often the outline of certain ‘problems’, and the command to quickly solve them through policies and programmes, turn out to be detached from evidence and thoughtfulness.
In such situations, policy advocates, and policymakers count seriously on ‘common knowledge’, fairy tales and chronicles to change and debate strategy substitutes. Whereas this could be good politics, it is likely to end in pointless policies and development outcomes, particularly when the problems being addressed are allied with manifold occurrences such as poverty, livelihoods and agrarian evolutions.
Development as it is known today could not have progressed, nor can it survive, without an adequate food supply. Hitherto food is somewhat that is taken for granted by most leaders despite the fact that more than half of the population of the world is hungry. Man seems to insist on flouting the lessons obtainable from history.
The discovery of agricultural techniques, did not lastingly untie man from the dread of food deficiencies, hunger, and famine. Even in primitive times, population growth often must have threatened or exceeded man’s ability to produce enough food.
In the book of Genesis, Pharaoh’s dreams and Joseph’s interpretation of forthcoming famine and his planning for it, is recorded: “…And the seven years of shortage began to come, conferring as Joseph had said: and the shortage was in all lands; but in all the land of Egypt there was bread…” For his time, Joseph was prudent, with the support of his God.
But currently we ought to be far cleverer; with the support of our God and our science, we must not only surge our food supplies but also protect them against biological and physical tragedies and to provide storerooms of reserve food in case of need. At the moment, tonnes of maize are wasting away in storehouses in the Northern Region following a superfluity in the market.
To prevent future surpluses, we need to create a solid effective plan and demand for our produce. Deprived of a satisfactory volume of effective demand, no farmer and principally no small-scale, resource-pitiable producer, will devote scarce resources, and take risks, in order to produce surpluses above the requirements of his household except for selling.
Ghana needs to have means of passing on food from the field for the market and for the consumers and other end-users since our marketing is largely informal. The many and diverse actions and means of doing this constitute a defined output distribution system.
Food is rotting in Northern Ghana whilst simultaneously, the Development Research and Advocacy Centre, an NGO in the Upper East noted with worry of a forthcoming famine in the Upper East region of Ghana in the coming few months.
Reliable information from the extension division of the Ministry of Agriculture of the region has established that the region was unable to sow its stable crop: late and early millet, thereby forcing the region’s food basket balance sheet into a hazard. With only a little over two rainfall months left, all signs are that the region is heading to severe famine.
Could we have amended approaches to production produced by research?
Even the school kid knows that Ghana needs an enhanced infrastructure. Man can and must prevent the tragedy of famine in the future instead of merely trying with pious regret to salvage the human wreckage of the famine, as he has so often done in the past.
All sources of food can be summarised into three. These are production, exchange and transfers; which includes food aid. Famine trails upon disappointments of all three. Food production is the primary source of food for the people who (paradoxically) are most vulnerable to famine; small farmers.
Food can also be attained through exchange that is by working for cash or food, bartering or selling assets for food—and market failure or lack of purchasing power is the second source of vulnerability to famine.
In the 2000-2001 farming season, erratic weather conditions triggered famine in Malawi which caused a maize harvest 32% lower than in 2000. In 2005, Niger’s food crisis is still ascribed to a locust raid and drought that overcame crop production. But Niger suffered only a moderate decline in the national grain harvest in 2004–2005, to a level 11% below the 5-year average.
In the case of Ghana, we are lucky that there is prophetic information. A timely and satisfactory charitable response could avert a livelihood predicament from evolving into a famine, but the response should not be late. We require an intervention to lessen susceptibility and risk in each of the three areas deliberated above: production, exchange, and response.
To prevent famine in Ghana, let’s tackle production risk, market risk and response failure. Augmented investment in food production is vital, with the objective of both raising and stabilising crop yields. Secondly, in terms of food access, rural poverty gaps must fall, commodity markets must be strengthened, and infrastructure deficits must be substantially reduced. Finally, in terms of responding to famine threats, social protection that provides guaranteed insurance is preferable to discretionary assistance.
In Northern Ghana, extensive spread tillage and slash and burn practices are leading to reduced soil moisture, lower soil fertility, erosion, crusting and compaction. This has resulted in reduced crop yields, household incomes and livelihood. There is predominance of drought in the north but there are also the Bontanga Dam in Northern region, and the Tono and Vea dams in the Upper East region which could facilitate the production of adequate food to meet needs of the three regions and beyond.
The suggestion has been for farmers to switch to fast growing crops which can mature quickly within even short durations of rain. But if farmers in the North switch to ‘‘fast crops’’ it will again lay too much demand for the major staples and still increase its market costs which many may not be able to afford.
A better pathway could be to farm the Conservation Agriculture (CA) way. CA has significant potential to increase smallholder livelihoods and food security and consequently reduce environmental degradation in Northern Ghana. Introduction and adoption of CA can contribute to increased agricultural productivity, increased food security and improved smallholder livelihoods.
It is also a strategy for adapting to increasing climatic variability due to climate change. Following small-scale success of CA in other parts of the world such as Brazil, Tanzania and Uganda, it is both highly relevant and feasible to introduce and scale CA in Northern Ghana.
CA is a production system that has three core principles, which are basically applied simultaneously. The three principles are minimal soil disturbance (no- tillage), permanent soil cover (cover crops and associated residues or mulches) and suitable and diversified crop rotations. With cover crops and associated residues or mulches, it will help to maintain a buffer moisture content which could supplement the moisture stress causing drought.
Let’s increase research in CA as a process that acknowledges uncertainty in inputs and outputs and taking into consideration that farming environment and climate change at any time through an iterative process to prevent future occurrences. Nearly positively, however, the first vital constituent of social justice is satisfactory food for all mankind. Food is the moral right of all who are born into this world.
“The problems of the world of today cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them” (Albert Einstein)
“Always listen to experts. They will tell you why things cannot work. Then just do it.” (Lazarus Long — Chinese Philosopher, 5000 BC)
The author, David Asare Asiamah is an agriculturalist and the founder of the Agro Mindset Organisation working with a vision emphatically on value chains, entrepreneurship and ‘farming as a business’ which expands support services to entrepreneurs in the valuation and planning of value-added agriculture.