By: Samuel Abroquah/ www.africanakua.com, Ghana
The global pandemic, COVID-19, continues to battle various sectors of our economy without sparing the agricultural sector, which happens to be the backbone of Ghana’s economy. Agriculture, which provides employment for approximately 60% of Africa’s population has been adversely affected by the pandemic.
As the countries on the African continent are being locked-down, their boarders being closed, bans being put on public gatherings, movements being restricted etcetera it is certain that food production and availability would be adversely affected in diverse ways if contingent strategies are not put in place. This comes to buttress the projections of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), which indicates that Africa’s GDP is likely to drop from 3.2% to 1.8%. What’s more, the prediction is proof that extreme poverty and hunger will increase on the continent.
COVID-19, the ravaging virus, though a health crisis, has indirectly made significant, agriculture; as well as exposing laughable preparation of leadership and individuals of as far as food security is concerned. The current happenings have offered us the opportunity to clearly see in another dimension how food is in many ways linked to health.
Apparently, the wide spread of the virus has significantly tested and challenged three major areas of Ghana’s agriculture, thus: our Production Systems, our Supply Chain and our Food Commodity Preference and Production systems. Majority of our farmlands are under rained agriculture hence the time to undertake some crucial farm activities side-by-side with information on weather conditions and seasonal dates.
This is the time to plant or plough so that farmers do not miss the rainy season. It is rather unfortunate that the partial lockdown (though it has already been lifted) and the restriction on movement to public places in Ghana has constrained movement and this has immensely affected the availability of farm inputs and other farm services since rural farmers could not access city centers and tractor service providers. For example farmers have the challenge of accessing spare parts and other mechanical repair services.
This situation has invariably discouraged a number of poor farmers who do not want to take the risk of late planting. Among some youth farmers, the conventional decision is to do few acreages in the major season in anticipation of more acreages in the minor season probably when normal activities resume.
The poultry industry which already needs pragmatic support to be able to pare the high importation of frozen chicken into our country has not been exempted from the adversities. Aside the difficulty associated with getting imported day-old chicks, feed ingredients such as soya bean meal, wheat brand and layer/broiler concentrates (most of imported source) are gradually becoming hard to find and the few available ones have their prices hiked.
To date, registered farmers of the government flagship program Rearing for Food and Jobs (RFJ) (a policy to revamp the poultry industry) are still awaiting the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) to deliver as stipulated by the policy.
The Ghana Agricultural Sector Investment Program (GASIP), the major promoter of Youth in Agriculture is yet to supply its 2020 season’s first batch of inputs to youth FBOs (Farmer Base Organizations) who are immeasurably benefiting from this life relieving program even though the first season is about half spent.
The Ministry of Trade and Industry in collaboration with Rural Enterprise Program, IFAD and 58 selected District Business Advisory Centers are at the verge of executing fifty eight (58) agro-processing industries under the One District One Factory (1D1F) initiative. The selected candidates for this project who are supposed to take a four (4) month mandatory business training are currently on hold as the ban on public gathering remains. These and the likes have affected food availability and have the tendency to polarize food security post COVID-19.
The food supply chain provides a lot of jobs for transport services and women who purchase from farm gate and sell to retailers in our towns and cities. When government propounded restriction on movement and deployed military personnel into towns and cities to enforce the partial lockdown, the activities of food supply chain actors were precluded. This has negatively affected the already frail rural-urban food network as fewer middlemen moved into farming communities to buy.
The drastic reduction in the number of fresh food retailers in our market and the decision of some managers to close down restaurants, hotels and other local eateries has reduced bulk purchase of fresh foods massively.
Subsequently, a pretty good number of women suspended the carting of fresh foods from rural communities due to fear of spoilage from the slower pace observed in the purchasing of fresh foods.
Owing to the poorly managed food supply chain, price hikes set in and that deterred majority of people from buying fresh foods. A typical scenario is where people will buy a tomato paste which has relatively not increased in price instead of buying fresh tomatoes whose price has increased.
For animal farmers like those in the poultry industry, festive seasons are moments for peak market. Unfortunately, the 2020 Easter failed to give poultry farmers the spotlight they always enjoyed during such seasons. The ban on public gathering, social ceremonies and families reduced visitation to relatives and all other activities rounded in the celebration of Easter got boycotted, market for animal products have equally dwindled.
The next batch of farmers to be hit by a similar misfortune is ruminant farmers if conditions still persist through out Ramadan. The resulting price that farmers may have to bear is an increase in the number of mortality and high cost of production as they must continue to feed and manage their animals until they are plugged in the later days.
Food Commodity Preference
In the midst of all these open challenges, there is still a hidden threat to our food system. In times like Covid-19 era and during festivities in Africa, especially in Ghana, institutions, organizations and individuals give charitably to the needy. One paramount thing that occurred was, approximately 60% to 70% of the packaged food shared were food from imported sources rather than local fresh foods. Surprisingly, people prefer sardines or imported canned fishes to fried fishes from our fishery sector.
Rice is now chosen over corn whose price has not increased. Corn is eaten across all ethnic groups in Ghana. It is very obvious that our unprecedented taste for foreign foods if not curtailed can propel the collapse of our food system.
For most low-income earning families, the interest is not in the rising number of COVID-19 cases but an unrest as hunger hit their homes. Before we hit the rock bottom as a nation, we admonish government agriculture policy makers to focus on extensive investment into our farming system to make them more resilient. Already existing policies and programs should be attended to with all proactivity rather than turning a blind eye to them with all our attention on the coronavirus.
Besides, financial institutions should support farmers in the form of interest-free loans with long payment periods to cushion them from the business shocks they are experiencing in this trying time. In order to reduce food wastage hefty investment in food processing is earnestly needed to save food and put food in the forms most preferred.
Farmers on the other hand as a form of alimentation to government effort must establish and develop their input and food supply network. They must learn to build trust with customers and input dealers such that there would not always be the need for in person contact before business can be transacted. Youth “agripreneurs” can leverage on this opportunity to develop innovative platforms that connect agriculture value chain players to engage in business without in person contact.
Nevertheless, the entire citizenry should with immediate effect truncate our uncontrolled taste for imported food and patronize fresh foods cultivated by our gallant farmers. We must be well informed that our choice of food commodities invariably has effect on the economy at large. In the end, we must always know that there has not been a time like now that we ought to eat more of what we grow and grow more of what we eat.
These and other proactive measures can catapult us into a more food secured state than to usher our nation into extreme hunger post COVID-19.4