Looming Food Insecurity Amidst COVID-19 Pandemic: Time to Rethink Ghana's Agriculture Model
There's a looming danger for food security in Ghana if immediate steps are not taken to salvage the situation. This follows the abysmal crop yield in the 2020 crop season despite the high volumes of fertilizer and hybrid seeds provided to farmers at a high level of government subsidy under its flagship Planting for Food and Jobs (PFJ) programme. In the 2019 cropping season, the government distributed a total of 295,590 metric tons of subsidized fertilizer to 92% of its 1 million targeted farmers. In the 2020 cropping season, the government targeted to distribute an increase of the quantity of fertilizer to 364,233 metric tons, to farmers. Whiles the quantity of improved seeds distributed to farmers in 2019 was 15,876 metric tons. In 2020, the government targeted an increase of the improved seeds to be distributed to 24,032 metric tons. Maize has been the most favoured crop in all this government support, yet the yield of the crop performed so abysmally.
Last year, around this time in January 2020, the price of maize per 100kg bag, at maize producing areas in northern Ghana was between eighty to ninety Ghana Cedis (Ghs 80.00 - Ghs 90.00). This year, 2021, the same quantity is going for between Ghs170.00 to Ghs200.00 at the farm gates and Ghs250.00 in Tamale, Wa and Bolgatanga and as much as Ghs350.00 in Accra. This hike in the prices of the commodity nationwide was also confirmed by a recent report on Joy Prime News – a reputable national television in Ghana and some radio stations. This is just one month after the harvesting season where food prices are usually low, but for the abysmal yield of the crop. The price of other crops such as groundnuts and soya beans are also very high compared to previous years.
This situation which started in December 2020, compelled poultry farmers to call on the government to grant support for importation of maize and other constituents of poultry feed, which the government has already obliged in a press statement released by the press secretary to the Minister for Food and Agriculture on December 22nd 2020. The first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic already saw several countries including Vietnam, Russia, India, Egypt and many other countries adopt trade restrictions to reduce the export of food and agricultural produce in order to preserve them for local consumption. With the onset of a second wave of the pandemic which appears more dreadful and is causing another round of lockdowns across the world, one wonders if the efforts being made for the importation of grains will yield any substantial results and if they do, for how long can the country continue to look elsewhere for the importation of food and agricultural products? Is there also a guarantee that in these circumstances, the food imports will be cheaper and affordable even to the vulnerable groups?
Faced with the situation at hand, the price of poultry products such as eggs and chicken in the country, has also gone up to meet the increased cost of feed. As chicken and eggs are known to be a cheaper source of protein among vulnerable people, these happenings should be a source of worry for food security and nutrition in the country.
These events should get us all thinking about the sustainability and the propriety of the current agricultural model; as to whether it has delivered on the promise of guaranteeing food security, reducing poverty, hunger and malnutrition, etc. Not to mention the drastic decline in biodiversity, soil health, forest and land degradation, and the destruction and pollution of water bodies.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of Ghana; Agriculture, Forestry and other Land Use forms (AFLU) is responsible for about 30% of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions in the country, causing global warming and contributing to climate change. Yet, this industrial agricultural model has received the highest support in terms of investment by governments and corporations. For example, since its start in 2006, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) has received contributions of nearly USD-$1 billion, with the highest contribution coming from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as the United States, United Kingdom, and other countries including Germany to promote its vision of a “modernized” African agriculture (Tim A. Wise, 2020).
On their part, governments of participating AGRA countries including Ghana, rolled out various forms of Farm Input Subsidy Programmes (FISPs) mainly focusing on the promotion of the use of external inputs such as synthetic agrochemicals and the so-called “high yielding” hybrid seeds particularly maize monocrop, with huge budgetary allocations thereby bolstering AGRA’s campaign for modernizing African agriculture. Years down the line, we still have an agricultural system that is so vulnerable to the impact of climate change and delivering poor results with the slightest climate shocks while the entire food system is faced with imminent collapse as a result of the global pandemic that is prompting food export restrictions by net food export countries.
If there is any lesson at all that COVID-19 pandemic and this year’s abysmal crop yield has thought us all, it is that an agricultural model that is highly dependent on external and foreign inputs is not sustainable in the face of a global pandemic and climate shocks. This should therefore be a wake-up call for governments and all stakeholders to rethink the current agricultural model and explore alternative agriculture that is fit for purpose in the existential climate emergency and global pandemics.
But is there really a better alternative? Certainly yes! The potential of agroecology to address the above challenges is no longer a perception but a reality as there exist numerous glaring examples that can no longer be overlooked. Agroecology presents a solution to agriculture that thrives on less dependence on external inputs, resource use efficiency, builds on and strengthens local knowledge and resources, and works better with and not against nature as it preserves agrobiodiversity, builds food system’s resilience in the face of climate change and global pandemics such as COVID-19. Therefore, if there is ever anytime to think of an agricultural TRANSITION away from this unsustainable agriculture model, then it is now! We can start by taking some deliberate steps, guided by a national policy and corresponding programmes, in a more systematic and coordinated way over a period.
Is it that easy? Certainly not, considering the amount of harm done to the environment and soils over such a long period of pursuing an elusive and harmful agricultural model. It will take some time to heal the damage, but we must start now. Not tomorrow, not next year but NOW! The soils can be healed, the water bodies can be recharged, the degraded land and forest can be restored. We can take back our food sovereignty with less dependence on external inputs. We can build the resilience of our food system against COVID-19 and any future global pandemics. We can reduce the vulnerability of our food system against climate change impacts while reducing its carbon footprint. We can even strengthen its resilience against global economic recessions and shocks. We can do this! It only requires a bold political decision, a commitment backed by an appropriate national policy direction and comprehensive programme support. The positive results from such actions can even be more dramatic than anticipated.
Written by Tontie K. Binado
Programme Manager and Technical Lead on Resilient Livelihoods and Climate Justice, ActionAid Ghana.