Food Security Ghana 2011: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Sat, 31 Dec 2011 Source: Food Security Ghana

In less than two weeks the world will wave goodbye to 2011. It was an eventful year with a mixture of good, bad and ugly on many fronts including on the front of food security - globally and in Ghana.

Global Food Crisis Here to Stay In 2011 the world acknowledged that the 2007 - 2008 food crisis never really ended, but that it evolved into the 2010 - 2011 food crisis. This was foreseen in November 2009 when the World Bank warned of the looming “new crisis”.

In Ghana barely one month after this warning, however, the government announced that the food crisis was a thing of the past and re-introduced stiff import duties on basic foodstuffs such as cooking oil, rice and others while declaring a policy of self-sufficiency.

While Ghanaians were forced to endure the insensitivity of such measures, the world came to a realisation that nearly one billion people are permanently “hungry”, and that food production will have to increase by 70% between now and 2050 to feed a population of nine billon people after the seventh billion child was born in 2011.

During 2011 the impact of the food crisis on developed countries such as the USA and Europe became a hot topic for the first time with indications that the crisis is no longer confined to the poor in developing countries.

The Arab Spring and Popular Uprisings The year 2011 also saw the explosive Arab Spring, otherwise known as the Arab Awakening - a revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests occurring in the Arab world that began on Saturday, 18 December 2010. To date, there have been revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt; a civil war in Libya resulting in the fall of its government; civil uprisings in Bahrain, Syria, and Yemen, the latter resulting in the resignation of the Yemeni prime minister; major protests in Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, and Oman; and minor protests in Lebanon, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Western Sahara. Clashes at the borders of Israel in May 2011 and thePalestine 194 movement are also inspired by the regional Arab Spring.

Numerous factors have led to the protests, including issues such as dictatorship or absolute monarchy, human rights violations, government corruption, economic decline, unemployment, extreme poverty, and a number of demographic structural factors, such as a large percentage of educated but dissatisfied youth within the population.

Increasing food prices and global famine rates have also been a significant factor, as they involve threats to food security worldwide and prices that approach levels of the 2007–2008 world food price crisis.

It is important to note that there are overlapping factors in democratic countries such as Ghana that led to the uprisings: * Corruption; * Unemployment; * Extreme poverty; * A large percentage of educated but dissatisfied youth within the population; * Increasing food prices; * Insensitive governance.

Uprisings, whether through the democratic process or otherwise, will be a key issue of concern for governments in developing countries including Sub-Saharan Africa. Ghana will be going to the polls in November 2012, and the above factors will be high on the agenda of Ghanaians.

Famine and Malnutrition in Africa The famine that spread across the Horn of Africa didn't receive the headlines or saturation coverage, but the worst famine to hit Africa in 20 years threatened more lives than all other disasters this year combined.

The crisis was declared an emergency by the U.N. in July, the result of a toxic combination of war, poverty, high food and land prices and the worst drought in 60 years.

At its height, the famine threatened the lives of millions, but by late November it appeared to turn a corner thanks to the aid effort s the U.N. lifted the famine warning from much of the region.

While the crisis in Somalia and surrounds is far from over, a new saga about a major crisis that will hit the Sahel in 2012 is unfolding. Erratic rains in 2011 have produced a poor harvest across much ofNiger, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Burkina Faso. Cereal production is down across the region compared to the five-year average, with Mauritania and Chad showing a 50% deficit on last year, according to Oxfam.

The UN children's agency Unicef is warning that more than 1 million children across the Sahel are facing severe malnutrition. The agency has already begun ordering therapeutic foods and distributing emergency stocks.

"A tragedy will be averted only by an unprecedented effort in the Sahel," according to Unicef's regional director, David Gressly.

Rising Concerns in Ghana The year 2011 also saw the third year of the Mill’s led NDC (National Democratic Congress) rule and “Better Ghana” Agenda.

It is significant to note that agriculture was not mentioned once in the introduction by President Mills in the NDC’s 2008 Manifesto. What is more alarming and probably indicative of the government’s performance to date is that not one mention was made of a global food crisis and how the NDC will ensure food security for Ghanaians in the light of the crisis that was at its height in 2008.

Agricultural development since 2009 when the new government took over the rule in Ghana has been driven by FASDEP (Food and Agriculture Sector Development Policy)I (2003) and II (2007) that were developed by the previous government.

In 2010 - 2011 it became apparent that the government was not able to implement the policy and that major problems plagued the fulfilment of promises to the sector and Ghanaians in general: * Late delivery of support by the government in terms of mechanical support and fertilisers, resulting in well below than expected yields; * Smuggling of subsidised fertilisers to neighbouring countries where high prices are on offer; * Uncontrolled extension of credit to farmers that could not be recovered; * Continued underinvestment in agricultural research and development; * Little progress in improving road infrastructure and access to markets for farmers; * Questionable claims of the creation of youth employment via the so-called “Block Farm” initiatives; * Questionable statistics and contradicting statements about the true state of agriculture; * Confusion about the interpretation of what food security is and relating that to food self-sufficiency.

It in fact took the government more than two years to compile METASIP (Medium Term Agriculture Sector Investment Plan). METASIP was announced in July 2011 as the saviour of failed policy implementation.

At the commemoration of Farmers’ Day 2011 on 2 December 2012 the government emphasised its policy of “modernisation” of the agricultural sector by announcing the “end of the cutlass and hoe” farming. This was met by severe criticism from both consumers and farmers. On the one hand consumers cried out about the “dwindling size of kenkey as farmers celebrate their day”, while farmer spokespersons indicated that the terrible state of roads in rural areas are leading to massive post-harvest losses and inaccessibility to markets. In addition high costs of production make it difficult for local farmers to compete with cheaper and higher quality imported foodstuff.

An even bigger concern was raised by smallholder farmers - who represent more than 70% of farming activity in the country - that the modernisation policy and drive by the government ignores and marginalises those who are the real providers of food security and that this policy will have dire consequences in the future.

In addition the 2011 performance of the sector and 2012 budget allocations have raised eyebrows. The expected 2011 growth falls well short of target - 2.8% compared to a target of 5.3% and a 2008 election promise of 6%.

Initial analyses of the budget (more to follow) indicates that 50% of the MOFA (Ministry of Food and Agriculture) budget is made up of external grants and aid, and as such the actual contribution from own resources is well below the committed 10%.

In addition the government conceded that current budgets for agricultural research is not nearly sufficient. Mr. Kwesi Ahwoi, Minister for Food and Agriculture, announced in late November 2011 that “the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning (MOFEP) should come up with modalities on appropriate funding mechanisms for agricultural research.”

The defeat by the food and agricultural Minister in recent NDC primaries also came as a shock and has placed a major question mark on whether the government’s claimed performance in the food and agricultural sector is really an achievement or whether there is much more than meets they eye.

It will also be remembered that Mr. Ahwoi has now twice promised to resign if he does not meet “his” targets. The first promise was made in September 2009 and expired in September 2011, and to date he has not accounted on the promise. Has he achieved “his” targets or not?

The second promise becomes due in October 2012, a few months before the general election, in that he promised on television “he would resign in a year, if he is unable to halve rice importation into the country.”

The issue of rice production and importation has become a major issue during the present government’s rule.

In a significant statement (August 2011) Dr Mamaa Entsua Mensah, Deputy Director General of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), said about 70 per cent of rice consumed in Ghana was imported and these importations had been consistently high since 2001. She also said that despite the efforts made in local rice production the cost of production was high and uncompetitive in the domestic market due to relatively cheaper imported rice.

This really sums the situation up. Despite exorbitant high import duties (37% in Ghana compared to 12.5% in Ivory Coast), local producers are unable to compete due to high cost of production, low productivity (yield) and low quality.

Although everybody agrees that a reduction of the supply / demand gap for rice and other imported foodstuff must be a medium to long term strategy for Ghana, analysts also have no doubt that this gap can’t be wiped out in the time promised by the government.

The issue is really about food security and to what extent the guardians of food security in the country, the government, is acting in the best interest of the people of Ghana in the short, medium and long term.

Food security according the FAO definition is about four basic things: * Availability; * Affordability; * Nutrition, and * According to the preference of the people.

When certain foodstuff according to the preference of the people is not available from local production, is more expensive than alternative sources and is less nutritious than other sources, then consumers and market forces will find a way to fill the need created by these imbalances.

The bottom line is that the world and Ghana is in the middle of a food crisis that only promises to get worse in 2012. The year 2011 has produced more bad and ugly than good, and our wishes and hopes are that 2012 will see a reversal of this situation. Such a reversal is a global and national responsibility, and those in power will be asked to account for their actions by the millions who are suffering as a result of inaction, wrong action or total insensitivity while acting.

Food Security Ghana http://foodsecurityghana.com

Columnist: Food Security Ghana