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Opinions Fri, 13 Apr 2012

Should Food Security Be An Issue In The 2012 Elections

Ghana has been hailed as a ³beacon of hope² on the African continent due to

its record of political stability and progress in development areas. In

about seven months from now the country will once again go to the polls to

judge the governance of the current NDC led regime, and the question is what

this judgment by the people should be based on.

In a recent article the author stated that, ³regrettably in Ghana, campaign

stump speeches both in the past and even in recent times have been high on

form and very low on substance.²

According to the author Issues, ideas, policy alternatives on health,

education, shelter, food security, national security, energy, mass transit

etc. feed political discussions in countries that are development oriented.

Food security has been high on the global agenda since 2008 and the world,

including Ghana, reeled under high and volatile food prices caused by the

2008 ­ 09 food crisis, a crisis that was followed by the 2011 ­ 12 food

crisis. These crises drove millions more people into poverty and thus

placing them at risk of malnutrition and starvation.

Various figures have been bandied about in Ghana about poverty levels

ranging from 12 million plus as stated by the Gallup pole to 18.2% as stated

by Mr. Kwaku Antwi-Boasiako Sekyere, Deputy Minister of Employment and

Social Welfare.

These figures alone dictate that food security and poverty alleviation

should be very high on the agenda for the 2012 elections in Ghana.

The problem is that politicians regard an issue such as food security as a

³low interest² issue, and as such the debate is focused on personal attacks

on each other and ³high interest² issues such as corruption.

Food Security as Election Agenda

Food Security Ghana (FSG) has criticised the current and previous

governments because of their apparent lack of understanding of what food

security is really all about.

Once again we will repeat what the international community understand under

the concept of food security.

The World Food Summit of 1996 defined food security as follows, ³Food

security, at the individual, household, national, regional and global levels

[is achieved] when all people, at all times, have physical and economic

access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs

and food preferences for an active and healthy life²

Food Security v Food Self-sufficiency

Food security does not mean that a country must be 100% self-sufficient in

all forms of food. The key word is ³access², and since the beginning of

mankind nations have filled gaps in the access to food through trade,

meaning importing and or exporting food.

Since the change of government in 2008 - 09 the government has consistently

through public statements defined food security to be synonymous with food

self-sufficiency. This ³war² on imports have lead to short-term policy

decisions that have been to the detriment of the people in Ghana.

A policy of food self-sufficiency is laudable if it is achievable. The

United Nation¹s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and food analysts

all over the world agree with that.

The problem is not with the vision or mission, but with its implementation.

Two industries in Ghana has been under the spotlight by the government,

namely the rice and poultry industries.

Policy statements and indeed promises by the government about these two

industries have bordered on deceit of the people of Ghana.

Both industries are only able to supply about 30% of local demand, and are

as such heavily dependent on imports of the foodstuff. In addition both

industries are subject to very low productivity levels and indeed very low

quality problems. The investments required to lift both productivity and

quality are huge in both money and time terms.

The Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) have made various promises to

the people of Ghana.

In terms of rice the initial promise was that Ghana would become

self-sufficient within two to three years. When that deadline expired, the

promise was that importation would be halved by October 2012. That promise

is very unlikely to be fulfilled. Both these promises were backed by

promises of resignation, also highly susceptible promises.

As far as poultry is concerned the government promised to ban the

importation of poultry by 2013, something that FSG just can¹t see as

feasible.

As stated before, the problem does not lie in the policy or propaganda, but

in the feasibility to deliver. If a feasible timeframe for implementation is

10 years and it is backed by a sensible transformation plan, all the people

in Ghana will applaud it. However, if it is propaganda for political gain

then the people of Ghana should reject both the plan and the people behind

it.

Tariffs and Duties

FSG has for a long period been very critical of the government¹s policy on

tariffs and duties.

Certain basic foodstuff including rice and cooking oil is subject to very

high tariffs (37% in Ghana compared to 12.5% in Ivory Coast) under the guise

that it is to protect the local industries.

While it is true that countries use tariffs and duties to protect local

industries, such policies work effectively when the industry is in a state

of self-sufficiency.

India may serve as perfect example. Its rice industry is a net exporting

industry and import duties are as high as 70%. In 2009, however, the Indian

government foresaw a local shortfall in production and realised that

importation would be essential. To help its consumers, it reduced import

duties during the period of shortages from 70% to 0%.

Another aspect is the exemption of basic foodstuff from taxes such as VAT.

In South Africa, for example, fourteen basic foodstuffs are totally exempt

from the payment of VAT to help the poor.

Current policies in Ghana are not only shortsighted, but are indeed harmful

to millions in the country who are struggling to make ends meet.

Food Statistics

Although MOFA has done a lot to bring transparency in terms of reporting on

food issues via their revised web site, the very basis of those figures have

been questioned for a long time.

There is a truth in management that can¹t be ignored, namely that you can¹t

manage it if you can¹t measure it.

As part of the 2012 debate the people of Ghana should insist to know the

true situation with regards to the gathering of information as false

information will ensure misguided application of taxpayers¹ money.

Shortages and Surpluses (The Food Balance Sheet)

The publication of a ³Food Balance Sheet² (FBS) for Ghana is a major step

forward, subject to verification of the statistics underlying the Balance

Sheet.

The Food Balance Sheet is described as follows by the FAO:

³A food balance sheet presents a comprehensive picture of the pattern of a

country's food supply during a specified reference period. The food balance

sheet shows for each food item i.e. each primary commodity availablity for

human consumption which corresponds to the sources of supply and its

utilisation. The total quantity of foodstuffs produced in a country added to

the total quantity imported and adjusted to any change in stocks that may

have occurred since the beginning of the reference period gives the supply

available during that period. On the utilisation side a distinction is made

between the quantities exported, fed to livestock + used for seed, losses

during storage and transportation, and food supplies available for human

consumption. The per capita supply of each such food item available for

human consumption is then obtained by dividing the respective quantity by

the related data on the population actually partaking in it. Data on per

capita food supplies are expressed in terms of quantity and by applying

appropriate food composition factors for all primary and processed products

also in terms of dietary energy value, protein and fat content.²

Even though Ghana¹s FBS has a long way to go in order to provide the full

picture, it is a good beginning.

The FBS clearly indicates shortfalls and surpluses of the food production of

a country. What it does not show is what government policy is with regards

to major shortfalls or surpluses.

A lot is being said about rice and poultry, but nothing about items such as

wheat and sugar where local production according to the FAO 2007 FBS for

Ghana indicates a 100% dependence on imports. The question is therefore what

government¹s policy is both with regards to local production and tariffs and

duties? Should such foodstuff not be exempted from both VAT and import

tariffs?

FSG hopes that either the government of the day or the opposition will

clearly spell out policies with regards to all major items on the FBS with

regards to aspects such as local development, investments and tariffs and

duties.

Investment

Before the emergence of a global food-price crisis, African leaders pledged

to increase support for agriculture. Recognising the importance of a strong

agricultural sector for economic growth and poverty reduction, they made a

commitment to invest 10 percent of their national budgets in agriculture by

2008.

The picture with regards to Ghana is not that clear. It seems as though a

large percentage of planned investment in agriculture is based on grants and

other external sources that may or may not realise.

The MOFA Minister, Mr. Kwesi Ahwoi, has publicly indicated that investment

in agricultural research is totally insufficient.

Without sufficient and well-directed investment in agriculture, food

security in Ghana can¹t be guaranteed and this should be high on the

political agenda for 2012.

Many Other Issues

Besides for the points mentioned above there are many more issues that need

to be clarified in terms of food security in Ghana. These issues should also

surely be a major yardstick for Ghanaians to judge where their vote should

go in 2012, and FSG can only propagate, hope and pray that Ghanaians will

ask the right questions before committing their votes.

In following issues FSG will explore these and other topics further to

hopefully provide a better platform for Ghanaians before the elections in

2012.
Columnist: Food Security Ghana