By Kwesi Atta Sakyi
With the spotlight now on the critical issue of climate change due to global warming, it has become highly imperative to critically examine the issues of food security, and evaluate our agricultural practices in Ghana. There is the controversial issue of the Plant Breeders’ Bill relating to accepting Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) or scientifically engineered seeds in Ghana. The bill seems to have been laid to rest after much media kerfuffle.
What is essential is to consider the bio-ethics and the sustainability of such ‘cloned’ seeds. Many eye-brows have been raised against the impropriety of such underhand methods of the foreign proponents of GMOs, because they seek to create a dependency syndrome with high economic and financial implications so that we have no capacity to have ownership of our own indigenous seeds, as we will willy-nilly perpetually have to import all seeds from abroad. Is that another form of neocolonialism or economic imperialism?
Our Ghanaian economy has long been characterized by heavy import-orientation, and an equal outward-orientation strategy of exporting unprocessed commodities, among others. This has robbed us of much needed extra foreign exchange, because of little value-addition to our exports. We export raw coffee and cocoa beans, cashew nuts, kola nuts, pineapples, and bananas.
We also export unprocessed timber, bauxite, gold, diamonds, manganese, and lately, crude oil and gas. The annual food import bill is colossal indeed in Ghana. It is all our fault of acquiring insatiable desire for foreign foods such as turkey tails, apples, grapes, cheese, ham, sausages, cornflakes, canned foods, among others. Yet in Ghana, we have our own vintage delicacies such as apapransa, kose, esaato, boodooo or abolo, epitsi, kaakro, tatale, koobi, you name it.
The Indians, Chinese, and Japanese are all self-sufficient in their domestic food needs, and they eat what they grow themselves as they are highly insular and patriotic. Our President, His Excellency, John Dramani Mahama, has called on Ghanaians to patronize made in Ghana goods. This is a clarion call to us all to go back to basics. Dr Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary-General, has been very vociferous in campaigning hard to bring the issue of food security to the agenda and policy arena of African governments at the least opportunity. IFAD, an agency of the UN and World Bank, based in Rome, is equally helping small scale farmers in Africa with loans and other farm inputs.
We in Ghana should realize that reliance on mining will not take us far because minerals are diminishing assets, and are also called robber economy. Gold, diamonds, bauxite, and manganese have been mined for more than a century in Ghana yet we still see no benefits to the local communities where these minerals are extracted. Ghana as a whole has not benefitted as much as those in say South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia, who have benefitted from their natural endowments. Why? Is it because our leaders negotiated poorly at the outset, or because we lack discipline in the use of the mineral royalties and proceeds? Is there a cartel among us who receive the proceeds into their foreign accounts?
However, agriculture is the oldest profession, and it will continue to be the bedrock and mainstay of our economy, because we depend on it for our livelihood. It becomes imperative for us therefore to pay particular attention to agriculture in Ghana, as our population is growing at 2.4% per annum. The Malthusian spectre of Doomsday stares us starkly in the face. We will need also to overcome natural calamities in agriculture such as floods, droughts, bush fires, locusts, army worms, crop diseases such as black boll weevil, capsid bug, iron-rust, among others.
It is estimated in some quarters that the annual cost of importing rice in Ghana is about 500 million dollars; such a stupendous sum, and needless frittering away of our scarce foreign exchange. This excludes incalculable foreign exchange expended on importing other food items such as sugar, flour, frozen meats and fish, dairy items, fruits, among others. Have we become dumping grounds for cheap and highly-subsidised agricultural outputs from other climes and countries? What is the use of a nation which cannot feed itself?
It is cardinal that we pay particular attention to livestock production in Ghana as we have a huge protein deficit in that area. We also need to beef up arable farming, fish farming, hydroponics, aquaculture, and drip-irrigation. We learn on authority that our fish stocks in the Atlantic Ocean are fast depleting due to uncontrolled plastic pollution, discharge of toxic industrial and domestic effluents into the sea, mass rape of the sea resources by huge foreign trawlers which prowl our seas at random and with abandon, among other causes.
Ghana is fortunately located near the Equator, with two rainfall regimes in a year caused by convectional currents, orographic or relief rainfall, and seasonal monsoon rains. Cyclonic rain is rare in the tropics because they are restricted to the temperate regions where we have occluded fronts and a lot of atmospheric instability. Our agriculture is based on rain-fed agriculture, which makes it risky and dicey because of extreme changes in weather patterns.
The Ghana government, over the years, has improved the lot of farmers by increasing producer prices of cocoa and other cash crops. It has also assisted cash crop farmers to cheaply access farm inputs such as spraying equipment, chemicals, hybrid seeds accessed from the Ghana Seed Company, farm extension services, and marketing outfits such as the produce buying agencies, and scholarship schemes for farmers’ children through COCOBOD. It has also funded research in agriculture in places such as the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) at Akyem Tafo, Bunso, Kwadaso, Mpraeso, Nalerigu, among others
Farmers have also been incentivized by organizing farm shows to showcase our farm products, and to afford opportunity to award best farmers. Our farmers have received subsidized farm inputs such as weedicides, fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides, farm machinery, among others from the government. However, the biggest hurdle for our farmers is at the tail-end or downstream part in the supply chain, in the form of well-structured marketing of farm produce.
Many a time, food surplus areas face glut or surfeit of output, with no immediate connection to the food deficit areas, due to poor rural roads, poor storage and preservation facilities, high cost of transportation, lack of information, low market capacity, among other obstacles. This is why our subsistence farmers need to form critical mass cooperatives in order to ease access to the market, and to reduce marketing and transactions costs.
We need structured markets for our farmers so that they can derive optimum revenue for their sweat. The high fluctuations in the business of agriculture has led to some theories being put forward such as the hog cycle, or the explosive and convergent cobweb cycles. To even out such uncertainties and supply-side shocks, interventions are recommended such as having a buffer stock system, and using price targets or minimum price interventions, which are set within a band, around the equilibrium market price, with price ceilings and price-floors.
Our farmers should be spared the spectre of seeing their crops rotting or being bought at give-away prices. Our peasant farmers who engage in subsistence farming should be assisted by the use of IT/IS to have easy connectivity with the markets for easy sale of their produce, especially to those in the urban areas. Rather than empowering our farmers, we find intermediaries in the supply chain who become better off at the expense of farmers. The escalation of food prices in urban areas is caused by the poor distribution networks, and the weakness in the agricultural supply chain.
Labour is scarce these days on the farms because many young graduates do not stay back in the villages to tend their parents’ farms. This is where we are likely to face unsustainability of subsistence farming in Ghana, after the passing away of the older generation. It was funny the other day to read a suggestion on the internet that the Ghanaian government should allow an influx of cheap labour from neighbouring countries to supply cheap labour on our farm estates.
This is where we need to think ahead by establishing commercial farms and plantations, commercial fish farms, and truck and market gardening in the peri-urban areas to sustain agriculture in the long-run. We need to create synergies and tight integration in the agricultural supply chain by linking animal feed makers to the poultry, piggery and other livestock farmers.
We need to link the supermarket chains, stores and retailers at the downstream part of the chain to the farmers. Many young people nowadays think farming is a dirty and menial job, yet many millionaires in the USA are farmers. There is gold in the soil. Our poultry industry in Ghana is dying a slow and natural death because of high cost of input and neglect by the government. Besides, their market is killed by high imports of tasteless frozen meats. The Ghana government should with immediate effect ban meat and chicken imports to make us sustainable in livestock production.
My elder brother who is 87 years, and a retired mason or bricklayer, used to work for the disbanded Animal Husbandry Department under the Ministry of Agriculture. He was once stationed at Amasaman and Pokuase near Nsawam. He later transferred to the derelict and defunct Pomadze Poultry Farm near our hometown, Winneba.
Those were the 60s and 70s when state-run enterprises supplemented the efforts of subsistence farmers, and they served as yardsticks or benchmarks of good practice. We had quality feed produced for sale to livestock farmers, and quality calves, chickens, and piglets for those who wanted to embark on livestock farming. Pomadze Poultry was an excellent enterprise which was killed at a time it was blossoming and serving as a source of quality protein supply in Ghana.
Most of those large-scale commercial farms were funded by government, as models of excellence, under the Kwame Nkrumah regime. It is very sad indeed to reflect now that those farms offered lots of employment opportunities, and they ensured food security. Most of our agricultural experts then were trained in Israel and they were innovative. After the 1966 coup, those viable state-run commercial farms were sold for a song to some underserving local businessmen who ran them down, hence the food deficit in protein sources that we are currently facing in the country.
Ghana now imports lots of tasteless frozen meat products into the country from abroad, thereby indirectly patronizing foreign farmers and emasculating our indigenous producers. This is part of mercantilist beggar-my-neighbour economics reminiscent of the 18th and 19th centuries. I do not know which World Trade Organisation Protocols that we have signed to expose our farmers to so much risk from foreign competitors who supply us sub-standard meats.
This sad state of affairs is tantamount to dependency syndrome and neo-colonialism, whereby we still do not have economic freedom. Nkrumah warned us about such developments in his many writings on the last stage of imperialism and neo-colonialism. We are our own vehicles and instruments for economic and cultural enslavement and incarceration. What compares with our own home-grown chickens, goats, guinea fowls and sheep? Not those insipid and nutritionless frozen meats imported into our country!
In conclusion, I call upon us as Ghanaians, to go back to our roots and develop backyard farming. Those who have the wherewithal should invest heavily in agriculture because it is the backbone of our economy, and it holds the key to the survival of our nation. We need to intensify organic farming in Ghana.
Let us come up with innovative ideas in farming, to increase yield, but not compromising on accepting GMOs lock, stock, and barrel, hook, line, and sinker.