K. B. Asante: Ghana can and should feed herself
5/19/2008 1:05:45 PM -
Our leaders and commentators have rightly called attention to the growingm shortage of food in the global village. We cannot completely insulate ourselves from the hurricanes which rage around; but we need not be prostrated by every draught. There should be no serious food shortage in Ghana provided we act wisely.
Unfortunately many of us focus attention on what is happening in the world at large and what can be done within the global context. We then look for solutions outside Ghana.
We think of how to get some of the rice, which is short in the global village. Some who do not see beyond the free market economy and self-interest advocate the reduction of tariffs on rice so that the people do not have to pay so much for rice whose price is high on the world market.
It sounds like a wise proposition. Moreover in an election year politicians would like to take or propose measures, which appear to keep the cost of living down. But the proposal for cheaper foreign food imports is a recipe for unnecessary dependence and agricultural decline. The people must resolutely oppose any measures, which promote unhelpful changes in tastes, and suffocate local food production.
Let us deal firstly with changes in tastes and habits. Rice is not a staple food in Ghana. Neither is wheat or bread. Both became important food items while the production of rice which we can produce was not adequately encouraged.
We cannot put the clock back but we should know that wheat products such as bread were delicacies not so long ago. Bread was the present to carry when one travelled into the hinterland. That was how the bread market at Nsawam developed. Before the Accra-Winneba road was constructed, to go to the West and North, one generally had to go to Nsawam and then turn to Swedru for Cape Coast and Takoradi.
To continue with the change in palate, thanks to food aid and change in life-styles, bread and wheat have generally become important items of food at least for a vocal minority. Some workers find bread and flour preparations convenient and affordable. You can wash the bread down with water and no fish is required!
We cannot grow wheat here economically but the people can be provided with affordable access to locally produced food.
So far as rice is concerned, we can grow it.
Rice production grew when the imported commodity became scarce during the Second World War. At school we were introduced to greyish brown rice from the Western Region. We did not like it.
Almost every class was then turned into a seminar on ‘beriberi’, a disease caused by a deficiency of vitamin B. Brown rice we were taught had vitamin B. We were persuaded to enjoy the rice from the western region while brown rice became popular in the school.
Local production of rice was not encouraged after the war, as imported rice flooded the market. But rice was not cheap. Even well to-do families had it occasionally say once a week on Sundays while for the bulk of the population rice was enjoyed only at parties.
Rice production picked up again in the forties. I think the National Investment Bank (NIB) had a lot to do with this. Its head, Mr J. S. Addo now of Prudential Bank is a member of the Council of State and has unsurpassed knowledge about the use of credits and monitoring to promote agriculture.
If we really want food security we cannot ignore past efforts; successes and failures and the committed role of investment banks, especially the Agricultural Development Bank (ADB) can play. This is not the time to think of getting rid of banks charged with agricultural development.
Rice production flourished during the Acheampong regime. Indeed food production had a major boost with the Operation Feed Yourself programme and the strategy of "Eat what you grow and grow what you eat". Devaluation arrested the growth of the rice industry in the north and helped to strangle it.
It must be pointed out that the devaluation was necessary but not competently executed. Hardly any measures were taken to prevent necessary industries like rice production and fishing from collapsing.
Rice farmers could not afford the harvesters and other machines and implements required and our fishing vessels could not afford stores required on the high seas because of devaluation. It was a disaster for these industries and we have not recovered from the bad consequences of devaluation policies.
This brief excursion into the past should convince us that we can do a lot to avoid a food crisis not only for now but for the foreseeable future. We should not reduce tariffs on food we can produce but increase them.
Meanwhile, we should take vigorous action to increase production and deliver products in a manner and ways acceptable to the population.
Food should be enjoyed and not only to satisfy hunger. But the people who produce cocoa, gold, and other minerals to enable us to pay our way in the harsh global environment will not for ever look unconcerned while the inadequate foreign exchange produced is used, to import perfumed, super long-grain snow-white rice for the few to enjoy. Those who want such luxuries should pay for it. We should not lower tariffs on rice for their benefit.
It will not be easy to do this. Authority should not be shy to use the apparatus of state to explain and provide the appropriate leadership. It should be made clear that those who would not eat gari would not be prevented from eating rice if they can afford it. Those who prefer fatty imported chicken would not be deprived of their culinary pleasure. All can seek their interest in a free society while the public interest prevails.
Our traders will oppose any measures which appear to be against their interest but they are smart and will find ways and means of marketing Ghanaian produce wherever located. They should be given clear unequivocal notice of policies and time to adjust. We should and can produce and market what we eat here in Ghana and avoid a food crisis in spite of developments in the global village.
We should not only grow corn, yam, cassava, plantain, cocoyam, and other local foods but ensure that what is produced is marketed well to satisfy consumers and producers. We have been talking for too long about post-harvest losses.
Plans and measures to contain losses have not been adequately maintained and sustained. We should be able to feed ourselves if we produce what we eat, market what we produce efficiently and avoid post-harvest losses.
Ghana should give food aid and not supplicate bread from outside. Nobody respects a beggar and we have not experienced a major natural disaster to warrant a request for food aid.
Our major problem is the cost of transportation of food. The administration should deal with the problem created by the high cost of oil. How are we financing the oil we consume? We have to adopt and implement a credible oil policy, however unpopular, otherwise, feeding ourselves will be a problem.
Source: K. B. Asante/Daily Graphic