There is no doubt that the just ended year, 2021, has been a difficult agriculture year. Data from the Statistics, Research, and Information directorate of the Ministry for Food and Agriculture shows that between January and October 2021, the prices of major food crops like maize, yam, cassava, tomatoes, rice, and yam increased by between 12 and 73%. What this means is that it was more difficult for people to buy the foods they need to stay satisfied and healthy.
The contributory factors include poor management of the sector, and external shocks. Here, we are referring to poor management situations like delayed release of funds for major policy interventions like the Fertiliser Subsidy Programme, and external shocks like Covid-19 disruptions to the global agriculture supply chain and climate change.
The challenges with poor management of the sector have always been with us. They did not start today. Fixing them will require clearly thought through policy initiatives, and enhanced commitment from various stakeholders to help develop the sector, particularly from government. In this statement, we offer 5 suggested measures government needs to take to help improve upon the agricultural sector which we are confident if taken seriously will make Ghana self-sufficient in food production. An improved agricultural sector will also help provide the teeming youth of the country with the necessary jobs that can help them live decent lives.
First of all, we need to see a proper decentralization of the management of Ghana’s agricultural sector. The decision by government to make the departments of agriculture across the country more accountable to local assemblies through the local government system instead of them being subsidiaries of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, is laudable. But that means nothing if conscious efforts are not made to channel resources directly from the central government to these district agricultural department offices to provide quality extension services to farmers, support them with mechanization services as well as subsidized inputs. The local assemblies should prioritise agricultural activities and make sure they provide adequate investments at their levels to support farmers in their enclaves. Money is needed to finance the transportation and logistical needs of extension officers so they can get research outputs and scientific and innovative techniques to the farmers. The local government system must support financially.
Secondly, government needs to make use of its purchasing power to make life better for smallholder producers. It doesn’t make sense that government funded initiatives like the School Feeding Programme sometimes rely on imported food products. The local agricultural economy must be propped up with local and national government funding. There must be a conscious effort by the state at the national and local level to create conducive environments for the marketing of farm produces for the benefit of Ghanaian farmers.
Thirdly, it is about time we tackled head on the challenge of inadequate protection of farmlands in the country. In semi – urban areas, estate developers have vigorously taken over agricultural lands, forcing smallholder producers out of work. And then in the rural areas, we are seeing a creeping culture of food crop farmlands being taken over aggressively by large scale plantation growers like rubber farming companies, which has the potential to negatively impact food production in some of these areas. Government must intervene and properly zone out farming lands that should be no – go areas for physical infrastructural development.
With the impact of climate change now upon us all, we will urge the government to speed up work on improving the country’s irrigation system and revive the abandoned projects of the failed One-village One-dam Policy. Let’s face it, that policy is a failure. As farmers across the country have observed, the policy has created nonexistent and useless dams that haven’t made any difference in their lives. The concept of providing farmers with irrigation facilities is a good move that must necessarily be pursued to the very latter. But clearly, the One-village One-dam initiative was mismanaged in a way that prioritized special interest benefits over the interest of the farmers who feed the country. Now is the time for a more effective revitalisation of this initiative for the benefit of farmers.
Finally, our development partners and agencies that support Ghana’s agricultural sector need to improve the level of involvement of farmers in the planning and implementation of their projects. We need to properly develop systems for measuring the impact, sustainability, and quality of exit strategies for these projects, and properly integrate them in Ghana’s home-grown agricultural policies and programmes. A lot of these agricultural projects have been running for years with little to show as evidence of success. We have so many agriculture focused NGOs operating up north which say they are working to create more agricultural jobs. But migration from there to the south continues to skyrocket. There must be a coordinated platform among the civil society organisations in the agricultural sector so they can work together for the benefit of farmers. Government needs to provide leadership on this front so we can get the best out of our development partners.
These ideas as we have enumerated above are actually nothing new. They revolve around the same ideas we have been tossing around over the years as actions we need to take to improve upon the agricultural sector. But it is important to reiterate them for urgent action because the challenges with the hike in food prices we saw last year was a clear warning that unless drastic actions are taken, danger looms in 2022. Minus immediate bold interventions, 2022 is likely to come along with even more drastic increase in prices of food stuff, deepening inequalities among the farming population and an increase in Ghana’s dependence on foreign foods, as well as loss of agricultural jobs. Immediate government action is needed now.
Richmond Frimpong (0268909020/0246509360) President, GARDJA
Joseph Opoku Gakpo (0247714498) Deputy General Secretary, GARDJA
The Ghana Agricultural and Rural Development Journalists Association (GARDJA) is an association of about 300 journalists and communicators working to promote issues of environment, agriculture and rural development in the media space. GARDJA is an affiliate of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (IFAJ), the world’s largest association of agricultural communication practitioners with membership covering more than 50 countries.