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Tue, 18 Jun 2024 Article

Ghana’s Tragic Saga of Food Inflation: Empty plates and empty promises

By Dr. Peter Boamah Boamah Otokunor, Ch.FE, F.ChE
Ghana’s Tragic Saga of Food Inflation: Empty plates and empty promises
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As Ghana grapples with skyrocketing food prices, a harsh reality unfolds—the NPP government’s lofty promises of prosperity under a taxation-to-production regime have left many citizens with empty plates and stomachs.

The stark truth is that the cluelessness, incompetence, poor management, corruption, and the wanton dissipation of the limited public resources have resulted in a relentless surge in food prices. We are now grappling with an insidious food crisis threatening the nation’s food security. Food scarcity and for that matter food inflation are pushing the most vulnerable sections of society into hunger, despite claims of agricultural transformation through the Planting for Food and Jobs (PFJ) program.

Food prices have spiraled out of control under the NPP’s watch, leaving millions of Ghanaians on the brink of starvation. Food inflation has soared to unprecedented levels, peaking at 61% in 2023 and 29.6% in 2024. Essential items such as vegetables (tomatoes, pepper, onions, plantain, cabbage), rice, plantain, and cassava have become unaffordable luxuries for the average citizen. Meanwhile, the ruling elite feasts on the spoils of corruption and greed, while ordinary citizens’ dignity is shredded by an indifferent government.

Several factors have contributed to this surge in food prices. One major factor is the over-reliance on imported food products. We currently import over $ 400 million worth of tomatoes annually from Burkina Faso, constituting over 800,000 metric tonnes of tomatoes annually. Despite Ghana’s agricultural potential, our agriculture sector is confronted with major challenges, most of which are managerial. This over-reliance on imported food has been occasioned by the slump in local production due to the high cost and inadequate supply of inputs such as fertilizer, poor quality seeds, the lack of mechanization, the lack of extension services, and non-availability of agro-credit for agriculture. The consequence is the inherent vulnerability of the economy to exchange rate volatilities and international price fluctuations. The depreciation of the Ghanaian cedi against major currencies has exacerbated the situation, making imports more expensive and driving up local food prices.

The roots of this crisis lie in the government’s failure to implement coherent agricultural policies and provide effective leadership in times of crisis. The much-touted Planting for Food and Jobs (PFJ) initiative, which is currently in the second phase, has been ad-hocly managed with no proper policy guidelines, ineffective monitoring systems, and defective reporting mechanisms. The PFJ has become a haven for partisan rent-seekers as a result of the opaque nature of the implementation. Furthermore, allegations of mismanagement and corruption have plagued the initiative, leading to skepticism about the government’s commitment to addressing the root causes of the food crisis. Despite billions of cedis poured into the program, farmers continue to grapple with myriad challenges, from lack of access to quality inputs and extension services to poor postharvest management, inadequate market linkages, and price volatility.

The PFJ was hatched on the back of a Canadian facility secured by H.E President John Dramani Mahama in 2016 (as part of which 50 tractors were delivered to support the Agricultural Mechanisation Services Centres: AMSECs) to give further impetus to the gains made under the METASIP 2014 – 2017(Medium Term Agricultural Sector Investment Policy). The initiative which was originally announced as an NPP campaign slogan was started without any stakeholder consultation or proper assessment of the METASIP framework to draw lessons from the experiences to establish proper linkages. It is instructive to note that, Ghana’s major agricultural policy, the Food and Agricultural Sector Development Policy (FASDEP I and II), which was originally promulgated in 2002 (amended in 2007) as part of the GPRS I and II after Vision 2020 was jettisoned, had been the backbone of the successful METASIP I and II from 2009 and to 2016, which led to the longest period of lowest food inflation and for that matter single digit inflation in Ghana after several decades.

Even though I bear the opinion that the FASDEP has outlived its usefulness and requires an immediate reconstruction to meet the prevailing food security needs of the country, the PFJ has proven to be heavily inconsistent in outcome, to the objectives and provisions of the FADEP II. Currently, there is no officially promulgated comprehensive report of the PFJ I from the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, yet we have been told that a PFJ II has been launched, similarly without any properly promulgated policy framework. It appears the government is more interested in sacrificing the need for a robust, workable, and sustainable agriculture development program for cheap partisan benefit and needless political sloganeering.

Adding insult to injury, the government’s shortsighted measures have worsened the suffering of ordinary Ghanaians. The hastily initiated and ill-timed attempt to place restrictions on importing certain food items, supposedly aimed at promoting domestic production, has backfired spectacularly, leading to acute shortages and skyrocketing prices. Poor infrastructure, lack of access to modern farming techniques, and inadequate support for smallholder farmers continue to hinder agriculture production. Rather than fostering an environment for agricultural growth and innovation, these knee-jerk measures have deepened the crisis, leaving ordinary Ghanaians to bear the brunt of the government’s folly.

Behind the statistics and economic analyses lies the human toll of Ghana’s food inflation crisis. The repercussions of rising food prices are devastating, particularly for low-income households that spend a substantial portion of their income on food. Many families are forced to cut down on their daily meals, leading to increased malnutrition and food insecurity. The nutritional deficits resulting from reduced food intake are particularly damaging to children, leading to stunted growth and long-term health issues. Some families are forced to make heartbreaking choices between feeding their children and paying for other essential needs like education and healthcare. The World Food Programme (WFP) has reported that nearly 2 million Ghanaians are at risk of severe hunger, a stark contrast to the country’s previous achievements in reducing poverty and improving food security.

As the gap between the rich and the poor widens, the government’s ineptitude and indifference to its citizens’ plight stand as a damning indictment of its leadership. This tragic saga of food inflation and empty plates underscores a complex interplay of unmet promises, maladministration, leadership paralysis, and lack of vision of the Akufo Addo/Bawumia government.

Addressing Ghana’s food inflation crisis requires a multifaceted approach that goes beyond temporary fixes and political sloganeering. Sustainable solutions must be prioritized to create a resilient agricultural sector capable of withstanding economic and environmental challenges. Enhancing agricultural productivity through improved access to inputs, technology, and training is crucial and can help reduce post-harvest losses and stabilize the food supply. Sub-regional collaborative efforts can also help to enhance food security and trade, to provide a buffer against external shocks.

Key measures may include:
1. Investing in Agricultural Infrastructure: Improving roads, enhanced input supply, cheaper sources of input, mechanization, storage facilities, and irrigation systems to support farmers and reduce post-harvest losses.

2. Supporting Smallholder Farmers: Providing access to credit, modern farming equipment, and training to enhance productivity and income.

3. Efficient Economic Management: Policy measures to stabilize the cedi and control inflation are also essential. Strengthening economic governance and reducing corruption can improve the efficiency of government programs and ensure that resources reach those who need them most.

4. Enhancing Governance and Accountability: Ensuring transparency and efficiency in implementing agricultural programs to prevent corruption, mismanagement, and rent-seeking.

5. Value Chain Development: Additionally, promoting value addition and local food processing can create jobs and reduce reliance on imports.

Ghana’s food inflation crisis is a poignant reminder of the fragile nature of food security in the face of economic, environmental, and governance challenges. The empty plates seen across the country are a stark contrast to the promises made by the Akufo Addo/Bawumia government. It is imperative for the government to show leadership by spearheading a call for action to bring all stakeholders, the private sector, and the development partners, to come together and address this crisis with urgency and sustained commitment. Only then can Ghana hope to turn the tide and ensure that no Ghanaian goes to bed hungry.

Authored by:
Dr. Peter Boamah Otokunor, Ch.FE, F.ChE

(The author is an Agricultural Economist, a Chartered Financial Economist, a Lecturer at the Department of Economics and Actuarial Science, University of Professional Studies, a Fellow of the Association of Chartered Economists and a Politician)

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