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08.10.2008 Feature Article

Food insecurity on the increase

Food insecurity on the increase

Food has always been meant to be eaten by man for survival, and also for man to obtain energy for his daily activities. Apart from that, food is needed for mankind's daily growth and good health. Food is a daily necessity of mankind, no wonder even in the biblical word Essau sold his birthright just for a loaf of bread. This shows how important food is to mankind.

Though man cannot live without food, and it is emphatic that man always has access to food, the situation does not always look that way, as food is more often than not in short supply in many parts of the world, even in the developed countries. Many nations in the world are very insecure in terms of food, in such a way that there has been a shortage in the supply of food, hence bringing about scarcity. War-prone nations, which normally suffer most the consequences of food insecurity, since their precious time are mostly spent on violence, and so have no time for cultivating crops for themselves. They always end up being handicapped, in terms of food accessibility. The issue of food insecurity has compelled people to spend about 70% of their income on food alone, rather than on education, health and miscellaneous things.

Situation in Ghana In Ghana food insecurity struck in 1983, which many Ghanaians testify that it was so horrible at that time, that people had to wake up at dawn, only to queue up for food for their family. In those times, according Madam Rosemond Akorful, who is about 51 years, people, especially parents, had sleepless nights, thinking of what their wards would eat the next day. Money was very much available, but food was not enough for money to buy, people even went to the extent of fighting among themselves in queues. Of late the cry of most Ghanaians, concerns the rate at which the price of food is rising.

According to dealers in foodstuff and other food products, the increase in prices of foodstuff was no fault of theirs, and that the price increases were as a result of the frequent increases in the price of fuel, leading to increases in transportation. With the rate at which prices are rising a loaf of bread, which cost GHp80 in January this year, now goes for GH¢1.80. A bag of maize which was sold at GH¢40 six months ago, now costs GH¢75. The increases are also reflected in transport fares, which have also gone up by more than thirty per cent. “I cannot save some money to keep my sons in school,” said a 55 year old father of three, John Appiah, who says he currently spends 70 per cent of his GH¢300 monthly income, on food and transportation every month.

Northern Ghana

The northern part of Ghana is no exemption. Conflict coupled with irrational weather conditions has made the food situation very poor, i.e. low rainfall, long dry seasons and floods. How ironic that during those times while Ghanaians were crying for rain to fill the Akosombo dam, the same rains tend to destroy a lot of farmlands and developmental projects in the Upper East, Upper West and Northern regions of the country. For example, during the latter part of last year heavy torrential rain did not only destroy a lot of homes rendering people homeless, but also destroyed a lot of farmlands causing hunger, accompanied with the prevalence of mosquitoes in the northern regions. Imagine living without food, and at the same time being bitten by mosquitoes, resulting in malaria. The flooding was so much that in some area the people even had to use canoes to cross from one point to another. The issue seemed to be not beyond the control of the government, but unfortunately the government had no choice than to run to the United Nations (UN) for intervention. Apart from the government asking for aid from the UN and transporting foodstuff from the south to these three regions, district coordinating councils, non-governmental organisations, philanthropic organisations, religious bodies and individuals, contributed in their various ways to help solving the situation.

Food situation worldwide

The food crisis confronting the world is no more a projection, but stark reality, and many nations, especially the poor ones, are grappling with the situation. World food prices have gone up by more than 50% and are still rising. According to Time World website, emergency fiscal measures including suspending import taxes, restricting exports and releasing emergency food stocks onto markets, have been taken in many countries in the region. Ghana's West African neighbours, Ivory Coast, Niger and Burkina Faso have all witnessed violent protests in response to the rising global food prices. In Senegal, 130,000 public sector workers are currently striking in protest at high food prices, and demanding salary hikes. The same situation is also prevailing in neighbouring in Burkina Faso.

There are other problems like the spike in oil prices, which hit $103 per barrel in recent days, pushing fertilizer prices upwards, as well as the cost of trucking food from farms to local markets and shipping it abroad. Then there is also climate change, harvests have been seriously disrupted by freak weathers, including prolonged droughts in Australia and southern Africa; floods in West Africa, and this past winter's deep frost in China, and a record-breaking warmth in northern Europe. The World Bank says the price of staple crops such as wheat, rice and corn, have all risen, leading to an increase in overall food prices by 83 per cent in the last three years.

Government's supports

According to allafrica.com Ghana has become the latest country in West Africa to announce that it is struggling to manage its national budget, in the face of spiralling world prices for fuel and food. Newly-released statistics from the government show Ghana's expenditure on crude oil imports rising from US$500 million in 2005, to US$2.1 billion by the end of 2007, for the same quantity of oil. The Ministry of Finance officials say Ghana's current budget was drawn up with an estimated crude oil price of US$85 a barrel, whereas world prices rose during the year to a record $147 per barrel, and is currently at about $90.

In view of this the President, His Excellency John Kufour, announced a US$1 billion package of interventions to mitigate the impact on Ghanaians. He said then that the government would “immediately” drop all import duties on rice, wheat, yellow corn and vegetable oil.

As well as the removal of excise duties, and certain taxes on fuel for the country's fishermen, and subsidising fertiliser, he said the removal of taxes on petroleum products and some food items would “certainly” improve Ghana's ability to raise enough needed revenue, to invest in producing more food for local consumption.

Causes of food crises

Apart from the high imposition of taxes on imported foods, rapid growth in population has been considered to be one of the causes of food crises in our recent economy. According to statistics, there are many children in the country, than grown ups. Imagine a population where the children are more than the older generation, how are the few older ones going to work to feed the greater number of the younger generation? It is of no doubt that if the older ones refuse to work hard to support, surely there will be food shortages leading to food crises. The increase in population, and the still production of crops, will surely bring about scarcity in food supply. Moreover, the increased use of crops for the production of bio-diesel is resulting in large amounts of farmlands being used for fuel production, rather than food, lowering food production output, and therefore raising prices.

For countries such as Ghana, who rely heavily on importing certain food products from abroad, inflation such as this can be crippling.

A Senior Economist in the World Bank's Agricultural Unit, Robert Townsend, explains the problems facing West African nations, if they continue to import inflated food supplies:

“In West Africa, rice accounts for a much larger share of food consumption than in Eastern and Southern Africa. As more rice than maize is imported, local food prices in West Africa will be more affected. Countries with local supply disruptions are also particularly vulnerable to global price increases, as experienced with the drought in Burkina Faso, the recent cyclone in Madagascar, and localised floods in Ghana have shown.

“Less local supply means more reliance on imports to meet domestic demand - imports which are now much more costly. Within these countries, the poor will be especially vulnerable, as they often spend as much as half their disposable income on food.

“Though the price of transportation increases the cost of food, sometimes the shortage of food on the market is the cause of the dealers. More often than not, people tend to hoard their foodstuffs, with the explanation that the price would then increase for them to get more profits.

Conclusion

Food preservation is a good thing, though most of the blame has been put on fuel prices, society can go a long way in preventing food insecurity, when one learns how to protect food and not waste it. It is our individual responsibility, since we all depend on food for our survival.

The Chronicle
The Chronicle, © 2008

This author has authored 68 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: TheChronicle

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