Food crisis looms
Evidence from market surveys done by the New Statesman point to sharp increases in food prices over the last few months, which is hitting pockets and homes very hard.
Also, there are signs of a very dangerous food shortage crisis about to hit the country. Already, some are predicting famine early next year in the northern parts of the country if measures are no taken urgently.
Techiman, a major market for foodstuff destined for the south of the country, has seen the wholesale price for a bag of maize shooting up from GH¢30 in January this year to GH¢100 yesterday, December 8.
Across the country, food prices are skyrocketing. In the capital, Accra, a bag of maize was selling for GH¢150 Thursday at the Kaneshie Market, up 50% (from GH¢100) barely four months ago.
Despite claims of single digit inflation, the price of a bag of beans has increased from GH¢160 in January to GH¢220 this week. A bag of millet, which sold at GH¢60, is now up 100% to GH¢120. A box of tomatoes is also up nearly 40% from GH¢160 to GH¢220.
Further checks made by our team of reporters in Kumasi, the second largest city, indicate a similar price hike phenomenon. There, a bag of maize, which sold for GH¢50 in January this year, is now selling at GH¢120. Also a bag of rice, which sold for GH¢40 in January, has witnessed a 137% increment and now sells at GH¢94.
Government has claimed the establishment of the National Food Buffer Stock Company, an initiative of the previous administration, implemented in 2010, as one of the major successes of the Mills-Mahama administration.
However, NAFCo has a storage capacity that can cover only three weeks of national consumption of maize, at 422,600 metric tonnes of maize, which analysts describe as woeful.
“This is not enough to stabilise prices in the event of a major food crisis, as we are afraid we may soon be facing,” says Nana Attobrah, head of research, Danquah Institute.
“Indeed, in an event of a sustained food crisis, regular attempts to stabilise prices by releasing and replenishing supplies from such low capacity commodity storage would only end up escalating prices because such interventions at regular intervals only end up crowding the private sector and therefore hurting the natural chain of supply further,” he added.
He warned that the nation risks having famine on its hands by June next year “if urgent and intelligent measures” are not taken to avoid such a disaster in the next coming.
“The signs are not encouraging and we are afraid that the nation may end up being caught napping if action is not taken now. Nothing shows that we are prepared for this pending period of thin cows,” the researcher said.
He said the fact that the nation's buffer stock capacity is not able to stabilise prices, after a small reduction change in production, offers us enough evidence that we need to increase our commodity storage capacity and import maize to supplement local production if need be before famine strikes.
But, we also need to improve our methods of production in order to have more to store in the medium term, he stressed.
Only last week, members of the Ghana National Poultry Farmers Association were complaining about the sudden skyrocketing of maize prices as a result of inadequate supplies.
According to them, the rise in the price of maize could affect the production of poultry products which will affect consumers as Christmas gets closer.
Ghana still imports a substantial quantity of yellow maize for the poultry sector. Indeed, in November 2010 there was wide shortage of yellow maize in the market for local poultry farmers, with poultry farming suffering a decline in growth this year.
The impact of the NAFCo which started its field operations on the 20th of May 2010 has thus not been felt in alleviating this crisis. NAFCo's mandate has been on purchasing maize, paddy rice and soya beans as the target crops for its first and second year operations.
The National Food Buffer and Stock Company announced in May this year that it had released stock piles of maize onto the market to help ease the unusual price increases at the time. What is obvious is that it requires more than the current capacity to stem the looming food crisis in 2012.