A GNA feature by Lydia Ofori Abakah
Accra, July 26, GNA - The Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) has good news for the public. The general food outlook for the year is healthy following carry-over stock from last year's good supplies. For, although there were slight reductions in production of certain crops in 2003 compared with 2002, stocks have been healthy to keep supplies flowing without serious shortages.
According to MOFA, in the last two years, there had been generally favourable supply of food in almost all the regions with the exception of maize.
"Food production at the national level is relatively higher than consumption for the major staples and hence food balance is positive," it said.
However, it noted, at the household level, for low-income groups, access to food was still a problem. "This could be attributed to the low income or the poor standard of living, which needs to be addressed." MOFA in a written answer to a questionnaire submitted by the Ghana News Agency (GNA) said the country had generally experienced favourable weather conditions in terms of good rains for the last two years. "The rainfall pattern largely explains the year-to-year variation in food crop outlook," MOFA said.
"The Northern Sector had a total precipitation of 50.4 per cent in 2003, which was higher than 2002. Distribution was good and the effect was the appreciable increase in food supply experienced there."
The Southern Sector experienced some dry spells in the major seasons and this adversely affected maize production.
The effect of this was that prices of most food crops in 2003 as compared with 2002 increased marginally while others decreased slightly.
"Overall, there was a remarkable stability in prices in 2003 as a result of the good supply situation of food crops."
Production figures of some food crops would tell the story better. Maize production slipped from 1.4 million tons in 2002 to 1.288 million tons in 2003 and rice also slid from 280,000 in 2002 tons to 238,810 tons in 2003.
Millet production saw an increase from 159,080 in 2002 to 175,740 tons in 2003 while sorghum also went up from 316,000 tons in 2002 to 337,000 tons in 2003.
Cassava registered a rise from 9.7 million tons in 2002 to 10.2 million tons in 2003, plantains went up from 2.27 million tons in 2002 to 2.32 million tons in 2003 but yam and cocoyam saw slight slips. Yam slid from 3.9 million tons in 2002 to 3.8 million tons in 2003 while cocoyam was down from 1.86 million tons in 2002 to 1.8 tons in 2003. MOFA said the expected slight precipitation this year was likely to lead to slightly lower levels of food production, with cereals more likely to be affected than roots and tubers.
"However, substantial carry-over stocks have been noticed this year as a result of good supply in 2003," MOFA said.
"Observations in March 2004 of the roadside markets in major food growing areas revealed that many of them were lined with foodstuffs like yams, plantain and vegetables, which are normally scarce at this time of the year."
A market survey conducted by the GNA confirmed MOFA's assertions with food items being available but with slight prices increases.
Antie Araba, a trader at Agbogbloshie Market in Accra, who buys tomatoes in bulk from the farms, said there had been shortage of tomatoes in the usual tomatoes-producing areas. She said towns like Akomadan and Nkekensu in the Ashanti Region were unable to produce enough because of the poor rainfall distribution.
Traders, however, told the Ghana News Agency that they expected supplies to stabilise as production picked up from August.
The Ministry said it had come out with polices to ensure smooth production under its Food and Agriculture Sector Development Policy. These include preparation of land, provision of planting material, fertiliser and credit.
The continued use of the hoe and cutlass has been identified as a constraint to agricultural production, hence the need to adopt mechanised farming on a large scale.
"MOFA will facilitate farmers' access to agricultural machinery and equipment such as tractors and bullock plough, where suitable. "MOFA will also support the establishment of plant pools by private entrepreneurs for leasing of machinery and equipment and manufacturing implements. This will involve assistance in acquiring credit, technical training and institutional support."
It said its policy was geared towards making improved seeds and planting materials available to farmers at affordable prices. "The main solution is to make breeders, foundation seed producers and seed growers to expand their operations."
The Ministry would be strengthened in the area of quality control to carry out effective seed certification services and facilitate market linkages to enable farmers to have access to the materials.
On the provision of fertilisers, the Ministry said it had through the Directorate of Crop Services put in place awareness and training programmes in farming communities to facilitate the adoption of agricultural practices such as mixed farming and effective use of organic and inorganic fertilisers.
"As farmers are unable to afford the high cost of mineral fertiliser, improved soil fertility management strategies, such as Integrated Plant Nutrition System, which involve the combined use of mineral fertiliser and both on-farm and off-farm organic sources of plant nutrients are being promoted."
MOFA said it had collaborated with the International Centre for Soil Fertility for Agricultural Development (IFDC) to establish a private sector-based agricultural input marketing system. This, it said, involved trader associations and small and medium-scale enterprises.
The Ghana Agricultural Input Market Development Project (GAIMS) aims at expanding the input retail network into the rural areas to increase farmers' access to critical inputs. It is also to improve efficiency in the input market by increasing competition at the import, wholesale and retail levels.
Meanwhile, the Ghana Agricultural Input Dealers Association has been established and is serving farmers. Trained dealers in 2003 provided more than 100,000 farmers with input. They have opened about 80 new retail input shops in the rural areas.
To ensure credit flow to farmers, MOFA has proposed an Agricultural Development Fund to provide credit with short-term duration. "The development fund will source credit for activities with long gestation periods," it said. "MOFA will also liaise with the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning and the Bank of Ghana to address this imbalance and make banking services more accessible in rural areas." Storage facilities are inadequate and very expensive and this situation has contributed to the high post-harvest losses and low returns for farmers and processors.
MOFA has, therefore, put in place a research support system to facilitate the adoption of best storage practices. The Ministry would also support farmers to access credit to construct appropriate storage facilities.
The transport system, value addition, standardisation, quality control and buffer stocks are important in determining marketing strategies that would ensure that consumers get food at affordable prices while the farmers also get the worth of their sweat.
MOFA said it had put in place a national strategic buffer stock to stabilise prices and create conditions for a sustained market. It said it would liaise with the Ghana Standards Board, market queens and trade associations to establish and enforce available legislation on the use of weights and measures, grades and standards.
The Ministry has many plans that the farmers are yet to benefit from to guarantee adequate food supplies, stable prices and good returns for them. The implementation of these plans is important to keep the food balance healthy all the time.