The twin year, 2020 has indeed experienced a pandemic that has claimed many lives globally, thwarted many dreams, affected many businesses and impeded social movements across the globe. The COVID-19, a pestilence upon our land, has made people resorting to lives that they were never used to; wearing nose masks, avoiding handshakes and hugs which most prefer as a show of love, and resorting to self-quarantining and social distancing and a to a larger extent ‘bathing with’ alcohol-based hand sanitizers. All these are carried out in a bid to prevent and protect our vulnerable selves from this pestilence. However, personally, I call it ‘a blessing in disguise’ for most developing economies and for that matter, Ghana.
The Ghanaian context
Interestingly, measures have been taken by the government to prevent, contain the spread, break the chain of the COVID-19 disease and flatten its curve of spread. This reflects the ones adopted by governments in other countries like Italy, China, Spain and Germany. This includes but not limited to banning of all social gatherings, closure of schools, colleges and universities and imposing of restrictions of peoples’ movements in a partial lockdown. Unfortunately, the lockdown has in one way or the other caused a lot of panic buying among Ghanaian populace and its possible resultant effect of food hoarding and hikes in food prices. In these periods, the ordinary Ghanaian who does a ‘hand-to-mouth’ form of living will have to be locked at home for the 14- day period or in worst cases, even more without barely knowing where the next meal is going to come from. Although there are some social inclusion packages for this category of people.
It is important to note that although the activities and operations of individuals within the food value chain are granted exemptions from this lockdown, what is the fate of the Ghanaian food system? Can it be able to continually supply Ghanaians with the required quantities of foods, in the right forms, at the right places, affordably and timely? Above all, will this health crisis manifest into a food crisis? And if it grows into a food crisis, how is Ghana prepared to beat this? These are the possible questions that keeps running through the line of my brain anytime I think about this pandemic and its relationship with the Ghanaian agri-food sector and food supply chain.
It might interest us to note that, there are about 9.6 million students in Ghana (UNESCO, 2020) who are currently at home because of this pandemic and are missing out on the school meals
(i.e. Free SHS Policy and School Feeding Program). In the short term, some families will be able to continually provide nutritious food on the table for their wards. However, if the lockdown exceeds the ‘expected’ and the ‘anticipated’ time, it will translate into layoffs and consequently reduced household income (Gakpo, 2020). This will have no doubt that households will have to struggle to feed their families in the face of the possible hikes in food prices in Ghana and reduced household income.
Consequently, the activities and the operations of these people within the food chain will have their sustainability questioned. This is inextricably tied to the fact that Ghana as a nation has over the years depended heavily on imported goods, making locally produced goods have no value in the face of the Ghanaian consumer. In a time like this, where all borders are ‘closed’, restricting importation and exportation of goods, can our local food producers be able to adequately feed the Ghanaian populace, throughout this period?
Background of agri-food system and food supply chain in Ghana
Food production in Ghana is mainly rain-fed (MoFA, 2007; Promar Consulting, 2016), practiced by the aged (average 55 years) (MOFA, 2016), managed with low expertise and knowledge (CTA, 2019), constrained by credit and market access and poor technological usage (MoFA, 2007) resulting in instability in production, thereby increasing our importation for food and food related commodities from China, Americas and other European countries (FAO, 2015). Again, Ghana’s agri-food sector and the food supply chain are dominated by smallholder farmers who form about 60 percent of the agricultural workforce (MoFA, 2007). In spite of these challenges, the food supply chain in the urban areas have developed significantly with the eruption of food retail markets (shopping malls) (Promar Consulting, 2016).
The major staple foods in Ghana are grains (maize, rice, and wheat), root and tubers (yam, cassava, and potatoes) and plantain (MoFA, 2007; FAOSTAT, 2008). Ghana’s self-sufficiency is seen in the area of maize production and tubers but rely heavily on the importation of rice and wheat which is 60 and 100 percent respectively (Promar Consulting, 2016). According to Ministry of Agriculture, Ghana spent approximately US$331 million (GH₵1.65 billion) on the importation of rice in 2018 (MoFA, 2019), spent close to GH₵4 billion within the past three years (Entsie, 2019) and expends about US$2.1 billion (GH₵10.5 billion) on other food related commodities in 2017 (MOF, 2018). Ghana as a country has about 54 percent of its workforce within the
agricultural sector with accounts for about 90 percent of the nation’s food supply, 54 percent to Gross Domestic Product and 40 percent on her export earnings (MoFA, 2016).
The lags in the Agri-food sector in this COVID-19 season
The Ghanaian agri-food sector with its sector players have over the years being discriminated against with respect to credit accessibility, and resource allocation. This has undoubtedly limited its access to other productive resources that has the potency to increase their efficiencies, resourcefulness and productivity towards a sustainable food system. Instances where farmers have access to credits, higher interest rates prevent them from enjoying their resourcefulness but rather puts them to operate on a radar that portrays their inefficiencies warranted by small scale production. Additionally, access to markets and sustainable agricultural information for both men and women in agricultural production is readily unavailable.
A country that imports 60 percent of its major staple rice, and 100 percent of wheat is likely going to face dire challenges in these hard times if the appropriate measures are not taken to safeguard our food security net and protect our food bank. The lockdown is likely going to slow down the movement of food trucks and other vehicular movements, that help in facilitating the activities of the food value chain across the length and breadth of the country, including shipment of food logistics into the country.
Again, the Ghanaian agricultural sector that spearheads supply of food in the country is dominated by people who are averagely aged 54 years (MoFA, 2016). Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic is noted to affect the aged population who are usually 50 years and above (WHO, 2020) revealing the need to take desperate, conscious and intentional measures to take over the farm leadership in these hard times from the aged. Surprisingly, Ghana’s energetic and vibrant young people who should take the farm leadership are not interested in farming. It has been branded as a sector for the ‘block minded’ over years and in some instances, those who finally develop the interest to enter into agriculture do not receive the needed support packages. Their harvested produce tends to compete with the imported commodities which are priced relatively lower than the locally produced; making them ineffective, uncompetitive, and unsustainable.
These lapses in the agri-food system has delineated food and nutrition insecurity as a global challenge before the COVID-19 rampaging the world, with majority of the affected people in low- income and developing countries (FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP & WHO, 2019) which Ghana is not an exception. The High-Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) on Food Security and Nutrition estimates
that, the vagaries of this food insecurity that will be heightened as a result of the COVID-19 will lay bare the vulnerable; the street children, people living in remote areas, and informal workers (HLPE-CFS, 2020; Tiensen et al., 2020).
The Impact and How Ghana can recover and respond sustainably?
Undeniably, using the lens of anticipation, foresight and hypothesis, the presence of this pandemic within our economy will lead to increasement in food prices, which will be resulting and arising from shortage of food supply and speculative food hoarding and their attendant consequences. The effects of this will transcend from the on-farm to the off-farm activities which includes transporting and logistics, wholesaling and retailing, and processing (Reardon et al., 2020). From a broader perspective, this can lead to the collapse of firms operating within the agri-food sector and food supply chains, labour layoffs since most agri-food enterprises in Ghana are labour intensive. Again, the possible hikes in food prices as a result of this pandemic will affect demand in the short run and supply in the long run.
However, surprisingly, in the clear light of all these ramifications, I captioned this pandemic as a ‘blessing in disguise’ for actors within the Ghanaian agri-food system and food supply chain, young, vibrant and energetic people of Ghana and to a larger extent to Ghana as a whole in our fight to achieving self-sufficiency and promoting the ‘Eat Ghana’ campaign. In line with these, below are the recommendations to ensure the continuous production and supply of food, enhance and promote the Ghanaian Agri-food sector towards the achievement of a nationwide future food sustainability agenda. This is the time for the ‘Planting for Food and Jobs’ (P4FJ) initiative to live up to expectation, prevent possible food shortages, and keep the wheels of the food supply chain going.
- The Government through the Ministry of Food and Agriculture should grant and extend access to inputs to more young people who are ready to venture into mechanized and commercial agriculture and food production. I am of the firm believe that young people will be ready to take up the farm leadership now because there will be ready market for what they produce with little or no competition from imported products.
- Medium, Small, and Micro enterprises operating within the food value chain should be given a ‘stimulus package’ in the form of interest free loans that will increase the production and productivity. This can be given a repayment period between 3-5 years.
- The National Buffer Stock Company (NAFCO) should adequately prepare to stock in its warehouses foodstuff that can feed over 30 million in a year. This can cushion the ordinary Ghanaian in times of hikes in food prices.
- Land owners should release land freely for farming and other agricultural and food supply activities. Instances, where they fail, the Government should use the compulsory land acquisition approach to get land for interested group of farmers.
- Young entrepreneurs should be developed within the agri-food chain by the help of the Ministry of Business Development, NSSBI and other business hubs in the country to enable them clearly define a market and customer-focused product for the Ghanaian market and possibly to other markets within the sub region.
- Continually support the smallholder farmers under the P4FJ to increase their production, enhance their market access using digitalisation. This can be facilitated by extension agents within the farming communities and agtech firms within the country like Esoko, Farmerline, Crop Doctor and many more.
The content of this article, most especially with its suggestions and recommendations, are based on personal opinions and intuitions.
CFS HLPE (2020). Impact of COVID-19 on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN). Interim Issues Paper. Version 1, 24 March 2020.
CTA (2019). The Digitalisation of African Agriculture Report. 1st edition. Proud Press. The Netherlands. ISBN 978-92-9081-657-7
FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP & WHO (2019). State of Food Security and Nutrition. Available at http://www.fao.org/state-of-food-security-nutrition Accessed on [March 28, 2020].
Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAOSTAT) (2008). FAOSTAT dat. Rome. Retrieved from http://www.faostat.fao.org [Date Accessed March 30, 2020]
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About the Author
Emmanuel Fiifi Musah is a Teaching and Research Assistant at the Department of Agricultural Economics, Agribusiness and Extension, and an Agri and Food Business Consultant. He has a BSc in Agribusiness Management from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi. He is a Mastercard Foundation Scholar Alumnus and Global Youth Ambassador for Agricultural Transformation and Global Food Security.
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