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10.04.2020 Opinion

Future-Proofing Ghana's Economy Post COVID-19

By Arafat Sapaka, Nicholas Solomon, Derek Osei, Johnson Kefome and Brown Opare
Future-Proofing Ghana's Economy Post COVID-19
LISTEN APR 10, 2020

In years past, diseases engendered by microscopic organisms have taken their toll on this perpetually mutant human species. Like the event of 9/11 and its subsequent effect on policies and heightened security around the world, history is littered with many such adversities that have woken up the genius in mankind in no small measure, shaping the world we live in today.

Scientists all over that world are in a race against time to provide man with a vaccine for COVID-19. It is prudent we know that the death counts shouldn’t be the only element associated with a pandemic.

To the economists, the most calamitous effect of a pandemic should or, dare we say, with more facts to back our assertions, is the plummeting of the economies of the nations and to a larger extent, the globe as a whole. However, another school of thought will attempt to trigger a shift in the paradigm of pandemics and their “popular negative effects”.Attempts to make known the unpopular positive effects of a pandemic is mostly proven futile.

However, it is expedient that we discuss the negative and positive effects of a pandemic on the economy. This article focuses on Ghana; a promising prospect in the world of economics and the effects of the pandemic on its promised economic growth.

First, a radical revolution with regard to the processes of teaching and learning is to be expected post this pandemic. The world is leaving Africa behind when it comes to innovation pertinent to formal education and its associated pedagogies. We have been hit the hardest. If Dr. Dennis Caroll, director of the U.S. Agency for International Developments Program ever was in search of a premise to back his famous quote that says, “the biggest driver of the economics of pandemics is not mortality or morbidity but risk aversion”, then he needs not to look any further. We strongly believe he has serendipitously found one in this era of COVID-19 madness. The pandemic is an economic shock.

In effect, it leads to the plunging of the aggregate demand in the country. All spheres contributing to the Aggregate Demand and GDP growth are affected immensely. Consumer spending, investment, government spending, and net export have all taken a beating. Back to Dr. Dennis’ famous quote and its relationship with education, all schools have been temporarily shut down in the country in a bid to flatten the exponential curve of this pandemic.

We’d all agree to some extent that these Schools have been shut not because cases of COVID-19 have been recorded but in order to minimize the danger associated with assembling of people at one particular place and prevent people from coming into contact with asymptomatic carriers of the virus. In summary, social distancing has been the paramount reason for the closure of schools.

If it is an inherent character of a man to be risk-averse, then in the event of any pandemic, formal education in our part of the world shall continue to be affected immensely. However, as the popular aphorism by Tom Frester goes, “innovation is taking two things that exist and putting them together in a new way. Humans, therefore, are tasked to always find ways to adapt in all situations we find ourselves in. Since a new world awaits us post the pandemic, we may be denied the keys to the lock of this new world if we seek entry into the new world with the already collapsing system of education here in Ghana and Africa as a whole.

The onus falls on us as Millenials to fuse technology into education henceforth, which will in effect, smooth-sail the teaching and learning journey post the pandemic. The advent of EdTech in Ghana will seek to seal the gaping holes present in our education system. The Government of Ghana stands to benefit the greatest if this initiative is greeted with unprecedented enthusiasm. Do you know what the discovery and manufacture of the COVID-19 vaccine by Ghanaian researchers would do for the economy of the nation?

Do that math as we ship out billions of vaccine drugs to all nations across the globe. The fusion of technology into education here in Ghana shall in a few years breed tech-savvy learners. The use of zoom and other learning platform has seen an increase in usage here in Ghana and all over the globe. However, the question that begs to be asked; is the Ghanaian learner, from the basic school to the tertiary level savvy enough with regard to technology in order to facilitate the learning process?

The choice is ours to wail over the calamity befallen us or look closely, read between the lines and fish out the implicit gift this pandemic has gifted us. In our bid to booster economic growth and productivity, let us not lose sight of the fact that education is the propeller of this giant ship. William Brady uses a few words to create the undeniable link between education and economic growth; “what is the Calculus of innovation? The Calculus of innovation is really quite simple; knowledge drives innovation, innovation drives productivity, productivity drives economic growth.”

Second, the lockdown of countries has positively affected the environment greatly, even so, aiding the immune system to slow down respiratory symptoms. Men do not live in isolation, rather, in an ecosystem. Our existence is supported by biotic and abiotic factors that determine the quality of life as an environmental bioassay would have it. Economically there are environmental positive short-run effects from the lockdown that needs attention. According to satelite images from NASA, ESA/Copernicus, nitrogen dioxide levels in the atmosphere has drastically reduced globally in these few weeks. Also known as NO2, this gas gets into the air primarily from the burning of fuel, formed from emissions of cars, trucks and other industrial activities.

The less to almost no vehicular movement and shutdown of industrial supply around the world have drastically improved external air quality that is good for the ecosystem. Breathing air with a high concentration of NO2 can irritate airways in the human respiratory system. Such exposures over short periods can aggravate respiratory diseases leading to respiratory symptoms which is an immense symptom of COVID-19.

In Ghana where most homes are not fitted with mechanised cooling systems, many depend on external air to cool their rooms thus making way for fresh air. As Ghana and the world continue to do mass contact tracing and further testing of COVID-19 cases, air-quality is a great support to the effort of the health system as ventilators and ICUs are becoming scarce. Due to enhanced air-qaulity, COVID-19 patients that are yet to be located will not have externally influenced respiratory symptoms other than the virus.

The few ventilators will be saved for critical cases, thus, reducing the stress on the health system. To have a continous reduction in these gases that risk quality of life, COVID-19 has thought us that, the world needs to radically implement the policies that will protect the ecosystem.

Furthermore, with COVID-19 cases growing at an exponential rate globally, business owners and stakeholders are slapped with the reality of an economic shock impact and are left to scramble to deal with a variety of problems from slumping sales, stalling of supply chains, employees health, and wages, and also making sure their businesses can survive this crisis and continue working even though some economists believe that a recession is inevitable. The private sector is mostly to be hit by this pandemic.

Taking on the supply chain, most businesses have been amazed and realized how vulnerable they are to supply chain interruptions and how dangerously dependent they are to one source of material supply or finished products. Businesses that have most part of their operations directly relied on China must explore the possibility of how to diversify their risks and develop supply alternatives including domestic sourcing as a way of future-proofing their businesses and ensuring survival after this pandemic.

Traditional retail business owners rarely survive in this type of disruption as we will emerge in a very different world from the one we lived prior to the outbreak. There are no doubts future-proofing businesses will involve how business owners can leverage the power of technology and shift the paradigm to an omnichannel business strategy to captivate customers in both online and physical retailing.

Business and technology will be redefined, even before the pandemic, the most profound behavioral change in commerce was the shift to digital shopping, The COVID-19 pandemic is rapidly accelerating the transition to digital commerce. As consumers are being asked to practice social distancing, e-commerce orders for groceries and other essentials have taken a significant shift from traditional retail outlets towards digital sales. There will be a need to incorporate technology into all forms of business establishment.

Faced with this new reality, consumers are likely to be more comfortable shopping online and thus spell a new dawn of retail disruption in Ghana. After COVID-19, businesses that want to remain competitive must figure ways to have online services if they want to remain relevant. It’s of no doubt that, to survive through pandemics, businesses need to future proof their business strategies.

When tragedy strikes, we must accept the situation, evolve, embrace and adapt to changes and improve on business strategies by thinking into the future and making provisions for it. COVID 19 economic crisis is another opportunity to revolutionize business management and enhance strategies by leveraging technology. We, therefore, suggest that the government should have technology incubators where tech ideas are locally developed for our local consumption. Technology is an enabler and also a shifter in market forces, hence increase aggregate supply due to enhanced ways of production. The long-run effect of technology will increase our total output as a nation.

Also, In the event of a global pandemic like the COVID-19 where there is a significant halt in production of all kinds, it is the country with enough food to sustain its citizens that comes out less scathed, free of potential looting. If the aggregate food supply does not meet the aggregate food demand, looting will be the only resolution of the less privileged due to their buying ability. In a country like Ghana, it will be at the height of wishful thinking to think that we will be able to sustain our nutritional needs should this pandemic exceed a year.

A country's level of food import compared to its local food production to an extent gives us a clear idea of whether it is food sufficient in the eventuality of a collapse in global trade during a pandemic. The uncertain projections of COVID-19 will eventually influence nations to become inward-looking that will churn protectionist policies in regard to its food.

Ghana spends about 2.4 billion USD each year on food imports in the area of rice, sugar, sorghum, chicken, frozen meat and vegetables. This figure far exceeds the amount we make as a country from food export ( our exports are mainly in cocoa which is not a staple). This trend over the years gives the indication that there is a cumulative deficit in food production, which in the face of a pandemic is scary. Ghana s agricultural contribution to GDP has been wobbly and has been on a sturdy decline since 2009 with its share of national economic output measures by GDP dropping from 31.8 percent to 18.3 percent in 2017.

From 7.2 percent in 2009, growth decline to 0.8 percent in 2011 before climbing up to 2.3 percent in 2017. In 2016, the agric sector grew by 3 percent but rebounded to 8.4 percent in 2017( at the back of strong growth in the cocoa and fishing sector). For a country like Ghana which is supposed to have a comparative advantage in agriculture, this is indeed not encouraging. These figures, assuming we don't export won't be able to sustain the nutritional needs of the country population especially in times of a pandemic where every country will take the path to self-preservation guarding jealously its food.

Moreover, though we produce little, our food stock and its contribution to cutting down import and its contribution to GDP would have been better considering the amount of food that is left to rot due to factors such as bad roads and the inability to process most of our food.

According to USDA, food partially processed in Ghana is 9 percent whereas food fully processed in Ghana stands at 8 percent. If only we could adopt the method of processing our food, it will do us a great deal to cut down the waste which is mostly not accounted for. It is only good that we take deliberate steps on the back of these figures in terms of food production to take concrete steps to ensure food security at all times. The planting for food and jobs is a laudable policy that should go beyond a particular party's property to being a national policy with massive investments.

In conclusion, whereas pundits predict an inevitable recession, possibly in emerging markets too, it is glaring that the demand effects are probably much larger than the initial supply shock. Even though we are not privy of the shock geometry since we are still challenged, Ghana needs to be gathering intelligent data that will influence policies to post COVID-19. As pandemics are inevitable, we should be in a better position the next time we are consumed by it.

This article is jointly written by; Arafat Sapaka, Nicholas Solomon, Derek Osei, Johnson Kefome and Brown Opare who are all students of GIMPA. Email: [email protected]

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