NEWS COMMENTARY ON DANGERS OF IMPENDING FOOD INSECURITY AMID COVID-19.  

There is the likelihood of a food shortage in Ghana if steps are not taken to address the COVID-19 pandemic as the disease takes a toll on disruptions in the domestic food supply chain and, other shocks affecting food production. Remittances are said to be creating strong tensions and food security risks in many countries including Ghana. Late last year, prices of eggs went up by about 50 percent which players in the industry attributed to the rising cost of maize and soybean, the basic ingredient for poultry feed. This follows the abysmal crop yield in the 2020 crop season despite the high volumes of subsidized fertilizer and hybrid seeds provided to farmers by government under its flagship planting for Food and Jobs programme.

In the 2019 crop season, government distributed a total of 295,590 metric tons of subsidized fertilizer to 92 percent of its1 million targeted farmers. In 2020, government increased the quantity of fertilizer to 364,233 metric tons, to farmers. Whiles the quantity of improved seeds distributed to farmers in 2019 was 15,876 metric tons. In 2020, government increased improved seeds to be distributed to 24,032 metric tons. Maize has been the most preferred crop in all this government support, yet the yield of the crop performed so badly. Last year, around this time in January 2020, the price of maize per 100kg bag, at maize producing areas in northern Ghana was between eighty to ninety Ghana Cedis. This year, the same quantity is going for between 170 cedis to 200 cedis at the farm gate and Ghs250.00 in Tamale, Wa and Bolgatanga and as much as Ghs350.00 in Accra. This hike in the prices of the commodity nationwide has been confirmed by numerous market surveys. This is just one month after the harvesting season where food prices are usually low. The price of other crops such groundnut and soya bean are also still very high compared to previous years.

This situation which started in December 2020, compelled poultry farmers to call on government to grant support for importation of maize and other constituents of poultry feed, which government has already obliged in a statement issued by the press secretary to the Minister for Food and Agriculture on December 22, 2020. The first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic saw several countries including Vietnam, Russia, India, Egypt and many others adopt trade restrictions to reduce the export of food and agricultural produce to preserve them for local consumption.

With the onset of the second wave of the pandemic which appears more dreadful and is causing another round of lockdowns across the world, one wonders if efforts being made for the importation of grains will yield any substantial results and if they do, for how long can the country continue to look elsewhere for the importation of food and agricultural produce? Is there any guarantee that in these circumstances, the food imports will be cheaper and affordable even to the vulnerable groups?

As chicken and eggs are known to be a cheaper source of protein among vulnerable people, these happenings should be a source of worry for food security and nutrition in the country. This should get us all thinking about the sustainability and propriety of the current agricultural model; as to whether it has delivered on the promise of guaranteeing food security, reducing poverty, hunger and malnutrition, among others.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Agriculture, Forestry and other Land Use forms are responsible for about 30 per cent of Greenhouse Gas emissions in the country, causing global warming and contributing to climate change. Yet, this industrial agricultural model has received the highest support in terms of investment by governments and corporations.  If there is any lesson that COVID-19 and this year’s abysmal crop yield has taught us it is that an agricultural model that is highly dependent on external and foreign inputs is not sustainable in the face of a global pandemic and climate shocks. This should therefore be a wake-up call for governments and stakeholders to rethink the current agricultural model and explore alternative agriculture that is fit for purpose.

But is there really a better alternative? Agro ecology presents a solution to agriculture that thrives on less dependence on external inputs, resource use efficiency and works better with and not against nature as it preserves agrobiodiversity, builds food system’s resilience in the face of climate change and global pandemics such as COVID-19.

Therefore, if there is ever anytime to think of an agricultural TRANSITION away from this unsustainable agriculture model, then it is now! It will take some time to heal the damage, but we must start now.

Not tomorrow, not next year but now. 

By Tontie K. Binado, Programmes Manager and Technical Lead on Resilient Livelihoods and Climate Justice, Action Aid Ghana. 

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