Five critical food issues the Minister for Agriculture should pay attention to in 2022

BY: Sebuava Sedudzi and Joseph Opoku Gakpo
A farmer working on his field
A farmer working on his field

Happy new year to all farmers and agricultural sector stakeholders across the country who are working to keep Ghana food secure.

In 2021, this nation faced a number of agricultural sector challenges including hikes in the prices of basic food commodities that we need to be careful about in 2022. In this article, we draw attention to five critical food sector issues that the Minister for Food and Agriculture Dr. Owusu Afriyie Akoto, and the government in general need to pay attention to in 2022.

1) Rising cost of food

The first of such issues is the rising cost of food in the country. Despite the repeated rhetoric by the Minister for Food and Agriculture that food prices in the country are amazingly low, the reality on the ground is far different. The evidence is in data published by the Statistics, Research, and Information Directorate of the Ministry for Food and Agriculture (MOFA). Between January and October 2021, the average price of maize rose by 56%, price of plantain rose by 74%, price of tomato rose by 44%, price of yam rose by 20%, and price of fresh pepper rose by 54%.

Additionally, over that same period, price of cassava rose by about 6%, yam by 20% and rice by 12%. What this means is that it was more difficult for people to buy these foods and others that they needed to stay satisfied and healthy. Make no mistake, claims that when food prices rise, farmers make more money is a myth. Nothing can be further from the truth. Food prices usually rise because of rising cost of inputs. In the end farmers’ profits either do not increase at all or falls. The reality is that there is a general rise in the prices of food across the globe but that cannot be an excuse for us not to do anything about it at home. One way around it is for government to increase subsidies to farmers in a better targeted manner, so they are cushioned when it comes to the rising prices of inputs. Otherwise, things will get out of hand in 2022.

2) Dependence on foreign support to the agricultural sector

The 2022 budget statement that got approved by parliament allocates 1.1 billion Ghana Cedis to the Ministry of Food and Agriculture for expenditures this year. Out of that amount, 293 million Cedis will be coming from foreign donors or development partners, 11.5 million Cedis will be coming from internally generated funds and 798.5 Cedis million will come directly from the government of Ghana. That means about 26.6% of the total funding for the sector will come from abroad. But this is what we need to watch out for. World over, donor partners are increasingly moving resources from various sectors to the health sector because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

We hope that a good chunk of the projected support from Ghana’s development partners to the agricultural sector comes through. But government needs to pay attention and ensure that any possible shortfalls are augmented locally. The reality is that the total sum of money these development partners send to the developing world has not increased much since Covid-19 hit. They are only shifting around the same or even less resources. So, let’s be careful, and the government of Ghana must be ready to step in if the donor support to agriculture shrinks.

3) One-village, One-dam Initiative needs salvaging in 2022 or never

2022 should be the year the New Patriotic Party (NPP) government revives the One-village, One-dam Initiative for farmers in the savannah belt of Ghana, or never. We are all seeing climate change cause poor rainfall patterns and long periods of no rain in several parts of the world. We heard from Ghana government officials during the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow last year, as they repeatedly emphasized the administration’s commitment to investments that will mitigate the impact of climate change on the populace.

We believe no single government policy has the potential to help farmers in the savannah belt deal better with climate change than the One-village, One-dam Initiative. We were told that these dams will be multipurpose water storage structures that will help provide water all year round for small holder farming activities, livestock rearing as well as for domestic purpose. The dams were supposed to have sizes covering 2 to 3 hectares, be about 2.5m below and another 2.5 m above ground level, be capable of holding about 30,000 cubic meters of water, have inlet-outlet structures to supply water downstream (to irrigation farms) from the small dams, as well as spillway to control the level of water in the dams. But as research conducted by the Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana in 2020 revealed, less than 50% of the dams promised to farmers in the Upper East Region Region had been done, and majority of the dams were not serving their purposes.

The situation has since not changed much. If there is any single policy initiative the government needs to roll out crucially that could vastly transform agriculture in the northern belt, it is providing farmers there with irrigation facilities. Otherwise, a lot of farmers up north will soon struggle to produce enough food to feed themselves, and the rest of the country. In 2022, the government should prioritise providing the promised dams, spend 2023 dealing with whatever bottlenecks may emerge, and probably spend 2024 properly integrating the policy in the Ghana Irrigation Development Authority’s structures, so it becomes a lasting legacy.

4) GMOs

The government needs to clarify what exactly its policy position on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) is, because 2022 will be a crucial year for GMOs in Ghana. There is no doubt GMOs have become a controversial subject world over. All agriculture sector stakeholders need to get interested in the conversation on GMOs and government must lead the way. In November last year, a new 13-member board for the National Biosafety Authority (NBA), the nation’s GMO regulator was sworn into office by the Minister for Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI). Earlier in the year, scientists at the Savannah Agricultural Research Institute (SARI) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) submitted documentation to the authority, requesting for environmental release of Ghana’s first GMO crop, Bt cowpea (beans), which has inherent resistance to pest attacks. But the authority asked the scientists to hold on until a new board is in place.

Now that the new board is in place, that process is expected to resume. And after the application is sent, the authority will have 6 months or so to return with a decision. So, we are likely to see a lot of activity in the GMO space this year. At the swearing in ceremony, the Minister Dr. Kwaku Afriyie disclosed “in my office, I know that (there are) GMO linked products which are waiting for go ahead for the next phase.” The stance of MESTI since the days of Dr. Kwabena Frimpong Boateng has been, supporting approval for GMOs. But the Minister for Food and Agriculture Dr. Akoto Owusu Afriyie is on record in 2019 to have said the ‘Ghanaian society was seriously against it (GMOs) “and, indeed, we don’t need it”’. For a minute, let’s put aside the debate about whether GMOs are good or bad, and ask the administration to let the people of this country know its policy position on the technology, so we can all have a national conversation about it.

5) Agriculture is the economy’s backbone; it deserves better attention

The final critical issue we want the government to pay attention to in 2022 is that “agriculture is the economy’s backbone and it deserves better attention.” This is nothing new but we believe it is necessary to reiterate it in 2022. As we all know, agriculture is the second largest sector of Ghana’s economy, and more than half of the country’s population live in rural areas and are engaged in agricultural activities as their means of survival. Government needs to allocate a more substantial portion of the national budget towards the sector to ensure we build an equitable and sustainable food system.

We need to address challenges of low public sector investment in the sector, low institutional capacity, poor marketing systems, land tenure challenges, low penetration of mechanisation services, low transfer and uptake of research findings, as well as low application of science and technology to production. We also need to deal with challenges of low investment in the local livestock, fisheries and poultry industries. The approach to improving agriculture has to be wholistic. Government cannot do it alone. But government has a responsibility to show it wants these challenges dealt with, as the sure way to attract adequate private sector support to improve the agricultural sector.

Authors: Sebuava Sedudzi is a graduate student pursuing an MSc in Agriculture Economics and Management at the College of Agriculture, Economics and Management, China Agricultural University – China. Joseph Opoku Gakpo is an AgBioFEWS (Agricultural Biotechnology In Our Evolving Food, Energy, and Water Systems) Fellow at the Genetic Engineering and Society Center, North Carolina State University – USA.