Earlier this week, on October 16, UN member countries marked World Food Day (WFD), but this year the Ghana observance seems to have been somewhat low-key. Is it because food availability is not a problem this year?
Noticeably, on Tuesday, October 16, there was no related publicity in the main newspapers, although Graphic Online did report that the WFD event was scheduled to take place at Nsawam.
The WFD was instituted to highlight the fight to eradicate global hunger. This year’s theme was ‘OUR ACTIONS ARE OUR FUTURE. A #ZERO HUNGER WORLD BY 2030 IS POSSIBLE’.
Anyway, it seems that in recent times one sees evidence of bountiful harvests everywhere in Ghana: heaps of plantains, yams and cassava; or fruits such as pineapples, watermelons and oranges, to mention a few.
A few days ago, I made the mistake of giving in to the persuasion of a plantain seller on the Kumasi – Accra highway and found myself buying many more plantains than my household needed; the foodstuffs were so much cheaper than in Accra. The result is that I have now had to give away most of the fast ripening plantains.
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As I joked with the plantain seller, undoubtedly a middle person who had bought them cheap at the farm gate, there was one question on my mind: if this is how cheap the roadside plantain was, then how much did she buy them from the farmer?
Our farmers work so hard but mostly get so little in return.
The pity of it is that much of the yield from their back-breaking labour rots on farms due to transportation problems or ends up on rubbish dumps for lack of buyers.
In Accra, every time I go past the Mallam Market, on the Kaneshie-Winneba Road, there are heaps of fruit in season on the market pavement: watermelons, oranges, etc. One doesn’t need to be a seer to know that vast quantities of them will end up having to be thrown away. And it can be imagined that the same situation exists in other markets.
Yet, ironically, the shelves of our supermarkets and other shops are stocked from top to bottom with fruit juices and canned fruit slices, attractively packaged, from other countries.
Unfortunate that the processing of our farm produce to prevent wastage and boost farmers’ incomes is still in the future. The know-how is in the files of our food scientists but there is still little sign of the vital linkage between those research findings and industry.
Most perplexing of all, in the midst of the plentiful farm produce, it seems that every time we see an image of the School Feeding Programme, such as pupils being served, or eating, invariably the food is rice – and no doubt it will be imported rice, expensive imported rice.
With such an abundance of local produce, shouldn’t our School Feeding caterers be encouraged to use more yams and plantains and less imported rice?
But in the midst of so much food, is everybody getting enough to eat? Can we be sure that nobody is going to bed on an empty stomach? Not quite, it seems, as was vividly illustrated recently.
There was the distressing Ghanaian Times report (October 11) of a woman and her family sentenced to three months imprisonment at the Nsawam Prisons for stealing a small quantity of maize/corn from a farm. The tearful widow explained, at yet another conference on Non-Custodial Sentencing, that they thought the maize they took was harvest leftovers. Besides, they had nothing else to eat.
Nevertheless, the family, including a baby, ended up in prison because they couldn’t pay the fine of GH¢360. One wonders how the judge expected a person who was looking for left-over corn to feed her family would be able to pay a fine of GH¢360.
But then maybe imprisonment is what the law says and the judge had no discretion in the matter. Thought-provoking.
Happily, a Good Samaritan came to their rescue. Black Stars player Christian Atsu reportedly paid the fine and the family has regained their freedom.
So it means that the WFD objective still applies. The fact that there is evidence all around us of good harvests doesn’t necessarily mean that nobody is going hungry.
The problem of storage of produce and processing continue to elude solution. There should be more efforts by the relevant government departments to provide an enabling environment for investment in food processing.
Isn’t it curious that of the many reports about investors coming into the country, one never hears of those interested in food processing? So are the authorities sending out comprehensive messages about investment opportunities in the country?
And I also wonder how the districts are identifying which of the food crops, or fruits, their areas offer to potential investors, as well as for the One District, One Factory (1D1F) programme.
For example, are the Municipal Chief Executives (MCEs) and the District Chief Executives (DCEs) holding meetings with their local winners of the Farmers Day awards, notably those in agro-processing, in order to get suggestions from them?
What is the use of identifying and honouring local farmers every year, on Farmers Day, if with an initiative like the 1D1F, closely linked to their area of expertise and experience, nobody will seek their input?
Fortunately, a few days ago, the 1D1F Coordinator, Gifty Ohene-Konadu, was reported as saying that instead of criticisms, people should offer suggestions to make the policy succeed. Furthermore, the Daily Guide of October 16 reported, “she said her doors are always open to receive suggestions that will (advance) the implementation of the policy”.
Well, Ms Ohene-Konadu, here is one suggestion from me: The MCEs and the DCEs should hold meetings with all the winners of the agro-processing awards in their district and seek ideas from them. Secondly, they should be asked what support they themselves need in order for the 1D1F to assist them to sustain their agro-processing ventures.
Furthermore, every MCE and DCE should send the Coordinator a report of the recommendations from such meetings. Better still, she should also seek the contacts of the agro-processing awards winners in each district to enable her office have direct contact with them.
That is my suggestion for the 1D1F project – for now.