Going to my home region the other week, I decided to travel the four hour tiresome journey by road rather than the convenience of a thirty minute flight.
I was glad I went by road as it gave me the opportunity to see beyond expectation - food glut. Pondering over what I saw, I began to think that if that is the picture across the country then we have cause to celebrate.
Throughout my journey, to and from Accra, across the Eastern to Ashanti Region, the entire stretch was covered with variety of food items on sale. We stopped a few times just so I could check prices of the various items and make informed comparisons. Surprisingly, one needed not to bargain or negotiate for prices. The women were ready to take a buyer’s last offer and they were pleading for an offer, customer service par excellence.
I could understand the women and actually empathised with them. They had carried the foodstuffs right from the farm gate and most of the items had short shelf life. The heat we are experiencing these days does not favour food storage without proper preservation. A bunch of green plantain for example, would go ripe in a matter of days. As for vegetables like spinach, they discolour and sag within hours in the sun. So no wonder the sellers, in the midst of the food glut, are not wasting time to bargain but ready to sell off their foodstuffs for any amount rather than lose out.
In the midst of the abundant harvest, I have observed that a number of roasted plantain stands have sprung up in all corners and in spots least expected. It has become the business of the moment. On the highway to Kumasi, I counted a number of roasted yam and plantain sellers even in places where previously one did not see them.
In Accra, the popular snack has popped up and plantain roasting is seen in all corners and so also has spicy seasoned fried plantain, popularly known as kelewele. It is good to see that our women have taken advantage of the food season to make some income. But if only such an opportunity would last all year round and provide even more jobs. I believe food preservation is the answer.
Planting for Food and Jobs may have been one of the contributory factors to the abundance of food items in our markets today. But the rains have also been kind to our planting strategy, for even in November; we have witnessed some heavy downpours rather unexpectedly. Could it also be that farming is becoming attractive and our farmers are becoming more energised to produce beyond home consumption?
Whatever has constituted the windfall in food harvest, we have not seen any concrete steps or facilities to support food conservation or preservation to enable us to enjoy our favourite foods all year round. The chain should be complete – from production to harvesting to marketing and preservation.
Driving through the North Industrial Area in Accra the other day, the sorrowful state of the defunct Ghana Food Distribution Corporation head office and silo sitting prominently by the roadside hit me hard. The once bubbly sector of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture during the 1970s is now a shadow of its old self.
I remember how those days it did not matter the season of the year, one could go to Food Distribution shops and find any foodstuff on their shelves. Their tall silo which was used to store excess maize in times of bumper harvest so we could have the staple at a reasonable price all year round is standing tall and drooping down.
The abundant foodstuffs we are witnessing now should remind us not to be complacent.
Planting for Food and Jobs may be a fantastic innovation but what does it profit us if we should gain every food type under the sun and fail to manage the excesses, leaving them to rot. We need to quicken our steps and find other measures and interventions to preserve that which we cannot consume now for a rainy day. We do not need to reinvent as by now, our Food Research Institute and other research institutions must have abundant research on food preservation gathering dust on academic shelves.
We surely do not want to see all the good work in agriculture and the efforts of our industrious farmers go to waste. We look forward to the day when our country would become a net exporter of staple foods contributing to world good by sending donations of food items to feed hungry nations. Planting for food and jobs and rearing for meat and jobs should equal adequate preservation to feed all mouths and sustainable jobs all year round. Let us think about that.