Prices of tomatoes and pepper have gone high
Prices of tomatoes and pepper have gone high

Is the Planting for Food and Jobs Programme still alive?

A few days ago, my folks returned from the market with more complaints than goods.

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Prices of tomatoes and peppers particularly have gone so high that they had to adjust the shopping list to accommodate the price hike.

Not many others are fortunate like them. The most horrifying tale from the market is that poorer Ghanaians are turning to rotten vegetables, specifically tomatoes and peppers.

Even more dangerous is that some of these buyers are food vendors who are buying fungi and bacteria-infested rotten veggies. What does this mean? More of compatriots who eat from roadside food joints, from waakye, kenkey to jollof, may be consuming food with questionable quality.

It didn't then surprise me that kenkey vendors recently served a notice for the first time in the history of our republic that they would sell the pepper that gives kenkey a flaming companionship heading to our bellies.

After murmuring with the returnees from the market, I kept scratching my head over our flagship Planting for Food and Jobs. What happened? Why are food prices out of the roof after we relaunched the policy recently with speeches of hope that could feed the entire country?

The PFJ initiative, launched in 2017, has been hailed as a transformative programme for Ghana’s agricultural sector. Designed to boost food security, create employment and alleviate poverty, PFJ provided farmers with subsidised seeds and fertilisers, along with improved agricultural practices.

However, recent trends in food prices suggest that the programme may be faltering.

A paradox

Despite a drop in overall inflation, the cost of food in Ghana has soared. This paradox prompts a critical evaluation of the PFJ initiative. Several factors contribute to this disconcerting trend, and understanding them is crucial to formulating effective solutions.

The government, in the recent past, blamed global supply chain disruptions arising from COVID-19 and the Russian-Ukraine war for playing significant roles. The availability and cost of agricultural inputs have been affected, straining the PFJ's capacity to support farmers effectively.  

Not to forget the unrestrained corruption that bedevilled the fertiliser distribution.  Rising Petroleum Prices further exacerbate the situation by increasing transportation costs, directly impacting food prices.

Coupled with poor road Infrastructure, these issues make it difficult to transport goods efficiently from farms to markets. Climate Change adds another layer of complexity, with erratic weather patterns.

The government's support for irrigation services has been more of lip service than work. Urban agriculture has virtually collapsed, as some of the significant irrigation investments in our peri-urban areas, including Weija, Tuba and Ashaiman, are on their knees. Encroachers have taken over almost all the sites.

For those willing to defy the odds and invest in urban agriculture, electricity prices have tied their hands. The poor urban consumer is bearing the cost of these shortfalls in the agriculture sector. 

Decisive action

To address these challenges, the government must take decisive action. High petroleum prices necessitate immediate relief measures such as subsidies or tax relief for fuel used in agriculture.

 In the long term, investing in renewable energy sources in rural areas can reduce dependence on expensive petroleum products. Improving road infrastructure is another critical need. Immediate repairs to critical road networks connecting farming areas to markets should be prioritised.

A comprehensive rural infrastructure development plan, potentially funded through public-private partnerships, is essential for sustainable improvement.

Enhancing agricultural productivity remains a cornerstone of the PFJ programme. Increased funding and support for PFJ can ensure continuous access to necessary inputs and training for farmers.

Encouraging crop diversification can also reduce reliance on a few staple crops, increasing resilience against climate shocks and improving food security. Market access and storage facilities are equally important. Investing in cold storage and processing facilities can minimise post-harvest losses, ensuring more food reaches the market.

Strengthening market linkages through digital platforms can connect farmers directly with consumers and retailers, reducing intermediary costs and ensuring fairer prices for producers and consumers.

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Obviously, the PFJ Market, which temporarily brought relief to civil servants, is not the solution. While the PFJ has made significant strides in its early days, the current spike in food prices amidst declining inflation highlights the need for a multifaceted approach to addressing these challenges.

By tackling transportation costs, improving infrastructure, enhancing agricultural productivity and facilitating better market access, the government can stabilise food prices and bolster the PFJ initiative’s success.

We can't afford to bury our heads in the sand and pretend all is well. Food is expensive and if the Ghana Statistical Service’s data that one in four Ghanaians are multidimensionally poor is to go by, then a quarter of our population is hungry.

A hungry man is an angry man. Time to act! The author is the Chancellor of the Wisconsin International University College and the immediate past President-General of the West Africa Noble Forum. 

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