The government will, by April this year, launch an audacious campaign to turn farmlands and backyards into a huge food basket that is expected to cut down the country’s food import bill drastically.
Modelled on the highly successful “Operation Feed Yourself (OFY)” programme of the 1970s, the initiative, dubbed: “Planting for food and jobs”, is expected to be driven by 200,000 farmers to be selected nationwide and individuals willing to cultivate vegetables and other crops in their backyard.
Already, district and regional directors of agriculture have been directed to develop criteria for the selection of the farmers who would be supported with farm inputs and extension services in the first phase which the Minister of Agriculture, Dr Owusu Afriyie Akoto, described as “the pilot phase” in an interview with the Daily Graphic yesterday.
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“‘Planting for food and jobs’ is the government’s new vision for turning around the fortunes of food and agriculture. It is a civic responsibility on the part of all Ghanaians to plant something.
“It doesn’t matter what you plant and how many seeds you put in the soil. Everybody should do something, both in the urban and the rural areas,” Dr Akoto said.
He rallied public support for the project, urging Ghanaians to take advantage of the coming rains to plant something, adding that schools, universities and prisons would not be left out of the project.
This year, maize, rice, soybean, sorghum and vegetables, including tomato, onion and pepper, are the five main crops for concentration. The campaign is expected to yield food valued at GH¢1.3 billion.
The concept also has tax incentives for companies, including breweries and food processing companies, that are willing to go into farming to feed their factories.
Dr Akoto said the campaign would make the country’s agriculture more productive at a time it was the lowest in productivity in terms of yield in West Africa.
The government has budgeted a little over GH¢560 million to cater for the five pillars of the campaign — seeds, fertiliser, extension services, marketing and e-fertiliser.
According to the breakdown of the budget, GH¢74.7 million will go into the provision of seeds, GH¢238.7 million for fertiliser, GH¢32 million for extension services, GH¢200 million for marketing and GH¢15 for e-agriculture and monitoring.
Apart from the hundreds of jobs it is expected to create, the campaign is also expected to guarantee food security, provide cheap food for the urban areas, raw materials for the livestock and the industrial sectors and surplus produce for export to the ECOWAS sub-region.
Dr Akoto said while funding would be part of this year’s budget, the government was already soliciting funding from the country’s development partners.
“So far, we are getting some good responses. The Canadian government has offered 135 million Canadian dollars to support the programme. The Korean government is supporting all the districts in the Central Region with $9 million and the Chinese government is thinking about giving us fertiliser to support the programme. We are still talking to our development partners,” he explained.
Dr Akoto said the plan was for households, schools and prisons to produce enough to feed themselves, while companies that depended on food produce as raw materials were also expected to produce enough to meet their needs.
He said metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies would play a leading role to drive the campaign at the district level, in collaboration with Members of Parliament and the Department of Agriculture.
He, therefore, urged individuals to contact the Department of Agriculture in their districts for seeds and extension advice after the launch of the programme.
Ghana imports substantial poultry, while local poultry farmers struggle to cope with the high cost of feed, but the minister said the trend would change as “the maize and the soybeans are meant to go into the poultry industry to reduce the cost of production of poultry and ultimately reduce the huge amount of poultry coming into the country. This will generate a lot of jobs”.
Ghana’s poultry import bill is said to be around GH¢200 million.
Asked about the potential impact of the campaign on the livelihood of farmers when there was a bumper harvest, the minister said there was a plan to buy all surplus produce from farmers.
He said post-harvest challenges which were a major headache for the sector would be dealt with by engaging the private sector to convert abandoned cocoa warehouses in cocoa-growing areas to buy the surplus for storage.
In 2008, the government introduced the national fertiliser subsidy programme to enhance food production and security in the country, but the programme has been plagued with challenges, including lack of funds.
In July 2015, the National Farmers and Fishermen Award Winners Association of Ghana (NFFAWAG) appealed to the government to release fertiliser subsidies to fertiliser distributors.
Many of the companies had stopped supplying subsidised fertiliser to farmers due to the delay in the release of the subsidy to them.
The situation crippled the supply of fertiliser to farmers, but the minister said the programme would be turned around to make it community owned, with farmers being in control of the distribution.
Operation Feed Yourself
The National Redemption Council (NRC) launched the OFY, which turned out to be the country’s most popular food production campaign, in 1972 to enhance the country’s food sufficiency.
According to experts, what differentiated the OFY from previous food programmes was the initial enthusiasm it created in the country, resulting in broad acceptance and participation by the Ghanaian population.
Thousands of Ghanaians took part in clearing land or helping harvest crops. Urban dwellers were drawn into backyard farming and large-scale rice production in the northern regions increased substantially.
In the first three years of the OFY, the production of all key food and industrial crops rose. Ghana was officially declared self-sufficient in rice production in 1974.