Revive dwindling fortunes of agric sector - Dr Akoto

BY: Enoch Darfah Frimpong

Dr Owusu Afriyie AkotoThe NPP MP for Kwadaso, Dr Owusu Afriyie Akoto, has warned of imminent Dutch disease in the country if nothing is done to revive the dwindling fortunes of the food and agriculture sector.

He said the food and agriculture sector was in such a deplorable state that the upbeat message contained in the 2013 budget would not help in finding the right solutions.

The Dutch disease is a situation whereby a country which discovers oil begins to pay little or no attention to other sectors and depends largely on the proceeds from the oil.

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Taking his turn in the ongoing debate on the Budget Statement and Economic Policy of the government, the MP who is the Ranking Member on the Select Committee on Food, Agriculture and Cocoa Affairs said the sector was in a state that the resources allocated and policies indicated would not be enough to remove the sector from the rot in which it found itself.

He observed that for the past five years real growth in the agricultural sector had been collapsing, indicating that from 7.4 per cent it reduced slightly to 7.2 per cent in 2009 and 5.3 per cent in 2010.

Dr Akoto said there was hardly any growth in 2011 with a record of only 0.8 per cent and picking up slightly to only 2.6 per cent in 2012.

"We will be lucky if we reach even half of the target, given the meager resources allocated to that sector in 2013 and the business-as-usual policies envisaged".

"It is significant to note that the poor growth performance of the sector lags behind the performance in the overall economy - the onset of the Dutch Disease?".

Dr Akoto said the stagnant agricultural growth meant deepening poverty for the 4.5 million farmers and fishermen of the country and rising deprivation and hunger for consumers.

According to him, statistics provided by the Ministry of Agriculture indicated that production of basic food staples (cereals, legume, root and tubers) had seen stagnant growth in the last few years.

The largely fluctuations witnessed in the production of maize and rice and the sharp increase in the imports of rice  from 394,400 metric tonnes in 2008 to 543,465 metric tonnes in 2011 attest to the deepening food insecurity in Ghana.

Dr Akoto wondered why the government that allocated GHc340.8 to the agriculture sector in 2013 which according to him represented 2.2 of the total budgetary allocation as compared to the 3.8 in 2010 and 2.7 per cent in 2011.

He said such low allocation would not dent the stagnant agriculture growth which had characterised the country's performance in recent years, explaining that the amount would not even turn around agriculture in the Northern Region alone.

Dr Akoto said millions of Ghanaian farmers and fishermen continued to suffer from low productivity because of inadequate supply of improved inputs and lack of market access and farm credit.

He said the plan this year to establish agriculture mechanisation centres in 170 districts had been repeated in each budget since 2009 while the number of the existing centres continued to fall.

Dr Akoto said from 86 such centres in 2009, the number had fallen to 62 by 2012, which were even likely to close down due to the lack of spare parts for the existing tractors and other forms of machinery.

On cocoa, Dr Akoto said since the attainment of the record one million metric tonnes production in the 2010/2011 season, there had been a fall in output to 879,000 metric tonnes in the 2011/2012 season while the current 2012/2013 crop season was likely to yield only 800 metric tonnes.

"In my expect opinion, if urgent measures are not taken now, production could decline further to the 2004/2005 levels of below 740,000 metric tonnes in the coming seasons".

"The account given above clearly demonstrates that the 2013 budget does not equip this country with sufficient tools to arrest the stagnation. Of food and agriculture sector. The Dutch disease is staring the country in the face with the rising oil sector", he said.

On irrigation, Dr Akoto said even though the government had made commitments in all budgets since 2009, nothing had happened so far in spite of the fact that the NPP administration left behind detailed plans for the implementation of the Accra plains irrigation project.

He said the local premix committees established by the government to ensure fairer distribution of premix fuel to fishermen to avoid artificial shortages had failed as there were reports of shortage in many communities.

Dr Akoto said the collapsing annual catches, resulting from dwindling fish stock, had not been halted because the fisheries laws (Act 164 and LI  1964) were being enforced vigorously for political convenience.

Responding to Dr Akoto's critique of the sector, the Chairman of the Food, Agriculture and Cocoa Committee of Parliament, Dr Ahmed Yakubu Alhassan, said  the content of the 2013 budget was meant to consolidate and sustain most initiatives in the sector for purposes of food security, job creation and value addition.

He argued that initiatives such as the fertilizer subsidy programme, agriculture mechanisation and the provision of market infrastructure which were put in place since 2009 were working.

Dr Alhassan explained that irrigation initiatives and projects were meant to add to the stock of irrigable  land in the agriculture sector.

He said the fertilizer subsidy programme had increased from the provision of 45,176 metric tonnes in 2008 to 173 metric tonnes in 2012 while rice production had increased from 266.9 metric tonnes between 2006 and 2008 to 1191.4 metric tonnes  between 2009 and 2011, representing 74.8 increase.

On maize, he said the product had increased from 1292.8 to 1725.1 which represented an increase of 14.4 per cent within the same period.

Dr Alhassan said while poultry production increased from 31,056 tonnes in 2008 to 41,008 tonnes in 2001, aquaculture production increased from 6,514 tonnes to 19,092 tonnes in 2011, explaining that fish exports accruals moved from $158 million in 2009 to $256 million in 2011.

He explained that agriculture gross domestic product (GDP) was calculated from the yields of crops and cocoa, livestock, forestry, logging and fishing.

Dr Alhassan said the crop sector was doing well due to the incentives and subsidies being supplied.

He said however that poor environmental management was discouraging the harvest of forest for timber, adding that obviously a reducing forestry and logging sub-sector was contributing negatively to the agriculture GDP.

"There is sufficient commitment in the 2013 budget to sustain and grow these achievements. The support of all is needed not just to criticise the initiatives, programmes and projects but directly buy into same to contribute to agriculture growth", he said.

Story by Emmanuel Adu-Gyamerah