Ghana has been hailed as a “beacon of hope” on the African continent due to its record of political stability and progress in development areas. In about seven months from now the country will once again go to the polls to judge the governance of the current NDC led regime, and the question is what this judgment by the people should be based on.
In a recent article the author stated that, “regrettably in Ghana, campaign stump speeches both in the past and even in recent times have been high on form and very low on substance.”
According to the author Issues, ideas, policy alternatives on health, education, shelter, food security, national security, energy, mass transit etc. feed political discussions in countries that are development oriented.
Food security has been high on the global agenda since 2008 and the world, including Ghana, reeled under high and volatile food prices caused by the 2008 – 09 food crisis, a crisis that was followed by the 2011 – 12 food crisis. These crises drove millions more people into poverty and thus placing them at risk of malnutrition and starvation.
Various figures have been bandied about in Ghana about poverty levels ranging from 12 million plus as stated by the Gallup pole to 18.2% as stated by Mr. Kwaku Antwi-Boasiako Sekyere, Deputy Minister of Employment and Social Welfare.
These figures alone dictate that food security and poverty alleviation should be very high on the agenda for the 2012 elections in Ghana.
The problem is that politicians regard an issue such as food security as a “low interest” issue, and as such the debate is focused on personal attacks on each other and “high interest” issues such as corruption.
Food Security as Election Agenda
Food Security Ghana (FSG) has criticised the current and previous governments because of their apparent lack of understanding of what food security is really all about.
Once again we will repeat what the international community understand under the concept of food security.
The World Food Summit of 1996 defined food security as follows, “Food security, at the individual, household, national, regional and global levels [is achieved] when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”
Food Security v Food Self-sufficiency
Food security does not mean that a country must be 100% self-sufficient in all forms of food. The key word is “access”, and since the beginning of mankind nations have filled gaps in the access to food through trade, meaning importing and or exporting food.
Since the change of government in 2008 - 09 the government has consistently through public statements defined food security to be synonymous with food self-sufficiency. This “war” on imports have lead to short-term policy decisions that have been to the detriment of the people in Ghana.
A policy of food self-sufficiency is laudable if it is achievable. The United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and food analysts all over the world agree with that.
The problem is not with the vision or mission, but with its implementation. Two industries in Ghana has been under the spotlight by the government, namely the rice and poultry industries.
Policy statements and indeed promises by the government about these two industries have bordered on deceit of the people of Ghana.
Both industries are only able to supply about 30% of local demand, and are as such heavily dependent on imports of the foodstuff. In addition both industries are subject to very low productivity levels and indeed very low quality problems. The investments required to lift both productivity and quality are huge in bothmoney and time terms.
The Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) have made various promises to the people of Ghana.
In terms of rice the initial promise was that Ghana would become self-sufficient within two to three years. When that deadline expired, the promise was that importation would be halved by October 2012. That promise is very unlikely to be fulfilled. Boththese promises were backed by promises of resignation, also highly susceptible promises.
As far as poultry is concerned the government promised to ban the importation of poultry by 2013, something that FSG just can’t see as feasible.
As stated before, the problem does not lie in the policy or propaganda, but in the feasibility todeliver. If a feasible timeframe for implementation is 10 years and it is backed by a sensible transformation plan, all the people in Ghana will applaud it. However, if it is propaganda for political gain then the people of Ghana should reject both the plan and the people behind it.
Tariffs and Duties
FSG has for a long period been very critical of the government’s policy on tariffs and duties.
Certain basic foodstuff including rice and cooking oil is subject to very high tariffs (37% in Ghana compared to 12.5% in Ivory Coast) under the guise that it is to protect the local industries.
While it is true that countries use tariffs and duties to protect local industries, such policieswork effectively when the industry is in a state of self-sufficiency.
India may serve as perfect example. Its rice industry is a net exporting industry and import duties are as high as 70%. In 2009, however, the Indian government foresaw a local shortfall in production and realised that importation would be essential. To help its consumers, it reduced import duties during the period of shortages from 70% to 0%.
Another aspect is the exemption of basic foodstuff from taxes such as VAT. In South Africa, for example, fourteen basic foodstuffs are totally exempt from the payment of VAT to help the poor.
Current policies in Ghana are not only shortsighted, but are indeed harmful to millions in the country who are struggling to make ends meet.
Although MOFA has done a lot to bring transparency in terms of reporting on food issues via their revised web site, the very basis of those figures have been questioned for a long time.
There is a truth in management that can’t be ignored, namely that you can’t manage it if you can’t measure it.
As part of the 2012 debate the people of Ghana should insist to know the true situation with regards to the gathering of information as false information will ensure misguided application of taxpayers’ money.
Shortages and Surpluses (The Food Balance Sheet)
The publication of a “Food Balance Sheet” (FBS) for Ghana is a major step forward, subject to verification of the statistics underlying the Balance Sheet.
The Food Balance Sheet is described as follows by the FAO:
“A food balance sheet presents a comprehensive picture of the pattern of a country's food supply during a specified reference period. The food balance sheet shows for each food item i.e. each primary commodityavailablity for human consumption which corresponds to the sources of supply and its utilisation. The total quantity of foodstuffs produced in a countryadded to the total quantity imported and adjusted to any change in stocks that may have occurred since the beginning of the reference period gives the supply available during that period. On the utilisation side a distinction is madebetween the quantities exported, fed to livestock + used for seed, losses during storage and transportation, and food supplies available for human consumption. The per capita supply of each such food item available for human consumption is then obtained by dividing the respective quantity by the related data on the population actually partaking in it. Data on per capita food supplies are expressed in terms of quantity and by applying appropriate food composition factors for all primary and processed products also in terms of dietary energy value, protein and fat content.”
Even though Ghana’s FBS has a long way to go in order to provide the full picture, it is a good beginning.
The FBS clearly indicates shortfalls and surpluses of the food production of a country. What it does not show is what government policy is with regards to major shortfalls or surpluses.
A lot is being said about rice and poultry, but nothing about items such as wheat and sugar where local production according to the FAO 2007 FBS for Ghana indicates a 100% dependence on imports. The question is therefore what government’s policy is both with regards to local production and tariffs and duties? Should such foodstuff not be exempted from both VAT and import tariffs?
FSG hopes that either the government of the day or the opposition will clearly spell out policies with regards to all major items on the FBS with regards to aspects such as localdevelopment, investments and tariffs and duties.
Before the emergence of a global food-price crisis, African leaders pledged to increase support for agriculture. Recognising the importance of a strong agricultural sector for economic growth and poverty reduction, they made a commitment to invest 10 percent of their national budgets in agriculture by 2008.
The picture with regards to Ghana is not that clear. It seems as though a large percentage of planned investment in agriculture is based on grants and other external sources that may or may not realise.
The MOFA Minister, Mr. Kwesi Ahwoi, has publicly indicated that investment in agricultural research is totally insufficient.
Without sufficient and well-directed investment in agriculture, food security in Ghana can’t be guaranteed and this should be high on the political agenda for 2012.
Many Other Issues
Besides for the points mentioned above there are many more issues that need to be clarified in terms of food security in Ghana. These issues should also surely be a major yardstick for Ghanaians to judgewhere their vote should go in 2012, and FSG can only propagate, hope and pray that Ghanaians will ask the right questions before committing their votes.
In following issues FSG will explore these and other topics further to hopefully provide a better platform for Ghanaians before the elections in 2012.
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