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Planting for Food and Jobs: Ghana on the path to food sufficiency?

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Despite the plethora of policies in Ghana’s food and agricultural sector, the country cannot be deemed to be food secure. Perhaps, ...
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Written By Marcellinus Essah - Why does Ghana continue to rely on grants to support its agriculture and food sector? Has Ghana learnt lessons from past foreign interventions? I want to believe that Ghana has learnt lessons from past agriculture and food policies modelled on the neoliberal logic of food production.


While trying to believe that Ghana has learnt lessons from the past, it becomes very difficult to get my head around the fact that Ghana glorifies in food exports as evidence of food sufficiency.

My argument is that Ghana’s food sufficiency does not, and will not depend on intensive large-scale agriculture, and the tonnes of food the country exports to neighbouring countries. Rather, it lies in a shift from the focus on export, to the empowerment of smallholder farmers to produce food for consumption and the domestic market.

Fast forward in 2017, Ghanaians voted for the New Patriotic Party (NPP) government to take over the reins of power from 2017 to 2020. In his first state of the nation address in Parliament, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo announced that with $125 million support from the Canadian government, Ghana was embarking on a Planting for Food and Jobs (P4FJ) campaign anchored on ensuring food security in the country.

Even though I am aware of the politics that has played out along in this campaign, I do not intend to dwell on that in this article. Yet, it is important to stress that while the NPP government believes this is the party’s flagship policy, the opposition NDC continues to lay claim to this policy as its brainchild.

History

Historically, Ghana’s agriculture and food policies have been engrained in a certain neoliberal logic which emphasises intensive large-scale agriculture and export at the expense of smallholder farming.

This logic has not only rendered farming techniques by smallholder farmers obsolete; it has also created a market for cash crops. Therefore, the country continues to witness a shift from food crop production to cash crop production. Let me state here that this path of agriculture growth is inherent in colonial food and agriculture policies.

Surprisingly, all post-colonial food and agriculture policies have followed this trajectory. At this juncture, it is important to chip in some history to show that colonial and post-colonial food and agriculture policies have been the same.

Over the years, from colonialism to post-colonialism, Ghana has implemented several food and agriculture policies. These policies are: the establishment of the Agriculture Development Corporation to introduce technology into farm production (1949); the Gonja Development Corporation (1957); Vea Irrigation schemes (1965); Operation Feed Yourself, Operation feed your industry and operation feed more than yourself (1971); Ghana Food Distribution Corporation(1972); Tono Irrigation Scheme (1975); Upper Regions Agricultural Development Programme and the Ghana Seed Programme (1979); Northern Region Integrated Programme (1980); SAP’s (1983); Sasakawa Global 2000 (1986); Food and Agriculture Sector Development Policy I (2002); Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy (2006); Food and Agriculture Sector Development Policy II (2007); Savanna Accelerated Development Authority (2010) and more recently, Planting for Food and Jobs (2017).

Food secure?

Despite the plethora of policies in Ghana’s food and agricultural sector, the country cannot be deemed to be food secure. Perhaps, what is unique about these policies is that they are widely export-driven. To the extent that they have not adequately factored in relational issues such as gender, ethnicity, household micro-politics and regional disparities makes them unsuitable for farmers.

Though a few of these policies such as Operation Feed Yourself was geared towards empowering smallholder farmers, majority have promoted exports.

Now, how different is planting for food and jobs from past food and agriculture policies. A critical examination of the policy shows that the government has reintroduced the credit facilities and subsidies rolled back in the age of the Structural Adjustment.

However, it has not shifted attention from export promotion. The big question is, to what extent did the government engage stakeholders before the implementation of P4FJ. Is it just another top-down policy that places government priorities at its core, while ignoring the inputs of smallholder farmers? Taking into account these questions, I am curious to know if planting for food and jobs is a new path to food sufficiency in the country. Researchers from the University of Ghana have also questioned the relevance of P4FJ to smallholder farmers (https://www.graphic.com.gh/news/general-news/planting-for-food-and-jobs-policy-is-practically-weak-research.html).

Notably, the government does not cease to remind citizens about the successes of planting for food and jobs because the country exports food to Burkina Faso. Is this really success? I dare say this is not success. Ghana’s focus must be to address the high attrition rate of smallholder farmers into off-farm activities.

Any country that is serious about food sufficiency must advance policies underpinned by accessibility, availability, affordability and stability. Assessing P4FJ in this light makes me conclude that Ghana’s path to food sufficiency is a long route.

I am particularly worried about the stability of planting for food and jobs due to the nature of politics in the country. Will a future NDC government roll back this policy or continue with it. Based on the experiences of policy continuity in the country, I fear for this policy. What about cases of fertiliser theft that has engulfed the P4FJ in the North? Recent news about fertiliser theft is undermining the P4FJ programme.

What viable measures is the government putting in place to arrest this problem? My observation in current agriculture practices in the country is listed below.

Measures

First, there is a high number of smallholder farmers who continue to sell their labour or convert their lands to engage in cash crop farming. Smallholder farmers see large-scale cash crop farming as more lucrative than food crop farming, hence, a majority of them are moving towards this path (reminiscent of colonial policies-emphasis).

Second, there is a growing disincentive on the part of the youth in Ghana to engage in agriculture. This is because it is no longer attractive and more so, expensive to engage in large-scale intensive agriculture.

To ameliorate this problem, the government must do the following: place gender and identity formation at the core of food and agriculture policy making in the country; focus on continuing stakeholder consultation; empower small-scale producers. This is the only viable way I believe Ghana can achieve food sufficiency.

 

The writer is a Ph.D. student in Human Geography at the University of Toronto, Canada. He holds a Master’s degree in Environmental Studies from York University, Toronto, Canada and a bachelor’s degree in Geography and Sociology from the University of Ghana.

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