Interview: Owusu Afriyie Akoto
To what extent is there room for increased self-sufficiency and reduced reliance on imports?
OWUSU AFRIYIE AKOTO: Ensuring that Ghana is self-sufficient is one of our key areas of focus. Unfortunately, over the last decade, the value of eight food imports that Ghana relies on rose from $350m to $2.2bn, which is very close to our total export revenue from cocoa. This rise in value is not only attributable to higher global prices but also to increased demand. The food landscape has been relying too much on imports. If this trend were to continue, it would pose a big risk since additional production would put a constraint on the market.
On the supply side, some of the decline in the sector can be linked to the low budget allocated to the Ministry of Agriculture, which has decreased from 5.4% of the total budget in 2008 to 0.9% in 2016. Alongside its plan to increase the overall budget for the sector, the administration’s new vision is also to correct the fundamentals based on increased funding to smallholders, focusing on increasing yields, empowering farmers through better extension services and stimulating demand for local produce. As an early result of new policies, growth in the sector has already accelerated from 3% to above 4%.
Following on from the implementation of the Planting for Food and Jobs programme, what milestones does Ghana expect to reach?
AKOTO: The programme is based on five pillars: supply seeds to farmers, supply fertilisers at subsidised prices, expand extension services, ensure there is a market and a reasonable surplus for the farmer, and monitoring through the e-agriculture platform. There are also five focus crops: maize, rice, soy bean, sorghum and a selection of vegetables including tomatoes and chili peppers. The programme at large appeals to all Ghanaians, and we are convinced of our country’s soil fertility. In 2017 we reached 200,000 farmers and are targeting 500,000 in 2018. The aims are to reach 1.5m farmers before 2020, ease their financial burden by providing 50% of subsidised fertiliser – the remaining 50% payable at the time of harvest – and increase access to Ghanaian-developed hybrid seeds. Consequently, farmers can expand yields and overall productivity, increase their income and eventually be able to reinvest some profit in the future.
The potential for increasing exports and value addition in the medium term is tremendous. Maize, one of Ghana’s most important crops that grows in all corners of the country and is cultivated by all ethnic groups, is a clear example. Only 11% of maize farmers use hybrid seeds, and in this regard, Ghana is already self-sufficient. Using the lowest-grade hybrid can increase yields three-fold. The programme will cover most of the funding needs of smallholders, with the average holding size in Ghana being 1 ha. If, at a later stage, farmers need to introduce additional capital or expand, then private funding could have a role to play. Overall, we are very confident in the expected deliverables for the next couple of years.
How can key infrastructural bottlenecks impeding the agriculture sector be addressed?
AKOTO: In regard to infrastructure, considerable focus has been placed on the 2018 budget in order to repair and rehabilitate agricultural roads. Infrastructure is a key variable when it comes to market access, and a lack of storage facilities could become a potential constraint given that total output is expected to increase. Our current estimate on warehousing needs for marketing maize alone is 200,000 tonnes. As of today our storage capacity is limited at 110,000 tonnes. The ideal scenario would be for every district to have one warehouse with a capacity of at least 1000 tonnes. These storage units can definitely be leased out and operated by the private sector in order to utilise the crops as the basis of a broader, privately owned and all-inclusive agro-industrial value chain.
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