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PROBLEMS OF FOOD INSECURITY IN GHANA

by Vance Azu

Food production levels have been used as part of poverty measuring paradigms. Globally, food availability is an essential function of cost of living. Food security is, therefore, seen the world over as an important component of social engineering. It is the basis for ensuring a healthy living for the people and greatly influences general price levels, particularly in developing countries. Ensuring food security has, therefore, been an essential component of development planning in Ghana.

Under the First Republic (1957-1966), that is, the first post-independence government, the work-and-happiness programme was initiated, under which agricultural brigades were established to increase food production. Silos and other storage facilities were built to store grains. Meat and vegetable canning factories were established in various parts of the country. In the middle 1970's, under the military regime of the National Redemption Council NRC, a programme dubbed "Operation Feed Yourself was launched to increase food production.

This achieved some measure of success, but the basic problem of the practice of rain-fed agriculture obstructed the efforts. It must be noted that the ability of a nation to feed herself and to provide food security for all her people but post harvest management does not depend only on efficient production. Proper storage, handling, processing and marketing can prevent waste, improve the income of the producers and, at the same time, give consumers access to more cheaper food all year-round. As a result of this, in 1987, the government of the erstwhile Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) set up a consortium, made up of the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT), the Agricultural Development Bank (ADB) and the Ghana Food Distribution Corporation, to establish a national strategic food stock. They were tasked to buy food, store and release them in the lean season to ensure national food security. That is, the consortium was to ensure an all-year round supply of essential staples in order to have a sustainable nutritional level for the population.

It is a fact that most Third World countries don't have food security, even though they have seasons of plenty when there are bumper harvests. However, because there are no efficient storage systems, post-harvest losses are very high. Ghana has about 34 per cent post-harvest loss for cereals, and figures for perishable commodities like vegetables are even higher. The result is that while there is more than adequate food during the harvest seasons, there is virtual starvation during the lean seasons.

Successive governments after the PNDC, particularly the immediate past regime of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), had to import food or appeal to donors for aid to supplement national food production. At least, for last year, Ghana imported $100 million worth of rice that include direct imports, grants and food aid. Therefore, if an efficient food security system is tobe established, then one method is to shift from rain-fed agriculture and instead use irrigation to ensure an all-year round food production. There is also the need to establish storage silos. There are a number of silos scattered all over the country, but lack of maintenance and patronage have rendered them malfunctioned. Those functional ones in the Afram Plains in the Eastern Region of the country are not patronised by the farmers because they maintain it is very expensive to store food there. They, therefore prefer to store their yield themselves in the traditional barns. The setting up of agro processing industries, so that excess food during the harvest seasons are processed and stored for the lean seasons, have also yielded little result. The strategic food stock that was employed some years ago could not succeed because it was supposed to be managed by government. For it to succeed, the project should be entrusted into private hands and managed by private limited liability companies.

The problem of sustainable food security has not been solved mainly because it has often been handled by inefficient state bureaucracy. This, coupled with Western imposed structural adjustment that proscribes subsidy to farmers, has tended to compound the problem. There is an urgent need to divest the government of not only direct involvement in food production, but also of processing and storage. What the government should do is to provide subsidy and incentives to enable local farmers and those in agro-processing to compete favourably with imported food that are dumped on the local market arid which subsequently kill the local industry. This will end the vicious circle of food insecurity once and for all.

Vance Ebenezer Azu is a Senior Reporter at The Mirror in Accra, Ghana.