Ghana will go to the polls in November this year to select the caretakers of their health, wealth and happiness. As always there will be manifestos, rallies and promises by the dozen. The big question is to what extent food security will be in the forefront of the political agenda.

The issue of food security globally and in Ghana is one of great concern and it is logical that citizens should question the prospective administrators on how they plan to ensure it for Ghanaians. Or is it logical?

The philosopher, Onora O?Neill, noted, ?It can be mockery to tell someone they have the right to food when there is nobody with the duty to provide them with food. That is the risk with the rights rhetoric. What I like about choosing the counterpart, the active obligation of duties rather than the rights, you can?t go on and on without addressing the question who has to do what, for whom, when?.

The answer Ghanaian voters must therefore demand from all participating and prospective ?governments? should therefore be what they will do for Ghanaians to ensure short, medium and long term food security.

Do you understand what food security means?

Food Security Ghana (FSG) has maintained for quite some time that the incumbent government is confusing food self-sufficiency with food security and that this confusion has led to increased suffering for Ghanaians and to distortion of policies and thus wrong decisions in the short term.

Food self-sufficiency means that you produce everything yourself. Food security means that food is available at all times irrespective of where it comes from.

All countries in the world is to a greater or lesser extent reliant on the importation of foodstuff to ensure food security. This may be due to climatic reasons or it may be due to economic reasons. Whatever the reason it is the duty of governments to stimulate local industries in a responsible way if the country has the potential to become self-sufficient while not threatening food security in the interim.

In the past four years Ghana has seen an almost manic drive by the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) to become self-sufficient in certain industries such as rice and poultry that are currently only able to produce 30% of local demand.

This manic drive led to two broken promises by the Minister in charge of MOFA, Mr. Kwesi Ahwoi, as well as a ridiculous 2013 import ban notification on poultry by MOFA.

Mr. Ahwoi?s first promise was to become self-sufficient in terms of rice supply within two to three years. When this promise was proved as political propaganda the promise changed to halving rice imports by October 2012 or resignation ?if the President asks him to do so.?

The people of Ghana should therefore ask all campaigning Presidents if they would have fired Mr. Ahwoi, and specifically if the acting President is going to fire him for grave deceit of the people of Ghana.

FASDEP (Food and Agriculture Sector Development Policy) is not working. What do you plan to do about that?

It is important for Ghanaians to understand what FASDEP is and why it has failed.

The first Food and Agriculture Sector Development Policy (FASDEP) was developed in 2002 under the Kufuor administration as a framework for the implementation of strategies to modernisation of the agricultural sector.

After nearly four years of its implementation, and the development of sub-sector policies and strategies to guide implementation, it became necessary to revise FASDEP to reflect lessons learned and to respond to the changing needs of the sector.

This revised policy (FASDEP II 2007 ? also under the Kufuor administration) emphasises the sustainable utilization of all resources and commercialisation of activities in the sector with market-driven growth in mind. It however targets fewer commodities for food security and income diversification, especially of resource poor farmers.

The issue here is that FASDEP comes from 2002 and was revised in 2007 by the Kufuor administration and gladly accepted by the Mills administration.

But it failed as clearly indicated by the 2012 Budget Speech. FASDEP was supposed to deliver at least 6% growth in agriculture and fell well and truly short with a meagre 2.5% growth.

This failure can be described to two things only.

In the first place it was a totally unrealistic policy by the Kufuor administration or it was woefully implemented by them and by the NDC administration.

Fact is that FASDEP is not producing the results it promised and Ghanaians should ask the government and would-be governments why not, and what are they planning to do to rescue the situation.

Are our plans based on false information?

The statistical information underlying plans and decisions by MOFA has been question time and again.

It is generally acknowledged that if you can?t measure it you can?t manage it. If the information gathered is wrong then the decisions based on it will be wrong and it will lead to distortion of resources.

Although MOFA must be credited for taking great strides to make agricultural information available through their website, the accuracy of the information is still being questioned.

Ghanaians should therefore ask if the information used for policy formation and planning is indeed accurate and if not, what will be done to correct the situation.

Are trade and fiscal policies with regards to food supporting or jeopardising food security in Ghana?

The following two issues have been debated at regular intervals, namely import duties on basic foodstuff and VAT (Value Added Tax) on basic foodstuff.

With regards to import duties is basically that the importation of basic foodstuff is subject to very high import duties in Ghana (37%) compared to relatively low duties in neighbouring countries such as Ivory Coast (12.6%)

Neighbouring countries such as Ivory Coast and Mali in fact recently abolished import duties on foodstuff such as rice to protect consumers amidst yet another food crisis.

The debate started in 2009 when the current government re-introduced a 20% import duty that was abolished by the previous government in 2007 to help consumers amidst the crisis of 2007 ? 2008.

This step was motivated on two grounds. Firstly it was stated that the food crisis was over in the same month that the World Bank and UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) warned of a new crisis. This obviously raised eyebrows of analysts and placed a question mark on the integrity of the government.

In the second place it was motivated on the ground that it was necessary to protect and promote local industries, specifically the rice and poultry industries that could only supply 30% of local demand at the time.

Many analysts have subsequently clearly debunked this by showing that the problems of the local industry can only be solved by increasing quality and yields while decreasing waste through increased investment in production methods (mechanisation, fertilization and irrigation) as well as improved infrastructure (roads) and access to markets.

In addition huge investments in agricultural research would be required.

Many countries have also scrapped VAT on basic foodstuff while Ghana has not even taken the step to look into this issue.

The trade and fiscal policies of consecutive governments have therefore only achieved to increase the suffering of millions of struggling Ghanaians without making a contribution to the improvement of local production.

The neglect to address these issues is seen as extreme insensitivity to the plight of Ghanaians and voters should question this and demand answers from those parties who will be trying to get their votes in 2012.

Are the levels of investment in agriculture and agricultural research in Ghana adequate?

Another area of concern is the level of provision for investment in agriculture by Ghana. According to the New Partnership for Africa?s Development (NEPAD) under its Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) framework the objective is to raise agricultural productivity in Africa to at least six percent annually to contribute to poverty alleviation and elimination of hunger in Africa.

In addition, CAADP requires countries to commit at least 10% of their national budgets to agriculture. Since 2003, thirty countries including Ghana have signed up to the CAADP Compact and eight have surpassed the 10 percent target.

Although Ghana claims that it is meeting the 10% guideline, the real investment is questionable as about 50% of this budget allocation is dependent on international development aid that may or may not materialise.

In addition the Food Ministry has acknowledged that the investment in agricultural research is not nearly sufficient to help Ghana achieve its food security objectives.

The question Ghanaian voters must therefore ask of 2012 hopefuls is what they are planning to do about this situation. If the solution requires more than a 10% investment, why is that not done and how will funds be acquired to make the required investment in research?

Do smallholder farmers and specifically women receive sufficient support?

Research report after research report screams for more support to smallholder farmers and specifically women.

Smallholder farmers provide over 80 per cent of food needs in the face of numerous challenges, but they still face challenges such as low application of technology and weak and un-enumerative markets which need urgent attention.

Weak market for crops and low prices of commodities is reinforcing the vicious cycle of low productivity, low profits and low technology that calls for strengthening markets for small scale producers and ensuring that barriers preventing such producers from fully participating in markets were removed.

One would have expected that the government would have a special programme that only focuses on helping smallholder farmers. Looking at current programmes of MOFA this does not seem to be the case.

In the meantime both the current government and other parties are talking about the requirement to introduce modernisation and large scale commercial farming in order to achieve food security goals.

If this leaning towards large scale commercial farming is based on the misguided policy of achieving self-sufficiency at all cost while smallholder farmers are ignored, Ghana will see a dramatic rise in poverty and a worsening of the food security situation in Ghana.

Ghanaian voters have to insist from the would-be government to clearly outline their policies and programmes with regards to smallholder farmers, and should refrain from giving those who can?t do that clearly and unambiguously a thumbs-up in the coming general elections.

Food security as major election issue

The true fact is that too many Ghanaians (51.8%) are still under the global poverty line and that affordability of food is a major concern in Ghana.

Besides for the main questions posed here (understanding the essence of food security, accurate and timely information and the right policies and plans based on that, investment in agriculture and research, trade and fiscal policies and support to smallholder farmers) there may be more questions and FSG will continue to uncover and report on these.

The fact is that without food security there can be no security.

Ghanaians should escalate the issue of food security during the 2012 elections and base their judgement when going to the polls in December on the answers from the respective campaigners, including the incumbent NDC, on how they plan to serve the needs of the nation instead of doggedly pursuing self-serving ways.


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