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Feature Article of Friday, 13 April 2012

Columnist: Food Security Ghana

Should Food Security Be An Issue In The 2012 Elections

Ghana has been hailed as a ³beacon of hope² 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, ³regrettably in Ghana, campaign
stump speeches both in the past and even in recent times have been high on
form and very low on substance.²

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
³low interest² issue, and as such the debate is focused on personal attacks
on each other and ³high interest² 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, ³Food
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 life²

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 ³access², 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 ³war² 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 Nation¹s 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 both money 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. Both these 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 can¹t see as
feasible.

As stated before, the problem does not lie in the policy or propaganda, but
in the feasibility to deliver. 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 government¹s 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 policies work 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.

Food Statistics

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 can¹t be ignored, namely that you can¹t
manage it if you can¹t 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 taxpayers¹ money.

Shortages and Surpluses (The Food Balance Sheet)

The publication of a ³Food Balance Sheet² (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:

³A 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 commodity availablity for
human consumption which corresponds to the sources of supply and its
utilisation. The total quantity of foodstuffs produced in a country added 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 made
between 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.²

Even though Ghana¹s 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
government¹s 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 local development, investments and tariffs and
duties.

Investment

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 can¹t 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 judge where 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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