Feature Article of Sunday, 23 December 2012

Columnist: Mrs Audrey Dekalu

Ghana introduces drought tolerant maize to boost food security

To Aba Antobam, a subsistence Farmer, maize is her life blood. The crop is her main source of income to cater for every need of her family.

However buying improved maize seed such as hybrid varieties is a huge gamble for Aba since the rainy season could be erratic leading to unforeseen loss of income and capital.

In response to these challenges in March 2010, Ghana introduced drought-tolerant maize which were high yielding and affordable to manage food security.

The varieties were collaboratively developed by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Ghana’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)-Crops Research Institute and Savanna Agricultural Research Institute.

Mr Manfred Ewool, Lead Scientist and a Maize Breeder from CSIR told the Ghana News Agency in an interview that the farmers have welcomed the new varieties and have given them local names to denote their characteristics and importance.

They are CSIR-Omankwa (giver of life), CSIR Aburohemaa, (Queen mother of maize), CSIR-Abontem (extra early maize) and CSIR-Enii Pibi (father’s child).

Mr Ewool explained that it has taken an average of more than 10 years, to reach millions of Ghanaians with improved drought tolerant maize varieties.

He said events such as the severe floods and drought of 2007, coupled with unpredicted rainfall pattern and harsh weather conditions due to climate change rise in global food and fuel prices have cumulatively heightened the already existing vulnerabilities among people and communities.

Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food, which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

Household food security is the application of the concept to the family level, with individuals within households as the focus of concern.

Statistics show that a total of 1.2 million Ghanaians are with limited access to sufficient and nutritious food throughout the year, while another two million are at risk or becoming food insecure during the lean season or at the onset of a natural or man-made disaster.

These figures constitute between five to 10 per cent of the total population, but the majority of people at risk of food insecurity are concentrated in Northern, Upper East and Upper West Regions.

Ghana rated 68th out of 105 countries and third in Sub Saharan Africa after South Africa, 40th and Botswana 47th with an overall score of 43.1 out of a possible score of 100.

This called for something urgent to be done to stem the tide.

With the development of new techniques, all existing tools to improve agricultural productivity such as biotechnology deserve careful consideration and should be made available for farmers.

Professor Eric Danquah, Director of the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement at the University of Ghana said sub Saharan African governments have paid only lip service to funding scientific research.

He called on the government of Ghana to invest in the training of a critical mass of scientists in addition to providing the necessary infrastructure for agriculture development in research institutions.

Since maize will remain a crucial part of the food security equation even while the agricultural economies of the Region diversify, continued investments in both maize research and market institutions are essential.

It is therefore important for Ghana to adapt local food production in order to manage food security and to address the uncertainties and threats facing farming communities.

The country must also explore ways of combating food insecurity posed by climate change.