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Opinions of Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Columnist: Food Security Ghana

Kwesi Ahwoi changes tune

Mr. Kwasi Ahwoi, previous Minister in charge of Ghana’s Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) dramatically changed his tune when he handed the reins over to Hon. Kofi Humado.

In his handover speech, he charged Hon. Humado to “minimise if not eliminate the importation of rice and to reduce import of livestock products by 40 percent … in the next four years of his leadership.”

It will be remembered that Mr. Ahwoi made two very specific promises during his reign as Minister in charge of MOFA.

Mr. Ahwoi made his first promise of making Ghana self sufficient with regards to rice supply in 2009. This promise has already been proven to be not only propagandistic, but indeed deceitful.

The Food and Agriculture Minister’s next promise was to halve rice imports by October 2012 and to resign should he not achieve this. Once again this promise turned out to be a broken one.

The question is therefore why Mr. Ahwoi made his first two promises and now, in handing over the responsibility acknowledges that self-sufficiency in rice production would take between eight and ten years since the new government took office in 2009.

In August 2011, MOFA under leadership of Mr. Ahwoi also announced that it will ban the importation of poultry into Ghana by 2013. In handing over, Mr. Ahwoi however urged Hon. Kofi Humado to “reduce importation by 40 percent” by 2016.

The issue of food security versus food self-sufficiency has been a debating point by Food Security Ghana (FSG) for quite some time. The argument has never been a case for importation, but rather a case for a sensible transition strategy from import dependence to self-sufficiency.

Food security is about feeding the nation irrespective of where the food come from. Food self-sufficiency is driven by production rather than consumption. Everybody is in agreement that where a country is able to become food self-sufficient it should strive to achieve that. However, it can never be a mission “at all cost”.

There is not one country in the world to our knowledge that is 100 percent self-sufficient with regards to its peoples’ food security needs. Global trade has and will always play an important role in balancing the gaps between demand and supply.

In addition the issue of global competitiveness and preferences of the people can and should never be ignored. If food at the same quality of locally produced food can be imported at a much lower cost than the cost of local production it is for government to critically analyse the reasons for this and to either support local production to become competitive, or to acknowledge that local resources should rather be channeled to areas where the country can be competitive.

Consumers will at the end of the day make the decision. If a consumer walks into a supermarket or food store and is faced with an option of ten different brands of, for example, sardines of varying quality and varying prices the consumer will make the choice. The affluent may choose the most expensive because they have through trial discovered that it has superior taste and quality.

On the other hand some may choose the cheapest on the shelf based on affordability.

The moment that governments step in and try to force consumers out of this right to choose it will be an interference with basic human rights.

Banning trade in any way including exorbitant import duties on basic foodstuff can only be regarded as such an interference.

FSG believes that the change in the leadership of MOFA is viewed by most Ghanaians as a great opportunity for Hon. Humado to not only build on what has been achieved, but to also critically look at strategies, policies and plans on how to ensure food security in Ghana.

Given the poor results by MOFA under the leadership of Mr. Ahwoi as measured against the Food and Agricultural Sector Development Policy (FASDEP II) and the Medium Term Agriculture Sector Investment Plan (METASIP) it may be time for Hon. Humado to take a deep breath and to review whether “business as usual” business as usual is the way to go.

At the end of the day the governments are not farmers or producers but facilitators to ensure availability of affordable and nutritious food to all in Ghana in accordance to their economic means and preferences.

The challenge at hand is daunting but achievable as long as strategies, policies and plans are based on the right and correct information – an issue that should be high on the agenda of the new MOFA chief.

The pursuit of self-sufficiency must continue with due regards to the food security needs of the country. Currently there is no threat to food security with regards to basic foodstuff such as rice or poultry because the supply-demand gaps are being filled through importation.

The benefits of reducing the current gaps through local production is evident to all.

However, what is also evident is the fact that the transition strategy from dependence to independence for the past four years was driven by unrealistic beliefs that might have been based on personal issues rather than on sound governance.