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Opinions of Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Columnist: Kofi Dake

The plight of the Ghanaian smallholder farmer

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The plans and goals earmarked for 2020 have been disrupted, cancelled and short-lived by the evolution of COVID-19.

Countries and governments are hard hit, revenues have fallen drastically for businesses. Organizations are struggling to retain their staff; resulting in fold-ups and job losses. The economic and social implications are worrying and reverberating across the globe.

The African content despite recording lower cases of COVID-19 has not been spared during these difficult times. Ailing economies and deficient sectors have been severely exposed. Emphatically, some of the African countries have no cushion (food, shelter, and financial muscle) to contain such shocks, and this requires serious attention. Covid-19 could be a blessing in disguise for many countries if lessons are learned to facilitating adequate remedies for uncertainties going forward.

Ghana, an agricultural oriented economy, has not been left out of this devastating trend. In the early weeks of the pandemic, prices of commodities skyrocketed due to a combination of factors including but not limited to, the mad rush to stock food for the lockdown. Even though some businesses deliberately took advantage of the situation to reap abnormal profits, one cannot undermine their contribution to averting scarcity.

Ghana is noted for the importation of goods to supplement local production to meet the needs and wants of citizens. According to reports, imports in Ghana increased from US$897.54 in February 2020 to US$974.65 million in March 2020.

A typical example is an issue about the Ghana rice industry. Ghana spends over a billion dollars to import rice into the country annually. The increase in imports always draws criticism from citizens, which has often resulted in several advocacies for the production and consumption of locally grown and sourced products to sustain the economy. The concept to embrace Ghana-made products has been germinating over the years and has begun to yield some positive results. The demand for Ghana rice surged in the latter part of 2019 and the first quarter of 2020 because of the Ghana rice campaign and tremendous support from some media houses.

However, stakeholders along the rice value chain could not sustain the demand, leaving most Ghanaians who have developed a new taste for Ghana rice disappointed. This was attributed to low production and other factors including quality, price, and an inferior perception attached to Ghana rice. COVID-19 has corroborated the need for increased local production. Recommendations by the President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo Danquah, to eat local foods, including Ghana rice, has also increased the demand for the product. But can the supply-side sustain this demand?

Admittedly, COVID-19 has created a suitable platform to sustainably boost local production, improve productivity, incomes, and livelihoods. Despite interventions of the Government of Ghana (GoG), development partners and corporate institutions, the agricultural sector remains thirsty for effective policies, adequate resources, and practical strategies to enhance production and consumption of local products.

Stakeholders within the agricultural sector, especially farmers, are still struggling to return to their farming businesses, carter for their families, and possibly holding-on with the old mindset of expecting grants and handouts for survival. In recent reports, farmers are left to watch their products go bad due to a lack of buyers. Where is the National Buffer Stock Company? Whose mandate, among others, is to mop up excess produce, especially in perilous times such as what we are experiencing now.

The Government’s Coronavirus Alleviation Programme (CAP) Business Support Scheme is a laudable programme to support Small, Medium Enterprises (SMEs). But the question remains how accessible is the initiative to the vulnerable and frustrated smallholder farmer who is on the verge of giving up his business? What stimulus package has specifically been designed for our poor smallholder farmers? To access CAP, SMEs must be registered and have Tax Identification Numbers (TIN), but the sad reality is that the majority of SMEs, including smallholder farmers, are in the informal economy, which is characterized by the absence of these critical requirements.

It is in this vein that I urge GoG, National Board for Small-Scale Industries (NBSSI), and all relevant stakeholders to prioritize the needs of the overburdened Ghanaian smallholder farmers and devise adequate and implementable support mechanisms coupled with a strategic approach to revamp the current situation.

Kofi Dake, Agribusiness consultant.