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Opinions of Friday, 1 February 2013

Columnist: Food Security Ghana

What can be expected from the new food and agricultural chief?

What can be expected from the new food and agricultural chief? The Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) in Ghana will be headed by a new chief or Minister, Clement Kofi Humado, and the question on the mind of interested parties is what changes he will introduce or whether it will be business as usual.

Clement Kofi Humado is the Member of Parliament for the Anlo constituency in Ghana and was also the Minister for Youth and Sports in Ghana prior to his new appointment.

According to Wikipedia Humado was born to the late John Kobla Humado and his wife Grace Abla Humado. They both hailed from Alakple in the Keta Municipality of the Volta Region of Ghana. He graduated from the University of Ghana at Legon in 1976 where he studied Animal Science and Agricultural Extension. He obtained a Graduate Diploma in Agricultural Administration four years later at the same university.

In 1985, he completed a Certificate in Monitoring and Evaluation of Public Sector Projects and Programmes course at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, England. He also did other Certificate courses in 1989 at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration and in Finance in 1998 at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom.

During the vetting sessions in Parliament Mr. Humado gave some indications, as reported in the media, of his focus or priorities for the food and agricultural sector.

Firstly he advocated the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO's) in commercial farming to boost the country¹s food security.

According to him it was important that peasant and rural farmers were insulated from the expensive nature of cultivating GMOs by concentrating on the use of local and hybrid seeds that demanded fewer inputs for desired yields. This was needed because of the exacting nature of some GMO seed varieties, especially maize, on fertilisers for substantial yields.

A genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. Organisms that have been genetically modified include micro-organisms such as bacteria and yeast, insects, plants, fish, and mammals. GMOs are the source of genetically modified foods, and are also widely used in scientific research and to produce goods other than food.

In a Forbes article on the issue of GMOs and according to the Grocery Manufacturing Association, 70 percent of items in American food stores contain genetically modified organisms, ingredients that have been scientifically engineered in laboratories to enhance certain traits. While GM ingredients have only been on the market in America for around 20 years, they¹re already sparking national controversy, as people wonder what the potential impacts could be on the environment and our health.

The Forbes article states that ³although scientific studies have not proven significant ill effects on humans or the environment as a result of GMO production so far, many people argue that they haven¹t been on the market long enough to see what the long-term could hold.²

However, based on practice and tests to date, the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) claims that it has, ³not found it necessary to conduct, prior to marketing, routine safety reviews of whole foods derived from plants.²

Food Security Ghana (FSG) believes that the introduction of GMOs in the food and agricultural sector in Ghana can only have positive impacts on both the quality and productivity of food produced in Ghana and view this as a positive statement by Mr. Humado.

Mr Humado also said that he plans to review the Youth in Agriculture Programme to ³slant the plan towards processes that would help build the country's capacity for self sufficiency in livestock, poultry and the rice industry².

To achieve this he plans to encourage more youth to go into soybean and yellow maize cultivation. According to him these would be used as feed for the local poultry industry ³to enable the country wean itself of imports.²

He also promised to ensure that more educated youth take up employment in the value chain to aid in the rapid modernisation of Ghana's agricultural sector.

According to MOFA the ³Youth in Agriculture Programme (YIAP) is a Government of Ghana (GOG) agricultural sector initiative with an objective of motivating the youth to accept and appreciate farming / food production as a commercial venture, thereby taking up farming as a lifetime vocation.²

FSG has over the past few years placed a major question mark on the results of the Youth in Agriculture Programme as reported by the previous Minister, Mr. Kwesi Ahwoi. YIAP is a very important initiative as the ³there is compelling evidence of an ageing farmer population in the country which must be addressed to facilitate sustainability in agriculture production.² According to MOFA the average age of farmers in Ghana is 55 years and life expectancy averages between 55 ­ 60 years.

FSG welcomes the intended review of the programme and hope that it may lead to greater transparency of results and indeed an increase in employment for the youth.

Another welcome signal was Mr. Humado¹s acknowledgement that investment in agriculture is low and his commitment to make the sector attractive to attract more investment. He however neglected to address the issue of the budget allocation and the huge reliance on foreign donors.

Mr. Humado also addressed the issue of fertiliser from three perspectives namely the timely provision to farmers by working closer with importers, the pricing and subsidy structure and the angle of smuggling.

The Minister designate also touched on the issue of poultry (Ghana is dependent on 70 percent imports) and focused on the local production by stating that he ³will improve poultry production by identifying commercial farmers and out growers to grow yellow corn on large scale for poultry farmers.² He also said that the youth will be involved in the poultry industry and targets will be given to the YIAP in this regard.

The problem of the poultry industry, however, goes beyond just the cost inputs such as feedstock and massive investments will be required to improve both the quality and quantity of locally produced poultry.

On the issue of rice production Mr. Humado said that it still requires improvements to achieve self-sufficiency. To address challenges in the rice value chain he proposes to set targets will for producers to enable ³us identify shortfalls and fill the gaps. He also said that he will ³hold stakeholder consultations together with Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) on the rice sub-sector to plan the way forward.²

What is refreshing is that Mr. Humado has acknowledged that there are major challenges to be addressed instead of making unrealistic promises like his predecessor.

Other issues addressed by Mr. Humado include access of credit to farmers, improvement of irrigation and small dams for small to medium scale farmers, livestock improvement through the development of fodder pastures and the critical examination of the ECOWAS protocol on movement of large herds of cattle across the sub-region and the fast-tracking of the implementation of the Accra Plains irrigation project.

In general the Minister designate touched on a lot of ³hot buttons² facing the sector and he deserves all the support to tackle the myriad of challenges and to find sensible solutions to current problems.

FSG, however, feels that Mr. Humado missed out on the opportunity to address the issue of ³food security² in its broader context by neglecting the demand side of the equation. Food security is not just about the local production of food, but indeed about the availability of affordable and nutritious food. In this regard issues such as relatively high import duties on basic foodstuff was totally ignored.

In addition the basis of planning, namely the Food and Agricultural Sector Development Policy (FASDEP II) and the Medium Term Agriculture Sector Investment Plan (METASIP), and the need for a critical review of both was not addressed at all.

It is early days and the Minister designate deserves the support and blessing of all Ghanaians to fulfill his duty in a very important sector to the benefit of all stakeholders and Ghanaians. Time will tell and at the end of the day the ³proof of the pudding will be in the eating.²