The Ghanaian food crop subsector is dominated by smallholder farmers, whose farming practices are characterized by insufficient use of productivity-enhancing technologies, low use of high-quality seeds and fertilizers, and weak market connections, according to the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA). Before the Planting for Food and Jobs (PFJ) programme, there have been previous fertilizer subsidies, in which farmers were given coupons to purchase fertilizer at a lower price.
The PFJ’s five modules— Food Crops(PFJ), Planting for Export and Rural Development (PERD), Greenhouse Technology Villages, Rearing for Food and Jobs (RFJ), and Agricultural Mechanization Services (AMSECs)—have generally benefited Ghana’s agricultural industry by providing on-farm production support in the form of enhanced extension services and subsidized seed and fertilizer.
Since the program’s inception, the ministry has increased the distribution of enhanced inputs, distributing 121,000MT of fertilizer and 4,400MT of seeds in 2017; 247,000MT and 6,821MT in 2018; 330,390MT and 18,330MT in 2019; and 412,000MT of fertilizer and 29,000MT of seeds in 2020, respectively. In the marketing and distribution sectors, this resulted in job creation.
It’s been argued that despite widespread global food security challenges caused by the Corona Virus Pandemic (COVID 19), the PFJ ensured food availability to Ghanaians.
The year 2022 has however seen the country’s inflation rising to an all-time high level, with food being ranked the highest. According to the Ghana Statistical Service, food inflation in the country has been rising every month for the past 6 months with the latest figure being 27.6%.
The issue on the minds of the majority of Ghanaians is if the PFJ, which has long been hailed as being so successful, is indeed working, why has food inflation been on the ascendency over the past few months. The PFJ has been said to be having problems, with a national shortage of subsidized inputs, particularly fertilizers, this year.
Global supply chain problems coupled with the inadequate supply of natural gas are seen to be part of major contributors to this problem according to major stakeholders in the agricultural sector. This has resulted in unprecedented price increases for goods and fertilizer-related raw materials. In Ghana, the situation is the same with fertilizer prices increasing by over 300% compared to the same period last year. An interview with most of the key stakeholders in the fertilizer industry pointed to the Russian/Ukrainian war as a key contributor to this challenge. Indeed, most fertilizer companies import their finished and raw materials from these countries currently at war. The Russian Embassy in Ghana however disagrees with this assertion by the Ghanaian agricultural technocrats. In a recent press release, the Russian ambassador to Ghana denied that the Russia-Ukraine conflict is to blame for the world’s food scarcity; instead, he blames the country’s inability to plan for the future as the problem.
Another challenge that is also rubbing the government’s favourite programme is finance. Some companies under the PFJ program claim they have not been paid for the services they rendered for many months. Most of these companies stated that global economic hardship has made the government unable to fulfil their contractual commitments in terms of payment within the specified time frame of their contract. This has made it impossible for these companies to purchase inputs to supply to farmers who depend on them for the planting season. This has thereby led to farmers not being able to plant because they do not have inputs and others who have also do not want to release due to the unavailability of these inputs.
To some extent, some Ghanaians believe the PFJ is just a sloganeering campaign but has no practical impact. Dr Owusu Afriyie Akoto, the minister of food and agriculture, claims that those who criticize the government’s Planting for Food and Jobs strategy are overreacting when they attribute recent increases in food prices to the policy’s purported failure.
He argues that the program is succeeding and producing astonishing outcomes exactly as the President had intended when he began the initiative. He explains that even with the Covid-19 pandemic, the Agriculture industry still experienced growth of 8.4% last year.
In a recent interview, he made the case that the local agriculture sector is being negatively impacted by external causes, which is what is causing food inflation in the nation. “I’ve recently returned from eight days spent in five woodland regions, so my system is full of food. Physically, we observed 25,000 metric tonnes of packed maize from the previous year’s crop in the Bono East enclave, which stretches from Techiman to Ejura. Therefore, in my opinion, if you claim that high food costs are proof that the program is ineffective, you are not being realistic,” he said.
“The stocks are there, and don’t forget that the first harvest of this 2022 will be added on top of what is already there in the next month,” he added. Therefore, there is no food shortage; rather, there has been a substantial increase in the cost of fundamental goods used in production. For example, farmers used to be able to purchase farm chemicals for 120 Ghana cedis last year, but at 400 Ghana cedis, they can no longer afford to purchase fertilizer.
He continued by saying that although the Ukraine war had made it difficult for the government to obtain inorganic fertilizers for farmers, the government has been urging farmers to switch to organic fertilizers, which are more readily available and less expensive.
“People believe that farmers are cutting back on production because there isn’t any fertilizer. That is not the case, though. Farmers have reacted to the shortage of inorganic fertilizer by switching to organic fertilizer; it is even better to use liquid fertilizer, which we spray on the leaves rather than placing Stallings under the tree,” Dr Afriye-Akoto mentioned.
Despite the Minister’s firm assurances, it is still very obvious that there are still challenges with the PFJ this year. Government delay payments for inputs given to farmers are a real challenge that has affected input availability. Fewer seeds have been imported this year compared to last year and certainly, less tonnage of fertilizers have arrived in the country for this year’s production.
It is a fact that the PFJ is a great programme that has offered a lot of support to numerous Ghanaian farmers over the past few years of its implementation. It has organically grown several local agricultural companies as well but just like every government programme, it is under severe challenge due to many internal and external factors. It is advised that the government work closely with the private sector to carefully assess the performance of the program, especially in the face of the numerous global challenges.