The recent kenkey-buying exercise by President Mills and subsequent reporting about that and about food security in Ghana once again highlighted the problem of consumers in developing countries, namely that governance and food security go hand-in-hand.
The so-called “popularity testing mission” by President Mills followed a statement by the Communication Director of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), based on a Ghana News Agency (GNA) report, that kenkey is fast fleeing out of the reach of the common-man because it hit the GH˘1 mark in some parts of Accra.
Kenkey or Dokonu or Komi is a staple dish similar to a sourdough dumpling from the Akan, Ga and Ewe inhabited regions of West Africa, usually served with a soup, stew, or sauce.
The statement about the price of kenkey by the opposition had little to do with the price of kenkey. It was a statement about the hardship of Ghanaians and about food security in general.
At about the same time Dr. Alfred Sugri Tia, Deputy Minister of Food and Agriculture in-charge of Livestock, gave the assurance that the country would not experience food crisis in spite of poor food crop harvests last year.
The statement was apparently in reaction to media reports predicting a food crisis in the country as a result of the erratic rainfall pattern and its resultant poor harvest.
Food Security Ghana (FSG) believes that both the above government actions and statements were not only insensitive, but indeed deceiving.
There is no doubt that Ghana, like most countries, is experiencing food insecurity, and thus a food crisis. The statement by the Deputy Minister once again illustrated that the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) still does not understand what the term means.
The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) defines food security as follows:
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 this concept to the family level, with individuals within households as the focus of concern.
Recent surveys by credible research groups, Gallup and AudienceScapes, have found that many Ghanaians do not have sufficient resources to buy food. The most conservative estimate is that at least 17% of Ghanaians above the age of 15 do not have enough money to buy food. (http://www.audiencescapes.org/country-profiles-ghana-demographic-profiles-gender-gap-communication-urban-rural-divide-residence)
If only one person can’t afford food or one child dies because of malnutrition, it indicates a food crisis.
The problem, therefore, is not that this situation exists. The problem is that the politicians make out as if it does not exist.
There is no doubt that the food basket of most people in the world has shrunk considerably since the 2007-08 global food crisis, and that it is still shrinking while the world is in the midst of a new food crisis.
The situation in Ghana and other developing countries where the majority of the population spend more than 50% of their income on food makes the crisis more severe.
Responsible governance requires that there must be transparency about the true state of food security, backed by solid policies and plans that will address problems on the short, medium and longer term.
The Deputy Minister further mentioned a lot of actions undertaken by the government to ensure food security, and that long term measures have been undertaken that would turn the country from an importer to a net exporter of food.
These are all good and well and laudable, but by the time the long-term objectives are reached many more Ghanaians would have been pushed into even greater despair due to shortsighted policies.
Food self-sufficiency has been at the heart of government policies since the NDC led government took over in 2008.
Although FSG fully supports such longer-term visions, self-sufficiency does not guarantee cheaper food by definition. There are countries in the world that are 90% or more dependent on food imports. This does not mean that they are food insecure.
Two basic foodstuffs in Ghana that are subject to relatively high import ratios are rice and poultry. The reason for this dependence can largely be found in industries that have not been able to compete on the global market and that have been neglected by consecutive governments over a long period of time.
Righting this wrong will require massive investments by both the government and the private sector. More importantly it will require time – lots of time.
In this transition phase one would have expected the government to have transition policies that will protect consumers. Such policies include VAT exemption and minimal import duties on basic foodstuffs. However, in Ghana it looks as if the government has declared war on imports by taxing basic imported foodstuffs with excessive tariffs.
The fact is that high import duties will not help local producers in industries where the import ratios are as high as 70%. It is general practice to protect local industries in countries where self-sufficiency have been reached.
Where this is not the case, it is general practice to protect consumers and to slowly but surely increase taxes and tariffs as the industry moves towards self-sufficiency.
This war against food importation, or rather importers, is adding hardship to millions of Ghanaian consumers without helping the cause of self-sufficiency.
One just needs to look at recent reporting on food prices in Ghana to know that “times are hard”, and that it is getting harder by the day. By the time the politicians reach “their” goals of self-sufficiency, many more Ghanaians would have pushed into the “gutter”.
It is time that politicians stop playing mind games and start to assess the true situation of food security in Ghana on the ground, and to take immediate short as well as long-term measures to serve the people they represent.
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