For some time now, there has been an ongoing debate about the performance of the food and agricultural sector in satisfying the nutritional and economic needs of the nation.
One assessment suggests that the sector has performed creditably and what is required of it now are more resources to accelerate development.
This view is typified by The State of the Nation Address delivered by President John Mahama on February 21, 2013.
Although it is acknowledged that there have been some improvements in the well-being of Ghanaian consumers (of staple food) and agricultural producers, there can be no doubt that large sections of the rising population continue to suffer deprivation of hunger and rising poverty.
This contrasts sharply with the glorious picture painted by statements such as those expressed in the latest two State of the Nation addresses.
A close examination of the evidence provided in publications put out by the Ministry of Food and Agriculture and other institutions in recent years clearly shows a rather deplorable condition of the food and agricultural sector.
Real growth in agriculture has consistently nosedived from 7.4 per cent in 2008 to 0.8 per cent in 2011.
The share of agriculture in total budgetary allocation has fallen steadily from 3.0 per cent in 2009 to 1.9 per cent in 2012.
This has resulted in reduced food security for consumers and low productivity and income for farmers.
The production of basic food staples (cereals, legumes, roots and tubers) has seen stagnant growth in the last few years.
This has reduced food security in farming communities and among the poor in urban areas.
The large yearly fluctuations witnessed in the production of maize and rice and the sharp increase in the imports of rice from 395,400 metric tonnes in 2008 to 543,465 metric tonnes in 2011 attest to the deepened food insecurity in Ghana.
The steady growth in the roots and tubers sub-sector can clearly be attributed to policy initiatives undertaken by the NPP administration from 2005 onwards.
The production of meat and fish, which constitute the bulk of protein supply to Ghanaian consumers, has been stagnant in recent years, with corresponding increase in imports to meet domestic demand.
Imports of livestock and poultry products have risen from about 128,000 metric tonnes in 2008 to just below 140,000 metric tonnes in 2011 in spite of the punitive levy imposed on poultry products.
This requires urgent attention if protein deficiency amongst the population is to be arrested.
The Ghanaian farmer continues to suffer from low productivity because of inadequate supply of improved inputs (seeds, fertilisers and agro chemicals) and lack of market access and farm credit.
The mass smuggling of subsidised fertilisers and other farm chemicals across our borders to neighbouring countries is a clear testimony of the failure of farm input policy.
This points to the urgent need to review the current invoice system of input distribution to farmers.
In spite of the pressing needs of the farmers, the NDC government has not adopted adequate measures to reduce the burden of Ghanaian farmers, contrary to the rhetoric and propaganda.
Lack of focus of agricultural policy is reflected in misplaced emphasis on window-dressing schemes such as the Youth in Agriculture and Block Farming Programmes.
Such programmes, designed to address youth unemployment in the short-term, are now absorbing disproportionate public resources away from the pressing needs of the millions of small-scale farmers around the country producing the large bulk of agricultural output.
The Buffer Stock Company, established by the government in 2009, is highly undercapitalised for the task assigned to it to support the local grain market.
Inadequate provision of infrastructure and marketing facilities is deepening poverty among farmers in our rural areas with all the social consequences.
The recurrent promises contained in the Budgets and State of the Nation Addresses of this government to provide irrigation and other infrastructure, have remained only a lip service.
The government established the Local Premix Committees (LPC) to ensure a fairer distribution of premix fuel to fishermen to avoid artificial shortages.
This policy has clearly failed as persistent reports of shortages abound in all fishing communities.
The fisheries laws (Act 164 and LI 1964), designed to protect the dwindling fish stocks in our coastal and inland waters and to shore up collapsing annual tonnage of catches, are not being implemented vigorously for political convenience.
This can only deepen the already intolerable poverty levels prevalent in the fisheries sub-sector.
The country attained a peak of one million metric tonnes of cocoa production in the year 2010/2011.
This achievement was a result of policies and programmes adopted by the NPP administration under President J.A. Kufuor which witnessed the doubling of production from 360,000 metric tonnes in 2001/2002 to 736,000 metric tonnes by 2004/2005 and then to one million metric tonnes in 2010/2011.
Since the attainment of this record production there has been a fall in output to some 879,000 metric tonnes in the 2011/2012 crop season.
It is indicated that production of the current 2012/2013 crop is likely to yield only 800,000 metric tonnes.
This steady reduction is a reflection of the poor implementation of policies pursued by the NDC administration in the past four years.
· Unreliable supply of inputs to farmers;
· The politicisation of the mass spraying programme;
· Smuggling of subsidised inputs into neighbouring countries.
· The inability of the government to pay annual production bonus to farmers on a timely basis; and
· Delay in payment to farmers for their produce.
If these measures are not addressed urgently, there is a danger that production could decline further to the 2004/2005 levels of below 740,000 metric tonnes in the coming seasons.
As we can see from the account so far, it is clear that the state of food, agriculture and cocoa is a deplorable situation.
The NDC in 2008 promised Ghanaians that by the end of 2012, they would have “… sufficiently modernised agriculture to assure food security for the people and dependable raw materials source for industry”.
No such deed has happened. The government has to act urgently to avoid Ghana falling into the Dutch Disease with the emerging oil and gas industry.
Article by Dr Owusu Afriyie Akoto