Graphic Business News

Time for strategic thinking about agric - Amid COVID-19 scare

By: By Ama Amankwah Baafi
Dr Victor Attuquaye Clottey
Dr Victor Attuquaye Clottey

As the world continues to grapple with finding solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic, some stakeholders in the agriculture sector in Ghana have expressed fears that the virus might have a great impact on agricultural productivity.

They said the country could be hit with serious food shortage due to the coronavirus pandemic, and that it was time for the country to go into serious strategic thinking for the sector.

The President of the Chamber of Agribusiness Ghana (CAG), Mr Anthony Selorm Morrison, noted that the sector was susceptible to natural / artificial disasters and so currently, food supply had been badly affected.

He said it was unfortunate that Ghana had been caught unawares by the global pandemic, particularly at a time when farmers should have been preparing for production season.

“Areas that will be badly affected include vegetables, soya, rice and maize among others. We are not sure if we have done enough as a country with the National Food Buffer Stock Company (NAFCO) for instance to purchase, preserve, sell and distribute foodstuffs, while ensuring the security of farmers and insulating them from such disasters,” he said in an interview on March 25, 2020 in Accra.

Effect on agric sub-sectors
Mr Morrison deduced that there was going to be a struggle between feeding humans and animals as productivity within the sector could not be certain.

He said those who had invested in poultry and other livestock would have a hard time feeding them well due to shortage in foodstuffs and increase in prices, and which would result in losses to them.

Again, he said input dealers whose payments were still in arrears might have a hard time raising money to supply for this year’s farming season.

“There is no ship on sea now, no aircraft; and vehicles are not moving now as expected to convey inputs, so the situation will affect production,” he said.

He said as markets were stressed with unavailability of foodstuffs and price increase on the few, hotels had also been caught in the same vein and would struggle to pay agric suppliers they dealt with.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has said both lives and livelihoods are at risk from the COVID-19 pandemic which is now a global problem calling for a global response.
-    It recommends that countries should meet the immediate food needs of their vulnerable populations.
-    Countries should immediately review trade and policy options and their likely impacts; avoid generalised subsidies for food consumers; reduce restrictions on use of stocks; reduce import tariffs and other restrictions; temporarily reduce VAT and other taxes.

Researchers’ take
The West Africa Regional Coordinator of the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI), Dr Victor Attuquaye Clottey, noted COVID-19 would certainly have an impact on the sector looking at the happenings globally.

He cited that from the carting of produce from one place to another vis-à-vis few vehicular movements, to people buying more and selling less, whereas most of the stuffs at the markets were perishable, market might not make profit to be able to pay back farmers.

Dr Clottey said there was also the fear of people aggregating when they had to farm, especially those who were knowledgeable about the transmission of the virus, hence they might not go to the farm at all, which would result in labour shortage.    

“We are already having challenges on the research front too. We have cancelled a lot of trainings for extension officers and farmers because we can’t put them together, but then we have to observe the protocols on the prevention of the virus,” he explained.

He said nationally, some funding to the agric sector might be diverted to the health and sanitation sectors judging from the enormity of the pandemic.

Food prices up
Economic activities have slowed down ever since Ghana began to record cases of COVID-19. Many have resorted to panic buying amidst fears of a lockdown, and this has resulted in the prices of goods, particularly food items and hand sanitisers, going up.

Food price index from Esoko states that food prices shot up in the month of February 2020. The price of tomato which sold at GH¢507.50 in January increased to GH¢619.33 per crate in February, representing an increase of 22.04 per cent.

It is currently selling at GH¢1,350. An ‘olonka’ of gari which sold around GH¢6 is now selling at GH¢12.

Mr Anthony Morrison

COVID-19 in Ghana
Data from the Ghana Health Service (GHS) as of March 25, 2020 showed a total of 68 cases, including two deaths, with 66 of those cases being managed in isolation.

It said the sudden spike in case incidence was as a result of the mandatory quarantine and compulsory testing for all travellers entering Ghana, as directed by the President.

Overall, 30 of the 68 cases have been reported in the general population, with the remaining 38 cases among persons currently under mandatory quarantine.

As of March 24, 2020, a total of 1,030 persons were under mandatory quarantine; samples from 863 of them had been tested and 38 confirmed positive.

A great majority of the confirmed cases are Ghanaians who returned home from affected countries. Seven are of other nationalities, namely: Norway, Lebanon, China and UK.

In respect of contact tracing, a total of 829 contacts have been identified and are being tracked. A total of 826 contacts have been enlisted and being tracked. Nineteen people have completed the 14 days of mandatory follow-up.

Way forward
Dr Clottey suggested that the country should always have some money put down for some of these emergencies, and also keep personal protective logistics for future unavoidable occurrences.

The Chamber of Agribusiness-Ghana has called on the government to as a matter of urgency set up a ‘Ghana Agriculture Emergency and Disaster Fund’ to support farmers and processors so they can continue to provide more food for the country to ensure food security.

Its President, Mr Anthony Morrison, said such a move would help Ghana store enough food to augment any shortages in case of a disaster.