Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Looming Food Crisis in Northern Ghana

Central Gonja MoFA Director
Growing erratic rainfall in Northern Ghana in the last decade has given enough credence to arguments that, agriculture and other related activities which depend on rain, could face serious challenges in the coming years. 

Some analysts say, the situation hints of a looming food crises and possible political instability in the not too distant future. For them, there is the need for government to roll out aggressive and sustainable policy measures to address the challenges.  

Statistics from the Ministry of Food and Agriculture indicate that, rainfall in the Northern Region keeps dropping. It shows that, between 2004 and 2010, rainfall figures have dropped continuously from 1,243.24 millimeters in 2004, 1,066.79 millimetres in 2005, 822.50 millimetres in 2006, 672.61 millimetres in 2007, 829.89 millimetres in 2008 and 865.44 millimetres in 2009 to 364.85 millimetres in 2010. 

The current problem of erratic rainfall is no doubt caused by climate change which started showing its signs decades ago when many Ghanaians attributed it to superstition whereas some scientists also blame it on desertification. Ghana could have avoided the emerging challenges such as erratic rainfall, drought, rainstorm and flood which are associated with climate change, if successive governments were seriously committed to addressing the problems causing climate change. 

Many citizens of Northern Ghana –Upper West, Upper East and Northern Regions, over the years have engaged and continue to engage in negative behaviours which are very harmful to the environment and cause climate change. These include indiscriminate felling of trees, commercial production of charcoal, bush burning, wrong use or application of agro chemicals and among others.

The consequences of citizens’ actions over the years have since been playing in their faces in recent years. Since the beginning of the 2014 rainy season till date, a greater majority of farmers across the three regions have been living in hopelessness and despair. Some of them have had to plough or sow their fields for the second time following failure by the rains to come at the right time.

The farming season in the three regions use to begin in May/June every year soon after successive rains in these months. Unfortunately, in the last few years, the season seems to have shifted down to the end of July every year. This has left in its wake, disappointment to many farmers who have not been able to study the trend properly and as a result, start farming or sowing immediately they experience the third rainfall in July.

PFAG President
The alarming situation somehow compelled the President of the Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana (PFAG) Mohammed Adam Nashiru to paint a rather grim picture of the state of Ghana's agriculture, and hinted of a potential food crisis next year.

In an interview with myonline.com, he said: "This year 2014-15, the high cost of inputs is making it impossible for individual farmers to cover 100 per cent of what they did last year. So some are doing 35 per cent or half of the fields they grew last year. We have erratic weather pattern that is not very good for us. Market access is a problem, roads leading to our farms are not the best. We don't have storage facilities in our production areas.

"...We foresee that come next year by this time we are going to have food crisis. As we speak now a bag of maize is almost 100 cedis. Other crops are also increasing," stated.

"We have made a lot of recommendations in recent past to government in terms of our food security. We asked government to expand the national buffer stock to all districts... That has not been done,” he regretted.

Fertilizer subsidies are no more in place for farmers for this year. He alleged that “farmers have not been able to access fertiliser because government failed to pay for the fertilisers they took last year and until they pay for it we are not getting anything. Until that is done we are not getting fertiliser subsidies.”

"Our appeal is to support us to get what we need to produce food. That is our interest. We are not calling for Single Spine; we are not calling for increase in allowance; we are not saying buy us 4 wheel Land Cruisers. We are saying give us the tools to go into the bush bring food for Ghanaians to eat.

“At the end of the day if we are not able to do that, you know what will happen? As the saying goes, a hungry man is an angry man and this has led to the removal of governments in Egypt and in Tunisia and we don't want to see that happen but if the policy makers relax, this is what is going to happen,” he warned.

A recent visit to the Central Gonja District, gives a more vivid picture of how the rain has failed some hardworking farmers who cultivated several hectares of rice, maize and other crops the moment the 2014 farming season began. 

The choice of this district for a story like this is due to the fact that, the area records a slightly longer rainy season than the rest of the Northern Region. The district lies within the tropical continental zone. Annual rainfall is unevenly distributed and limited to six months; from May to October. The mean annual rainfall ranges between 1000millimetres and 1500millimetres with its peak in September.

The Central Gonja District has a low lying topography which gently undulates at altitudes ranging between 150metres and 300metres above sea level though some parts average 600metres. The area is traversed by two major rivers- the White Volta, which flows longitudinally through the district, and the Black Volta, which forms the district’s southern boundary with the Kintampo North District. A lot of streams crisscross the district and flow into the two Volta Rivers. 

Regrettably, the high expectations of farmers in this district to get bumper harvest this year seem to be unrealistic as the rainfall pattern in the area so far, has dashed their hopes. There has not been rainfall for the most part of the farming season this year in the entire district, resulting in total crop failure. Apparently, the farmers have started dreading the harassment they are likely to go through in the hands of their creditors after the season ends in October.

The Central Gonja District Director of the Ministry of Food and Agricultural (MoFA), Abdul Manan Abdul-Kadri predicts that there would be severe food shortage and rising food prices in 2015, if something drastic is not done to help farmers recover the heavy losses.

Farmers who went into early cultivation of maize, soybean, groundnut, rice and yam have been heavily disappointed, as their hope for early rains were dashed. A visit to some of the affected crop fields including a 300 acre farm belonging to Alhassan Darison shows that the soils are totally dried up.

Alhassan’s maize farm which was cultivated in early June and should have been ready for harvesting by August is in a sorry state. The heights of the crops are stunted, tinny in size and yellowish due to lack of rains. 

Alhassan, who is a former employee of the Internal Revenue Service and a holder of two postgraduate degrees, feels so disappointed. He owns 300 acre maize and soybean farms as well as a 75 acre organic mango plantation, and has employed 21 labourers who work regularly on the farms. 

From all indications, it appears he is going through trying times and the 2013 National Best Farmer of Butternut Squash cannot just imagine he invested GH¢137,000.00 he contracted as loan from the Venture Capital Fund in the farming business, and yet has nothing to show for it. 

As an evidence of lack of rains, Alhassan showed this reporter the fertilizer he applied to crops in early June and up till now has not dissolved into the soil. 

Alhassan, Farmer
Agric Extension Officers in the Central Gonja District have also visited most of the farms and advised the farmers to plough their lands again and sow in anticipation for rains in September and October, a period farmers in the district expect the last leg of rains. 

But the disappointed farmers including Alhassan, Sulemana Braimah who also owns a 120 acre yam and groundnut farm and Imoro Mumuni with 176 acre maize and yam farm say, they cannot plough their farms and sow again because they have invested their entire loans in the first leg of the farming.

However, the farmers believe that government has not done enough to support the agricultural sector in the Central Gonja District. They urged government to consider providing irrigation facilities along the White and the Black Volta Rivers which pass through the district otherwise farmers will continue to suffer the effect of long drought and crop failure every farming season.

The MoFA Director told this reporter that there was every indication that the area and most parts of the Northern Region would experience serious food shortage next year. He hinted that, majority of farmers were shifting from maize and yam cultivation to groundnut cultivation as a result of the lack of rainfall. 

He attributed the poor weather condition in the district to climate change effects resulting from bush burning, charcoal production, illegal chainsaw operation and other negative human activities on the environment.

Mr. Abdul-Kadri appealed to the government to halt negative environmental activities in the area in order to safeguard the environment. He also appealed for the construction of irrigation dams to support the farmers in the district to go into farming all year round. 

Further checks by this reporter in other parts of the Northern Region, however, revealed that, farmers who cultivated crops in low-lying areas which are able to hold enough moisture in the soil to aid plant growth, would get some substantial harvest by the end of the season in October. 

Ghana is not a major contributor to green house gasses yet she suffers huge climate change effects. The country contributes about 9.6 per cent representing 0.34 tons of emissions in 2008 and 2009 according to a recent report by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change also observes that, agriculture is both a victim and a culprit when it comes to climate change, adding– agriculture contributes about 14 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions which cause climate change, and an additional 17 percent from deforestation and land degradation associated with uninformed agricultural and other practices.

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