Few weeks ago, I wrote an article (https://www.graphic.com.gh/business/business-news/need-for-ghana-agricultural-commodities-transport-services-ghana-acts.html) advocating for the establishment of a dedicated transport services (Ghana-ACTs) for the transport of agricultural products from the farmgate to the markets and consuming centers. This was and continue to be in the context of current high inflation being recorded by the country mainly driven by food and transport cost.
The Ghana Statistical Services reported Ghana’s annual inflation rate accelerated for the 14th straight month to 31.7% in July of 2022, from 29.8% in June, breaching the upper ceiling of the central bank’s target band of 6% to 10% for eleven months. It was the highest recorded since the month of December, 2003, surpassing market forecasts of 30.8% for the period.
Food and transport cost inflation continue to be key drivers of the peaking inflation in the country in the context of unending global crisis attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. According to the data from the GSS, food inflation rose to 32.3%, this is above the general inflation rate and clearly demonstrate the role of food inflation as a major key driver of the current inflation.
Current Situation of Food and Agricultural Commodities Transport
While food and agricultural products continue to rot away at farmgate and production centers, prices of same at most locations continue to be unaffordable particularly for the poor and minimum wage earners.
Currently there is no dedicated public sector transport arrangement for the transportation of agricultural commodities from productions centers to other parts of the country. The distribution of the produced is solely left in the hands of private market players (market queens) who make their own arrangement to transport food from the farmgate to the end consumer markets. With so many market intermediaries and individual transport arrangements, the products get to consumer markets at higher per unit cost.
Furthermore, most of the transports when made available are not appropriate. For example, tomatoes and other perishables are expected to be transported in cold chain. Cold chain transportation refers to the transportation of food at preset low temperature to guarantee the freshness of food during transportation to reduce loss. There are several instances that tomatoes and other perishables are moved from farmgate but by the time they reach the markets a considerable portion of it lost.
Policy intervention gaps
Over the years, Ghana’s Agricultural sector policies and programmes interventions (example in recent years is the Planting for Food and Jobs programme) have largely focused on increasing production at the farm level without much attention on how the products resulting from the increased production will be efficiently distributed spatially (across space) and temporally (across time/seasons). End results are; wasted production outputs and resources, poorer small farmers and a nation of abundance production struggling for food at an affordable cost to feed its population.
Changing the Narrative: The how of Ghana-ACTs – Private Sector Led Partnership
It is refreshing development to read various reports that the president of the Republic, His Excellency Nana Addo Danquah Akuffo Addo in a speech at the 22nd General Meeting of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana at Kwahu Abetifi in the Eastern Region over the weekend (15th August, 2022) indicated that, government is working at providing market women with trucks to facilitate their operations in transporting food and other agricultural commodities from production centers/farmgate (rural areas) to market centers(urban cities).
While this is great and commendable development to anticipate, I suggest that any such move must be very well though through and carefully planned, guided by lessons from the failures and success of previous state interventions in the food distribution and marketing front. The woes of the defunct Ghana Food Distribution Cooperation should guide the implementation among others relevant innovations as dictated by the current digital era. Moving forward toward the realization of government plans, I proposed:
- For the start, there is the need to engage all the relevant stakeholders in the agricultural value chain and the transport sector to ensure sense of ownership of the programme for sustainability and to give true effect to its intended purpose.
- Government can partner with the private sector to establish and operate dedicated agricultural products transport services at all regional food production epicenters for the real time transportation of agricultural commodities across the country. The Ghana-ACTs will have a farmgate linkage to evacuate the product from the farmgates/rural outlets to dedicated centers for inter-regional distribution.
- The Ghana – ACTs should be structured to have the right transportation system that ensures that food is moved efficiently. It calls for appropriate transport and storage facilities that ensures that the food is safe.
- It calls for not only having the facilities, but the appropriate facilities that ensures that the food is safe.
- Government can make use of the already built buffer stock storage facilities across the country as center for the aggregation and transits for the commodities. The facilities can be expanded and equipped with drying equipment for cereal drying and cool storage for perishable commodities.
A well-functioning ACT will not only ensure timely and easy evacuation of agricultural commodities from the farm level but will also reduce the per unit transport cost to consumer markets. It will reduce post-harvest loses significantly and give better farmgate prices to producers. Ghana-ACTs will consolidate the production side gains and stabilize food prices and distribution across space and time.
The time to ACT is now. And the action must be devoid of the political rancor that usually characterized very well-intentioned initiatives in this country. Ghana, the star of Africa rising, stands to gain economic and food self-reliance by lifting the transport and distribution equation in Agriculture to the same level as production on the farms.
Zuobog Philip Neri
Agricultural Economist and Food Security Consultant
PhD Candidate in Agricultural Economics-UDS, Tamale