COVID-19 is reshaping various sectors of the economy and the agriculture sector is not exempted. Many pundits have suggested that the agriculture sector will be a safe haven for most economies recovering from the pandemic especially for developing economies. As such, governments have been advised to take the sector serious and structure its operations to be the driver for economic recovery post-COVID.
A senior lecturer in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness at the University of Ghana, Dr. Akwasi Mensah-Bonsu, agrees with the assertion that agriculture is the saviour for Ghana’s economy post-COVID. Speaking with Vaultz News, he indicated that the importance of food as a basic need makes it impossible to ignore the sector.
“For our Ghanaian economy, agric is very important and even with COVID, it has made it very crucial. Even when you don’t get the basic necessities or other things that you want to enjoy for life, food is very very important and agric comes in handy and therefore very crucial.”
In defending his stance, he noted that though the borders are still closed there has not been the cause for alarm with regards to the abundance of food. On the contrary production and local consumption has increased considerably.
“Agric is still very important and fortunately we have a system in place where we could increase production and therefore, we’ve increased production. When COVID came the Ministry came out to tell people not to panic and that we have enough food in the system and that was very encouraging. As to where they are, I didn’t know but they talked about the warehousing system, adequate food and indeed there was no shortage of food even during the COVID period.”
However, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Chamber of Agribusiness, Anthony Morrison, holds that, though the sector employs over 73 per cent of the population, it is characterised by subsistence farming and that is not enough to build an economy.
“No country has developed on the basis micro businesses. Peasant farming is a sustainable issue but for you to commercialise farming, you need to bring onboard a number of technologies and facilities that will harness to this benefit.”
Notwithstanding, he referred to the advent of the novel coronavirus as the new normal which has increased local consumption and production.
“The new normal has come to stay and what is the new normal? The new normal is, now when it comes to the industry it’s about doing business online, accessing markets online. So, we have moved the physical space onto the tribal market so that’s the new normal. In addition to that, most homes are now doing cooking; that is a new normal. They see the importance of cooking and that is driving the economy because we’re beginning to eat what we grow and we grow what we eat. So yes, at the advent of the corona, the lockdown, the restrictions, everybody started looking at ‘okay I want to do some backyard garden, I need to do some poultry, livestock. So, yes that has been a very robust industry that is working so effectively.”Anthony Morrison
Dr. Mensah-Bonsu has forewarned of the Dutch disease – totally redirecting the focus on oil after its discovery – which could be bad for an economy like Ghana’s as most livelihoods depend on the sector.
“For our Ghanaian economy, agric is very fundamental. Even with the oil coming in, we warn ourselves that we should not allow the oil revenue to overshadow the agric sector. If we go that way, we’ll suffer the way Nigeria did. When they had so much oil revenue, they neglected the agric sector and they experienced what they call the Dutch disease where they became dependent on oil and they couldn’t sustain the agric sector and they had to do imports and other things. So, we warned ourselves. There were surveys to warn Ghanaians that even if we had oil revenue, we still had to support the agric sector because the number of people depending on agric sector is so large.”Dr. Akwasi Mensah-Bonsu
Meanwhile, Mr. Morrison holds that the situation of the sector is precarious and for it to be considered as the backbone of the economy, some aggressive and robust policy must be implemented to develop and safeguard the food security of the country.
Explaining his recommendations as to how to make agriculture the safe haven post-COVID, he lamented the inability of the sector to produce food to feed the nation but to depend on external forces.
“Second, we need to invest in technical skills for our farmers. Third we need to provide our farmers with enough incentives like it’s been done in other developed countries. It’s such a disgrace that you have 43 per cent of Ghana’s population directly into agriculture productivity and over 60 to 73 per cent indirectly in agriculture and we can’t still produce food to eat and feed ourselves…in the case of Ghana, it is even precarious because the least money we make internally, we use it to go out to foreign countries.”
He further suggested the government addresses post-harvest losses as it is currently the challenge farmers are facing now and another way to salvage the sector.
“Our post-harvest technology, food storage, food waste system must all be reduced. We must increase post-harvest facilities, reduce food waste and that will be the end of our problems. Post-harvest brings onboard value addition, storage facilities, food transportation mechanisms and the likes. Food waste must be reduced both on farm and within the value chain process whether transportation, processing or storage.”
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