Our major staple food, maize, is in short supply across the market centers in the country, causing price hikes. A bowl of maize in Juapong market was sold for GH¢9 as at January, 2020 but currently going for GH¢15.
The situation has resulted in the lack of feed for the animal husbandry industry as maize is a major component of animal feed, eventually causing increase in prices of animal products such as eggs with a crate of the big size going for GH¢22 when it used to be GH¢17 at the same Juapong market. The question is, na what cause am?
Irregular rainfall pattern
The farming season for the year 2020 experienced very haphazard, irregular and unpredicted rainfall pattern. Maize farming in Ghana is rain fed as it is the case for many if not all crops grown in the country. During the major farming season in the southern belt of the country from April to August many areas did not receive enough rains for their maize fields. This resulted in poor yields from the farms. The maize cobs were small in size hence less grains and some of the stalks died off before tussling.
In the north, the rains came but late into the season and became more than what was needed, coupled with spilling of the Bagre dam from the Burkina Faso caused flooding in some areas especially greater portions of the North East and Upper East regions, destroying vast acreage of farms with maize featuring.
It was heart wrenching as some farmers lost their lives in attempt to salvage some of their crops and others lost a whole year`s investment and family food supply.
Now, during the minor farming season, a preserve for farmers in the middle and southern belt of the country, the rain pattern turned. What happened in the parts of the southern belt was exchanged for what happened in the middle belt. More rains in the south even as of December 22, 2020 in Juapong compared to less rains in the middle belt especially at the time of tussling.
A farmer at Mampong, in the Ashanti Region, told me of how he invested about GH¢4,800 in a three-acre maize farm only to get one bag of 50kg maize, such a disaster and sad story. All due to irregular rainfall pattern reducing the yield of farmers.
One sided Planting for Food and Jobs Policy
The planting for food and jobs policy, the major agriculture policy in the country now is a fantastic policy but can best be described as a ‘kwashiorkor one’. The policy is heavy on input supply and subsidy and less or no effect on other key resources for farming such as irrigation and technology transfer.
Yes, farmers need seeds, fertilizers and insecticides, but when all these are supplied and the fields are dried up, they cannot germinate or have the right soil moisture to thrive for a good harvest. Where one resource for farming is lacking, it is a recipe for disaster. It is just like my experience as a first time watermelon farmer. I ignored insecticide application at a stage my melons were well fruiting, could count plenty bulky melons but at the end of the day, I could not sell a single one of it because the insect bore holes in all of them and got rotten on the farm.
Same can be attested to have happened to PFJ. Yes for inputs, but no irrigation; yes for inputs, same old farming methods; and yes for inputs, but unpredictable rainfall pattern are all recipes for disaster.
From Juapong to Adidome in the Volta Region, there are three irrigation site signboards with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) name on it. A visit to the site shows abandoned and incomplete projects. The locals are not using the facilities because they are not useable.
An Indian farm in that enclave have to make their own pumping station at the river bank, create their own canals and pump water from the Volta Lake to irrigate their large acres of rice farm. An investment the local farmers cannot undertake except government intervention which PFJ fails to do.
The success story of rice farmers and banana plantations in Asutsuare and its environs can be attributed to the solid irrigation system built by Dr. Kwame Nkrumah`s regime so many years ago. Thankfully the Lake Volta cuts across the country from the North to the South and into the sea. We cannot be using it for only electricity generation only. We must use it for agriculture too. More must be done about irrigation farming in Ghana.
The coronavirus may not have affected many farmers but it affected our cross border trading. My mother in law buys foodstuff such as maize, beans, rice and oil from Togo and sell them at Dzodze market. Same is the story of people at the north closer to the Burkina border and probably the other side to Ivory Coast. Some goes as far as Nigeria to bring in staples to sell, due to good prices there or availability.
Now the pandemic came and borders were closed. The ban excluded goods but with our traders who are in the majority, how can goods come in without human involvement to pay, select, measure and package before they can come in? The ban reduced trade between Ghana and its neighbors.
This brought heavy dependence on what we produced during the farming season, creating shortage and scarcity resulting in price hikes. If those maize produced by neighboring countries had come in through the usual established trading lines, we would have maize from the previous harvest still in bans or the market.
Rumours were rife that in Techiman market, a major maize market in Ghana, some Nigerian traders were buying a lot of maize for export to Nigeria because they had shortage there or business was booming for the maize market. With the capacity of Nigerian traders, if this is anything to go by, then it really contributed to our shortage of maize.
The writer is an agribusiness analyst. He can be reached on 0249014342 or firstname.lastname@example.org