Stakeholders from civil society groups, non-governmental organisations, trade union associations, fisher folks and farmers, in a social dialogue organized by Network for Women’s Right in Ghana (NETRIGHT), has called on government to put in place food systems capable of withstanding future pandemics.
According to the stakeholders, the dreadful impact of COVID-19 pandemic which destabilized the economy and triggered disruption in the food ecosystem completely, creating diverse shortages especially within the grains and stables system, should serve as a lesson to government to, as a matter of urgency, begin national dialogues to bring reforms in the food production and distribution process.
The stakeholders indicated that the systemic weaknesses exposed by the pandemic is compounded by climate changes, reducing yields from the farms and leaving the farmers with little to no gain, adding that, COVID-19 is a clarion call for Ghana to protect its food systems to withstand future pandemics.
Programme Manager, NETRIGHT, Patricia Blankson Akakpo, in her opening remarks, at the stakeholder engagement on the theme: ‘Protecting food systems during pandemics: the role of the state, and non-state actors,’ reiterated that the country continues to grapple with the fallouts of the pandemic on its food systems.
“Ghana’s COVID-19 measures have had different impacts on the economy and exposed the systemic weaknesses of the country in protecting its food systems,” she said.
The representatives from the Ghana National Tomato Traders and Transporters Association, indicated that the partial lockdown, social distancing, school closures, and market closures disrupted their operations and showed the vulnerabilities of people’s access to essential goods and services.
They lamented that there are no institutionalized measures to protect them in the supply chain, or the goods they deliver, stating that, they have to travel all the way to Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger to import tomatoes and onions, paying huge sums of transportation fees for these basic commodities.
Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Ghana, Prof. Akosua K. Darkwah, a lead on the research team, also lamented that the continuous reliance on imports for basic consumptions such as tomatoes, onions, and maize, among others is absolutely unacceptable, as it spells out doom in a pandemic time.
She emphasised the need for the country to find new and more resilient food systems through active citizens’ engagement to address the disparities, inequalities, and systemic weaknesses to secure its food systems.
“The practice where the country still depends on rain for agriculture production is unacceptable. If we say we are moving to or practicing mechanical agriculture then we cannot continue to depend on the rains, standard dams need to be constructed in all farming communities in the country with proper irrigation systems in place,” she said.
Representing the General Agriculture Union (GAWU) of Trade Union Congress (TUC), General Secretary, Edward T. Kareweh, called for national discussion on best solutions for the food system rather than the ministry of agriculture alone taking decisions for the nation in such a situation.
“Policies that are targeted at addressing shortfalls in the agriculture sector such as PFJ, must be reassessed to identify the challenges and new areas to focus on to be food secure,” he said.
He further stated that with Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), gradually taking shape, Ghana would be left with no opportunity to develop and implement new policies to address agriculture challenges.
The market women association from Agbogbloshie, echoed that sanitation is a major problem to them at the Agbogbloshie market. As a result, they are calling on government to put in place measures to address this challenge so that the market can attract decent clients visiting the market as the current status does not attract high profile clients.
Another recommendation is the modernization of agriculture and markets, thus, construction of dams for farmers, improved seeds, and mechanized farming equipment.
“In Burkina Faso, farmers are able to produce all year round because they have standard dams in the farming communities to assist the farmers and Ghana government must do same for our local farmers, not as they did with one village, one dams.”
Again, the establishment of tomatoes storage facility and processing factory was recommended for storage of imported tomatoes from Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali, so that in an event of a further pandemic, imported commodities could be stored and processed safely.
“Sometimes, we bring in goods and because of the abundance on the market, we have to sell, it below the farm gate plus transport price, therefore, a storage and processing facility will help to store and sell at the right price.,” the traders association stated.
Again, they are calling for assistance to get involved in online marketing as the face to face is no longer yielding the hitherto results.