Reviving fonio production can improve food security  

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On the flat lands east of Tamale, farmers tend to a field of what looks like tall grass. Stretching in every direction, the views are obstructed only by the occasional tree.

It’s on this land that Abdulai Dasana, Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer (COO), Amaati Group, hopes to change the future of food production in Ghana. The Amaati Group is a company based in Tamale which was started in 2014 with the goal of developing a market for fonio, an ancient grain indigenous to West Africa.

Mr. Dasana says Amaati is reviving fonio through the support of rural small-scale farmers. The company’s goal is not only to reintroduce one of Ghana’s original grains, but also to empower smallholder farmers along the way.

Amaati’s efforts do more than just provide jobs and offer a nutritious alternative to other grains, it helps with Ghana’s food security. This domestic production reduces the country’s reliance on imports of cereals and grains.

Over the past eight years, Amaati has grown from a single-person company to a million-dollar enterprise with over 40 employees.

Fonio is a drought resistant, highly nutritious millet indigenous to West Africa. It thrives in semi-arid soil, and doesn’t need chemical fertilisers to prosper, significantly reducing the costs for small-scale farmers.

Farming this grain not only contributes jobs to the economy, but also contributes to the country’s food security. As a native grass, fonio is resilient and resistant to the regions long, hot dry spells and prospers in hard soil.

Ghana’s food imports have been on the rise for years. As of 2019, food accounted for close to 18 percent of all products imported. International events, such as COVID and the war in Ukraine, along with the steady rise of inflation, are pushing the cost of food in the country ever higher, impacting the daily lives of families across the country.

Anthony Morrison, CEO for the Chamber of Agribusiness Ghana, says: “Citizens are complaining. Secondary schools are having challenges feeding their students. There is no buffer”.

Mr. Morrison added: “Everyone needs food to survive, you can’t eat money.”

Rather than relying on imports from abroad, Mr. Morrison believes the key is to improve crop yields. He says this can be done through mechanisation. He wants government to focus on financing for the agriculture sector so they can afford to buy the machines that will improve crop yields.

Mr. Dasana agrees he would like to see more help from government to increase mechanisation. He says this will allow farmers to cultivate larger plots of land and bring more produce to market.

Ghana’s reliance on the importation of cereals has grown at a rate of 13 percent per year over the past 50 years. The US International Trade Administration says this is due to the country’s “limited selection of products provided by the underdeveloped domestic agricultural and food-processing sector”.

Mr. Dasana believes that it’s only a matter of time before they catch up. “We will not just be feeding Ghana, or Sub-Saharan Africa or Africa,” said Mr. Dasana, “but the world as a whole.”

The United Nations has declared 2023 the International Year of Millet. Perhaps it will also be the year imported cereals and grains will be nudged aside for a homegrown and sustainable alternative.

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