…An urgent call
The recent coup in Niger has led to disruptions in the onion supply chain, particularly affecting Ghana, a major importer of onions from Niger. According to the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, about 80 percent of the onions consumed in Ghana are imported, largely from Niger and Burkina Faso.
Forty-three percent of this import is said to originate from Niger alone. Due to the informal nature of onion trading activities within the sub-region, the value of onion imports in Ghana is estimated at varying figures but it is said to be around GH¢502million or more.
The closure of borders and the imposition of sanctions by ECOWAS have raised concerns about potential onion shortages and in fact, price increases, which are already being experienced in the local markets. A check from local markets indicates that a maxi sack of onions which used to sell for around GH¢800 to GH¢900 now sells for GH¢1500, almost a 40 to 46 percent increase in price just a month after the coup.
Local importers have reported huge economic losses as their onions are rotting away due to the border closures and disruptions in transportation through already dangerous and unpredictable roads.
The loss of income and jobs to importers, third-party logistics or truck owners, drivers, loaders, wholesalers and retailers needs both short-term and long-term measures by policy-makers and all other stakeholders, not only within the onion value chain but within the entire agriculture value chain in Ghana.
For immediate action, policy-makers in the agriculture sector need to engage in diplomatic efforts with ECOWAS and other relevant regional bodies to establish protocols for the free movement of critical goods and traders during times of crisis. This does not only serve the interests of Ghanaian onion supply chain actors, but also protects all the actors on the Niger side from economic vulnerabilities. Coups and subsequent sanctions that come with them can introduce multiple complexities that can undermine the goals of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and other trading agreements to foster trade and movement within the sub-region.
As a national effort, the following short- to long-term ‘emergency food resilience strategy’ measures could be considered in addressing this challenge.
- Diversification of supply: As a short-term measure, onion importers in Ghana need to be encouraged to diversify their sources of onion supplies by exploring trade partnerships with other ECOWAS member-states if possible. Diversified sourcing rather than overdependence on Niger could build resilience in the chain in case there are other kinds of shocks that may threaten the disruption of the onion supply chain. Importers could consider alternative sourcing from the top ten largest onion-producing countries in Africa like Egypt – which ranks 3rd globally as well as Nigeria, Sudan and Algeria, among others.
- Collaborative stakeholder engagement: The Ministry of Food and Agriculture needs to bring together key stakeholders, including government officials, research institutions, farmers’ associations, agricultural extension services and private sector entities, to undertake a needs assessment for the crop to allow for collaborative efforts to develop home-grown solutions to boost local production. According to research, disruptions within supply chains are not necessarily a bad thing but can sometimes lead to innovations; and Ghana needs to leverage this.
- Resource allocation for research and local production: Necessary financial, technical and human resources for the research and development of high-yielding onion varieties are crucial at this point to enhance productivity, quality and post-harvest handling. We must not just produce but also bear in mind that onions from Niger are preferred by consumers in Ghana due to their low moisture content, size and extended shelf lifespan as compared to the variety produced locally. The government can leverage private sector partnerships to support research institutions with the necessary infrastructure development and capacity-building to make this happen. The provision of incentives to support local onion farmers should equally be a priority, considering the number of jobs to be created among value chain actors.
The recent coup in Niger has highlighted the vulnerabilities within the onion supply chain and underscored the importance of building resilience for both local onion production and regional trade under the AfCFTA protocol. By diversifying trade partners, investing in local production, developing emergency resilience strategies, engaging in diplomatic efforts, and promoting research and capacity-building, Ghana can mitigate the impact of disruptions and contribute to the success of food security, which has been under threat with climate change and recently emerging coups within the sub-region.
The writer is the Director of Monitoring, Evaluation, Research and Learning (MERL), CARISCA