Editorial: Dwindling growth in Agriculture sector could be exacerbated by COVID-19

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Annual GDP figures released by the Ghana Statistical Service indicate that the Agriculture sector is experiencing a decline in growth for the second year running, in spite of an impressive performance in 2017 soon after government introduced the Planting for Food and Jobs (PFJ) programme.

Currently, the sector contributes the smallest revenue to the economy at 18.5 percent, compared to Industry’s contribution of 34.2 percent and Services’ – the new master of the economy – 47.2 percent contribution.

This state of affairs has to be interrogated to find out why, in spite of the attention and investment made in Agriculture, which has traditionally been the country’s largest employer, its fortunes appear to be dwindling.

David Beasley, head of the United Nations’ World Food Programme, has warned that the world is “on the brink of a hunger pandemic” and notes that 135 million people are facing acute food shortages; and the coronavirus could increase this by another 130 million by year-end.

The pandemic outbreak has greatly affected the ability of farmers to cultivate optimally because of restrictions like lockdowns, social distancing and border closures, although food and other essential goods are exempted; hence our anguish that if care is not taken the coming major season could suffer additional pitfalls if this coronavirus is not halted quickly enough.

Disruptions in transportation will occur, the supply chain in agriculture will be hampered, and the demand for agricultural and agribusiness activities lowered. These disruptions will slow down growth in agriculture and agribusiness in the country.

In addition, uncertainty and fear could have a negative impact on planting decisions, while a reduction in volume of the main agricultural exports is also expected.

A general shortage in food supply is anticipated if the pandemic intensifies, and in turn this could lead to inflation in food prices – especially grains (such as rice, beans, millet, sorghum, etc.), poultry, vegetables and other commodities.

Additionally, smallholder farmers who grow fruit, vegetables and various cash crops that are sent to Europe, China, America and elsewhere will be negatively impacted since exports are grinding to a halt as land, sea and air borders are closed or restricted around the world.

These stark realities should guide policy so that we avert catastrophe, particularly with COVID-19’s hurtful impact.

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