A farmer applying fertiliser on the farm

Fertilizers are not available.  Specifically, inorganic fertilizers are scarce. In the Sissala West District of the Upper West region, farmers are struggling to access fertilizers.

As at June this year, the Minister of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) was convinced beyond doubt that fertilizers were available. Now reality has dawned on him. The shortage of this critical farm input has hit the Minister of Food and Agriculture such that he is quoted in the 16 July 2021 edition of the Daily Graphic as complaining about the situation.

This is a problem. Farming methods that depend on chemical inputs are likely to experience reduced yields in the absence of fertilizers. The current state of affairs was foreseeable. But we did not act fast. Dependency on industrial agricultural inputs, especially when they are mostly imported, is like driving towards a dead-end.

Yes, a dead-end because the more chemical inputs you use, the more you will need to maintain or attain higher levels of production over time. As the price of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and other chemical inputs increase, farmers, especially, small holder farmers, will make less and less money from farming. Also, the quality of soils will degrade.

Thankfully, a better future is possible. We can redesign Ghana’s agriculture so that it is more resilient to external shocks, such as COVID-19 and prices of fertilizer on the global market.  We can redesign Ghana’s agriculture such that it is not dependent on imported inorganic fertilizers, which pollutes water bodies and the land. It is time to transition to agroecological agriculture on a national scale.

This transition requires three important steps.

First, farmers must lead the transition to agroecology on their farms. It will not be easy, but as long as they are dependent on chemical subsidies to be successful, they are at the mercy of the agro-chemical industry. Farmers must focus on building long term soil health and fertility the ecological way: using manure, compost, nitrogen fixing trees and shrubs, and green manure.

Farmers, especially small holder farmers, who are the majority of farmers, have to demand an end to the current fertilizer subsidy regime. Instead, farmers should demand government's support with well-developed irrigation systems (e.g. drip irrigation systems).

Also, farmers must invest more in strengthening their seed sovereignty. In other words, farmers, organized collectively, must champion the production and saving of diverse and high quality seeds, which they control.

Second, a transition to agroecology requires that the people of Ghana demand a food system that produces quality nutritious food, that ensures farmers and farm workers get a fair share of the value created from their efforts, which does not contribute to environment degradation and climate change and an agriculture that promotes biodiversity and sustains life.

Citizens could demand that government fixes Planting for Food and Jobs (PFJ). It starts with ending subsidies for all inorganic fertilizers.  Providing subsidies only for organic fertilizers made in Ghana. Made in Ghana fertilizer should have a minimum of 75% Ghanaian ownership and at least 75% of the inputs should be made in and sourced in Ghana.

Third, a transition to agroecological agriculture requires that the people of Ghana demand that government adequately finances agriculture.  The Government of Ghana (GoG) in 2003, in Maputo and again in 2013 in Malabo, committed itself to allocate 10% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to agriculture.  According to the Business and Financial Times, the GoG has spent less than 1% on agriculture annually, from 2017 to the present.  Fixing the financing of the agriculture sector should be of high priority now.

Increased financing for agriculture is important. However, it will be very effective if money allocated, is disbursed and spent on the right priorities. Women small holder farmers, in particular, and small holder farmers, generally, must be prioritized.

That is, increased allocation and disbursement to MoFA should clearly improve the lives of small holder farmers. The Ministry of Food and Agriculture should invest in developing small holder farmer-friendly irrigation systems. MoFA should prioritise and champion on-farm water storage (e.g. micro-ponds) to ensure water security.

To improve soil fertility, especially in the Northern regions, MoFA should collaborate with Ministry of Sanitation and Water Resources to support local compost and organic fertilizer production, linked to sanitation management. Related to this, MoFA should focus on re-incorporating crop production with animal rearing.

In collaboration with GRATIS Foundation and others, MoFA should lead efforts for the development of appropriate tools and machinery for sustainable and accessible mechanization for small holder farmers as well as on-farm technologies for preservation and value addition, such as solar dryers.

Clearly, it is critical that MoFA uses its financial resources to enable the transition to agroecology.  That is, MoFA must prioritize procurement of produce from agroecological farmers. The National School Feeding programme and the National Food Buffer Stock Company are key areas where MoFA can ensure agroecological farmers are rewarded for providing the nation with nutritious chemical-free food.

Thus, the current fertilizer shortage could be a blessing in disguise, but only if we learn the relevant lessons. If we do, we will hasten our transition, with focus and persistence, towards agroecology. 

Chaka Uzondu [Ph.D.] is a researcher and policy analyst. His writings cover topics ranging from agroecology, climate change, economic justice, food sovereignty, health, housing, political ecology/economy, and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH).

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