The Peasant Farmers Association has warned that the food prices are likely to keep increasing unless the government intervenes. The World Bank has also raised alarm.

There is “unavailability” of agro-inputs – synthetic fertilizer, “certified” seeds, herbicides etc. As a consequence, it is imagined there will be shortage of food. The Chamber of Agribusiness recently called for the formation of a food security council. A misdiagnosis of the problem can lead you to think symptom is cause.

What has caused the multiple challenges bedeviling Ghana’s food and agricultural system? The causes are complex. A significant aspect, but often under-analyzed, is the persistent pursuit of the industrial agriculture model. Expanding monocultures, intensive use of petro-chemicals, and over-reliance on off-farm inputs are fundamental characteristics of industrial agriculture.

The currently unfolding challenge in accessing imported seeds and synthetic fertilizer is a tragic example of the over-reliance on off-farm inputs. Seeds are a pertinent example. Historically, all seed was farm saved.  Seeds were not an off-farm input to be purchased. To understand how this began to change read Kloppenburg’s First the Seed: The Political Economy of Plant Biotechnology.  

An agro-inputs fair took place in Wa, Upper West Region, last week. Seeds were on sale? The seed market in Ghana, as across much of Africa, is in the crosshairs of transnational seed companies. Selling seeds is big business with big profits, and largely at the expense of small holder farmers.

To colonize Ghana’s food system requires creating dependency among its farmers on so-called high-yielding varieties and/or on genetically modified seeds (GMOs), which require ever-increasing quantities of synthetic fertilizers to enable high yields. And colonization always required a comprador class. The Plant Breeder’s Bill became law in 2020.  

Seemingly copied and pasted from the International Union for the Protection of New Variety of plants (UPOV) guidelines, the law is designed to facilitate the colonization of Ghana’s food system, by enabling the privatization of biodiversity, including seeds. That farmers in Ghana are currently facing challenges accessing seeds should not surprise anyone.

The call for a “food security council” is unsurprising. Since 1996, La Via Campesina, the largest peasant movement in the world, more than 200 million strong, rejected food security and demanded food sovereignty.

La Via Campesina defines food sovereignty as the right of people to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations.

Food sovereignty is fundamentally different from food security. For example, the latter will allow, even encourage a country to import the food it needs. The obvious example is Ghana’s importation of rice. Food security enables dependency on externally procured seeds.

Food sovereignty advances seed sovereignty — control of seeds firmly in the hands of family farmers, who feed the majority of the people on the planet. Seed sovereignty recognizes the central role of these self-provisioning farmers in the preservation and development of seeds uniquely adapted to specific environmental context and the socio-cultural needs of peoples.

Seed sovereignty values biodiversity, so it is keen to safeguard indigenous seeds and open-pollinated varieties. Seed sovereignty rejects the privatization of seeds and plant genetic material. Food and seed sovereignty both require fundamental change to our current food system.

The current food and agricultural challenges make clear that structural transformation is necessary.  If you want to guarantee farmers will have seeds for cultivation, pursue seed sovereignty. Strengthening existing community-level seed production is the backbone of national seed sovereignty.

It has been long neglected. But do not be mistaken, seed sovereignty is not the production and control of seeds by local seed companies or transnational ones. For seed sovereignty, Ghana needs a plethora of farmer-managed seed systems and seed-saving cooperatives, which keeps control of seeds in small farmers’ hands.

Ghana also needs a progressive new policy that defends the right to food and small-holder farmer’s rights. These rights must be prioritized over the profits of agribusiness.

The current problems with the inability to access off-farm inputs –synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and fungicides – are not best resolved by reliance on global markets. 

This should be patently obvious now. Rather, guided by agroecology – the application of the science of ecology to the management of agricultural systems – farmers can rebuild soil health and fertility, increasingly utilizing and replenishing on-farm resources.

The objective is to reduce dependency of external inputs that also damage the environment. This transition to agroecology can enable more nutritious foods, more biodiversity, and more climate-resilient agriculture, more equitably organized to the benefit of farmers and people.

The anticipated food crisis requires changes. The goal-journey should be food sovereignty. This requires a transition to agroecological agriculture at scale and includes building national seed sovereignty. The pursuit of food sovereignty will take growers and eaters to work together to decolonize Ghana’s food system.

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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).