Pedro Chauque, a maize breeder in Maputo Mozambique, covers pointed a maize stalks at the IIAM research station on August 10th 2016. AGRA gave a scholarship to Chauque for his PHD in breeding. Chauque has since went on to help develop and release 5 new varieties of maize which are drought, disease and heat tolerant.

Since the emergence of the first case of Covid-19 in Wuhan, China at the cusp of 2019 and its subsequent spread across the globe, governments all over the world have been grappling to contain the spread.

In Europe and China, a state of emergency has been declared and entire populations lockdown. Similar responses were replicated in Rwanda while the United States of America declared state of emergency and subsequently, invoked the Defense Production Act to fight the crisis.

The Defense Production Act allows the Trump administration to push U.S. manufacturers such as automakers and clothing companies to pivot making medical equipment for hospitals. In Ghana, as is the case in many Sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries, national borders have been closed to human trafficking and other measures such as suspending of public gatherings. Whiles these measures are laudable, doubling the efforts to avoid being overwhelmed as is currently the case in some countries is more appropriate. The following measures are therefore proposed for consideration:

  1. Intensify contact tracing
  2. Start a mobile testing system that can move to potential Covid 19 victims upon request.
  3. Mobile temperature testing and isolation of people above the threshold for further testing.
  4. Suspension of nonessential trading (example clothes, footwears etc.) in all markets. Essential goods such as food and sanitary products should still be allowed.
  5. Suspension of all passenger travels especially to and from Accra and Kumasi to other regions.
  6. Supply of sanitizers in public places should be mandatory.
  7. Provision of protective working gears for all health personnel handing Covid 19 cases.
  8. Impose price ceiling on basic necessities such as food, masks and sanitizers. The quality of these necessities should be checked regularly and be sold only in pharmacies and health facilities to avoid production and supply of sub-standard products.
  9. Workers choosing to self-isolate should chastise by their employers
  10. Immediate operationalization of all idle health facilities and commencement of the building of new makeshift hospitals like the Chinese models specifically for this purpose.      

Human coronavirus infections are not new. At the beginning of the new Millennium, the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) originating from Guangdong Province, China spread to twenty-eight other countries from 2002-2004 killing less than one thousand people. Ten years (2012–2016) later the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) emerged from Saudi Arabia and similarly killed not less thousand people. What is different with Covid-19 is that, although it has lower fatality rate (about 3% as at March 23rd, 2020) compared to SARS-CoV ( 8%)and MERS-CoV (34%),  the current COVID-19 outbreak has eclipsed both the 2002 SARS outbreak and the 2012–2016 MERS outbreak in the number of cases and overall mortality.

While the current understanding of the contagion limited and evolving, its threat and disruption to human activities remain unquantifiable especially countries with weak health systems. In Sub-Saharan Africa as is the case in most developing world, the coronavirus presents an unexpected shock and put pressure on already fragile health systems. For poor countries with little emergency budgets, repurposing existing budgets sounds most appealing. Although efforts are being made on multiple fronts to protect economies and contain the spread of the virus, the long-term implications of Covid-19 on food security and measures to increase food production is missing.

Food security situation in Ghana

Historically, when it comes to repurposing funds in Africa, agriculture tends to be the first casualty. With more than a quarter of the population in Africa classified by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) as food insecure and vulnerable to malnutrition and hunger, the Covid-19 could further exacerbate and worsen the food insecurity situation.

Food production in SSA is largely derived by smallholder farmers who still depends on outmoded farming techniques to produce all kinds of food commodities for domestic consumption and for export. The situation is not different in Ghana where about 1.2 million people, representing 5% of the population are food insecure. An additional 2 million people are vulnerable to food insecurity in Ghana and their situation will very likely deteriorate in the event of any pandemic that distorts the food production system. We foresee four key issues that could worsen the Ghana food insecurity situation and cause more damage to human health than Covid-19 if measures are not put in place as soon as practicable.

First, Covid-19 is hitting Ghana at the onset of the farming season. Given the fact that emergency laws are being activated to curtail movement of people and by extension goods, this could affect smooth distribution of key production resources such as fertilizer, farm equipment and pesticides which often originate from Accra/Tema. This could negatively influence crop yields leading to producing below the already lower yields currently being experienced. We anticipate a state where yields could drop below the 2019 figure if the Covid-19 is not contained before the end of April 2020 without specific interventions in the agricultural sector. 

The second factor that could escalate Ghana’s food insecurity situation is panic buying and hoarding of food. A clear example is the recent closure of markets for fumigation in Accra on 23rd March 2020 leading to immediate price hikes and hoarding of basic staples in most markets in Accra.

Related to the above point is the fact that Ghana is import-dependent in most staple food commodities. As of 2018, most staples such as rice and meat were imported. Unlike previous epidemics, the Covid-19 has hit all countries where Ghana import food from including China, Brazil, and the United State of America. With about 70% of rice and 75% of poultry being imported to Ghana from these countries, the food insecurity implications could be severe if without measures are not put in place to boost domestic production.

Beyond these challenges is distortion of the food distribution system. While transport and distribution challenges preexist, Covid 19 presents a unique challenge as the usual transportation system has been interrupted. This presents two challenges.

First, food will likely not get to where it is needed most. When this happens, the rich are prioritized leaving the poor who are often women and children. Second, the disruption in transportation will simultaneously cause massive post-harvest losses especially, perishable foodstuffs such as vegetables, fruits and tubers produce in hard to reach communities.

It is therefore commendable that the government had already dedicated some resources to contain the Covid-19, notwithstanding, caution is needed in resource allocation such that the country does not neglect the fragile food system which is spearheaded by smallholder farmers. The following areas are therefore proposed for consideration.

Way forward in dealing with Covid 19 and food security in Ghana

Farmers should be motivated and supported to increase their production. The bulk of food supply in Ghana comes from smallholder farmers, however, existing policies that support their productivity has historically undermined their performance. There should be emergency funds for farmers who show evidence of being in production to access without repayment conditions. 

Second, agriculture inputs should immediately be classified as essential materials and steps taken to ensure their uninterrupted supply to various depots. We suggest that the Ghana Armed Forces and other state actors be used to transport these vital inputs for farmers if the situation is not contained by the middle of April. This will ensure production is sustained and yields improved to substitute for the importation of the same commodities. Similarly, food transport and distribution should be considered as a national security issue and thus a protected activity under the restrictive laws.

Third, the price control system should be instituted with immediate effect. We are not in ordinary times where market forces of demand and supply is allowed to determine the price of food. Following the 23rd March experience in Accra where prices were triple within a day, the market forces are immoral and thus government must immediately issue price ceiling and offenders dealt with immediately to serve as a deterrent. This will protect the poor against the exploitative tendencies of the opportunists.

Mindful that Ghana is yet to hit the plateau of the infection curve, the government must prepare for the worst-case scenario and be ready to activate organized emergency food deliveries. This calls for efficient collaboration between the National Food Buffer Stock Company, NADMO, and transport operators on one hand and local and community organizations and farmers on the other hand to ensure enough buffer stock.

About the authors

Charles Kwowe Nyaaba – Farmer and a member of the Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana +233 203 035 672

Dinko Hanaan Dinko – Policy analyst at the Centre for Development Research and Agro-Innovation and +(720) 930-5159