Arguably one of the most successful policies rolled out by this government which has caught on well with the people, is the agricultural flagship policy dubbed, Planting for Food and Jobs (PFJ).

The policy, which was one of the campaign promises of the then-candidate of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, seeks to ensure food sufficiency leading to food security in the country.

So, in June 2017, true to his word, President Akufo-Addo launched the PFJ and rallied Ghanaians to support it by establishing backyard gardens and also getting all small-scale farmers to boost their crop productivity by using improved seeds.

Aims of PFJ

The programme, anchored on five strategic pillars, is aimed at increasing productivity of food crops, ensuring food security, raw materials for industry, reducing food import and increasing export.

In addition, it aims at creating jobs for the teeming unemployed youth and incentives and awareness to increase investment and attract the youth in particular into agriculture.

The roll-out of the programme in 2017 has since changed the face of the agricultural sector of the country.

For instance, from a growth rate of 2.8 and 3.0 per cent in 2015 and 2016 respectively, the sector shot up, courtesy of the PFJ, to a provisional figure of 8.4 per cent by the close of 2017.

This can be attributed to the supply of improved seeds, increased fertiliser supply at a subsidised price and the intensification of the agricultural extension service.

These measures resulted in phenomenal growth in the agricultural sector and an indication that Ghana is really set to feed itself with home-grown food devoid of food import.

With the success story of the first year of the Planting for Food and Jobs, there is a bright future ahead of us.

Fall Armyworm

One would have thought that the main enemy to attaining the great aims of the PFJ is the Fall Amyworm.

The PFJ is facing serious challenges and if immediate steps are not taken, the desired success could be compromised.

Since its emergence, the Fall Armyworm, notoriously known for its insatiable appetite for the soft portion of plants such as maize and a penchant for destroying farms with careless abandon, has demonstrated that its nuisance is never in doubt.

The armyworm, since it surfaced in 2017, remains a serious enemy to the full success of the programme if not properly managed because it is said that the Fall Armyworm has come to stay and is not going anytime soon. Thankfully, it can be contained.

Containing armyworm

Crop experts say it is important that farmers abide by the correct time of planting to avoid over-concentration on their farms and should also patronise improved seeds that can withstand the worm infestation.

What the farmers need to know is that with the emergence of the armyworm, we are no more in good times and should, therefore, adjust their farming practices.

For instance, farmers now have to visit their farms regularly, especially within the first two weeks of planting in order to detect early infestation for easier control.

The Director of the Plant Protection and Regulatory Services Directorate of the ministry, Dr Felicia Ansah-Amprofi, has given an assurance that the worm can be controlled with the observation of best practices, advising farmers to constantly monitor the possible re-emergence of the worm so that they will promptly inform the extension officer for immediate spraying.

Spraying is done in two weeks intervals and in most cases, after the second spraying session, the farm is always free of the worm and thereby recovers.

Smuggling

But the real enemy within that must be checked if the programme is not derailed is the practice by some unpatriotic Ghanaians who are carting the subsidised fertiliser meant for the programme to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast to make money at the expense of poor smallholder farmers.

Last month, the Upper East Regional Minister, Madam Paulina Patience Abayage, was reported to have impounded two articulated trucks loaded with 4,000 PFJ embossed fertiliser bags heading for Burkina Faso.

The fertiliser was said to have been meant for farmers in Navrongo in the Kasena Nankana District.

Two weeks ago, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture had to crack the whip on nine municipal and district assemblies in four regions in the north.

Those municipals and districts were suspended from engaging in the retail, haulage and distribution of the government’s subsidised fertilisers under the PFJ programme.

The affected districts include Bawku Municipal, Bawku West, Garu, Pusiga and Tempane in the Upper East Region, Chereponi in the Northern Region and Saboba District in the North East Region. 
The rest are Sissala East and West districts in the Upper West Region.

Directive

The ministry has, therefore, directed all companies contracted to supply the inputs to beneficiary farmers in the affected districts to cease forthwith from dealing with the various retail outlets and deal directly with the respective municipal and district directorates of agriculture.

The decision was necessitated by constant reports of infractions, misappropriations and alleged smuggling of subsidised fertilisers to neighbouring countries.

The directives have subsequently been communicated to all fertiliser dealers and suppliers operating with the ministry under the PFJ programme during a stakeholder meeting in Accra last Monday.

Core members of government

Unfortunately, most of those involved are core members of the government at the decentralisation level who ordinarily are supposed to help with the implementation of the programme.

The ministry must be applauded for having the guts to suspend those involved because, last year, some of them were described as untouchable, and they were carting the fertilisers across, sometimes in broad daylight because of their perceived closeness to the powers back in Accra.

The sad aspect is that almost all those involved in the smuggling business are natives of the area impoverished over the years until now that the government seeks to lift them out of their predicaments.

One would have thought that these smugglers should have been at the forefront to use their supposed alignment with the powers that be, to push for more fertiliser and improved seeds for the farmers.

Indeed, these are enemies within that should be flushed out for they should not be stumbling blocks to the forward march towards food security and job creation.