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Ghana’s economy and food security policies: Lessons from Operation Feed Yourself

12 March 2024

Recently, Ghana has been grappling with profound macroeconomic challenges, including currency depreciation, escalating inflation, and diminished investor confidence. These have led to a sombre economic outlook and slow growth forecasts, as highlighted by the World Bank.  

To curb the depreciation of the Ghanaian cedi and foster industrialisation, which will, in turn, boost the economy, the government of Ghana wanted to pass an Export and Import Regulations bill which would impose restrictions on 22 strategic goods in November 2023. The list of goods includes essential food products consumed in most Ghanaian households. They include rice, offal, poultry, cooking oil, fruit juices, pasta, fish, sugar and canned tomatoes. However, as reported by The Conversation, the bill was opposed by civil society organisations, trade associations and the minority in parliament for several reasons. 

Opponents of the proposal argued that the policy would lead to severe economic and food security repercussions for Ghana because domestic producers might struggle to meet local demand for the specific items the government aims to restrict. Furthermore, as argued in the article by The Conversation, constraints on imports of commonly consumed foods could lead to scarcity, and thus, an increase in food prices would further reduce food security. There is also the potential for revenue loss, as highlighted by critics, particularly from customs and import duties, and Ghana may face retaliation from other countries if the restrictions harm their interests.

As a result of the objections, the government suspended the bill.

Reflecting on Ghana's historical experiences, the failure of Operation Feed Yourself in 1977 serves as a cautionary tale.

In February 1972, under the leadership of Ignatius Kutu Acheampong, the Ghanaian government initiated the Operation Feed Yourself policy, an agricultural program designed to boost domestic food crop production. The program divided Ghana into nine zones, each assigned the production of crops most suitable for that specific zone. For example, the Eastern Region focused on cultivating cassava, maize, plantains, sugarcane, tea, avocado, citrus, and yams, while the Central Region concentrated on maize, yams, cassava, plantains, rice, pineapple, and sugarcane. 

To promote this program, the government undertook extensive outreach efforts, utilizing television and radio programming and propaganda to promote agriculture. Additionally, the government leveraged its connections with institutions like universities, the military, and prisons to encourage the establishment of agricultural production units within each.

The Acheampong administration established a system for collecting, transporting, storing, and trading crops within the country. This system aimed to secure a market for crops grown in rural areas and facilitate their transportation to urban centers. Entities such as the Meat Marketing Board, State Fishing Corporation, and Food Distribution Corporation were involved in procuring crops from farmers and offering them at discounted prices to urban residents.

To stimulate higher agricultural output, the government provided subsidies for seeds, fertilizers, and farming implements like hoes and cutlasses. Importantly, taxes on the importation of agricultural machinery were eliminated. Specific incentives included tax exemptions on income from cocoa and, more broadly, for farms during their initial five years of operation. Operation Feed Yourself involved collaboration with institutions like the National Investment Bank and African Development Bank, which provided credit and loans to various Ghanaians.

Despite the government's significant efforts to make the program a success, Operation Feed Yourself was deemed a failure because of various factors, including growing public dissatisfaction, a decline in the targeted acreage planted, persistent high prices of domestic food products, and a surge in Ghana's budget deficit from 190 million cedis (USD 14,871,376) in 1972 to 807 million cedis (USD 63,164,213) in 1977. The initial enthusiasm among urban residents to engage in agricultural activities also waned, likely influenced by perceived challenges in rural infrastructure, such as a lack of clean drinking water, electricity, and well-maintained roads. Consequently, by 1977, the intervention of International Food Aid became necessary to address food shortages in Ghana.

In 2017, to address food security issues and national employment levels, the government of Ghana implemented a new initiative called Planting for Food and Jobs (PFJ), drawing inspiration from Operation Feed Yourself. The program proposes solutions such as government subsidies for high-quality seeds and fertilizers, educational initiatives on effective farming practices, and the enhancement of connections between farmers and potential buyers in both public and private sectors. However, this program has also been deemed a failure as food inflation rose to over 50 percent last year, and the basic infrastructure remains a problem.

It appears that Ghana's lawmakers have not fully taken into account lessons from past failures, as seen in the government's recent attempt to implement another new policy without adequately addressing the inherent challenges associated with fundamental infrastructure.

Source : globalvoices