A portion of the national Zero Hunger Strategic Review (ZHSR) reads, “A multi-sectorial and multi-level approach for maximum impact is required in order to eradicate hunger in Ghana. The SDG2 target must be mainstreamed in all sectors and all levels from national to local level. All stakeholders should be welcomed on board as per the framework. Health, gender and social protection, agriculture, environment and sanitation, soil and water, climate change, civil society, finance and others, are all relevant factors in addressing Zero Hunger. Coordination is key and the success of the Zero Hunger Initiative depends on a strong, powerful and vibrant coordinating institution.”

This opening paragraph to the recommendations elucidated by the report gives a multifaceted perspective on how best to handle hunger. The report further notes that the threat of hunger is real and needs to  be tackled through  a multiplicity of methodologies –chiefly led by agriculture.

 

This stance was corroborated by Dr Akinwumi Adesina, and President of the Africa Development Bank at a Public lecture of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, in Rome, Italy, last year.

In his effusive address, Adesina paints a vivid picture of the hunger narrative on the continent and identifies measures to curb it exhaustively.

“There’s been much progress on extreme poverty globally. The population living on less than $1.9 per day declined from 44% in 1980 to under 10% by 2015 (World Bank).

But we must not get carried away: we are not winning the war against global hunger. According to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2017, the number of hungry people in the world increased from 777 million in 2015 to 815 million in 2016.

Climate change is worsening the situation, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where it’s been estimated by International Food Policy Research Institute that the continent will add an additional 38 million hungry people by 2050 due to climate change.

The challenges facing the world require focused and compassionate leadership. We owe it as a responsibility to ourselves, and for generations to come, to use every opportunity at our disposal to make the world a better place. I earnestly believe that we can end the dire situation of one billion people hungry in the world. We can end and we must end global poverty, which equally affects over a billion people, whose daily income cannot even buy a hamburger.”

He continues, “Let’s take the case of nutrition. Malnutrition affects millions of children. Africa has some 58 million kids that are stunted, meaning they are too short for their age. Yet, economies post ever rising GDP growth rates. Well, nobody eats GDP. There is no question that stunted children today will lead to stunted economies tomorrow.

We have the solutions for addressing malnutrition. Food stamps helped stamp down hunger and malnutrition in America. It removed the indignity of hunger in the midst of plenty. While there’s been a lot of research on its costs and benefits, the best way to know is to ask the hungry children who can now learn because they have food.

A hungry and rumbling stomach drains the brain and destroys the cognitive ability of children. We should not just build roads or standard infrastructure, we must build grey matter infrastructure.

Brazil did such a great job scaling up school nutrition programs under its famous Zero Hunger Program. And I highly commend the dogged determination of the Minister who made it happen, Dr. Da Silva, who is now the Director General of FAO.

Around the world, several countries have launched similar programs. But none has been at the scale of Brazil. One reason for the success of Brazil was that it’s then President Lula, grew up under hunger and decided that food must become a fundamental human right, enshrining it in the constitution. We can banish hunger and malnutrition in the world. And this should start with having better global governance on food and nutrition, backed by political leadership with a heart for the poor.”

Agriculture to the rescue

While the threat of hunger remains a lively one, agriculture is thought by many stakeholders as the panacea to a challenge that has defied several solutions over the years.

Ending hunger and cannot be achieved without critically improving on the agricultural sector in all spheres as well as harnessing the efforts of all sectors of government that directly or indirectly affect food production from farm to table in both quantity and quality. Having enough food must be acknowledged as a direct consequence of agriculture. This way, agriculture will be genuinely enthroned as the chief strategy for curbing the malignant issue of hunger.

“The future of food in the world will depend on what Africa does with agriculture. I am sure you must be saying did I hear right? Yes, you did. Africa holds 65% of the uncultivated arable land left to feed 9 billion by 2050. Its’ vast savannas are the world’s largest agriculture frontier, estimated at 400 million ha. But only 10% of this is cultivated. That’s a mere 40 million hectares.

Africa accounts for 75% of the world’s cocoa production, with 65% of this being produced in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, but the continent is a price taker and receives only 2% of the $100 billion annual revenues from chocolates globally. The reason is because Africa exports just raw cocoa beans.

This pattern is the same for other commodities in which Africa is a major producer. Africa produces 146 million tons out of the 268 million tons of cassava in the world – or 55%, 5.4 million tons of the 5.6 million tons of cowpeas globally – or 9.62 million out of the 28 million tons of millet globally – or 43% and 29 million tons of the 69 million tons of sorghum globally – or 42%.

But producing raw materials is not enough. It is time for Africa to move to the top of the global food value chains, through agro-industrialization and adding value to all of what it produces.

The secret of the wealth of nations is clear – rich nations process all of what they produce – whether in agriculture, minerals, oil and gas or services – while poor nations export their produce as raw materials. While demand for raw commodities is elastic, demand for processed and value-added commodities is relatively inelastic. The price of cotton may decline, but never the price of textile and garments. The price of cocoa may decline but never the price of chocolates. The price of coffee beans may decline but never the price of brewed specialty coffee at Starbucks.

The reliance of the continent on exports of raw commodities exposes it to the high variability and instability of global commodity prices. Such external commodity price shocks have continued to negatively affect the economies, creating domestic fiscal deficits and balance of payment deficits that have always led to decline in public expenditures, inflation and currency devaluations.

African countries need policies to unlock the huge potential of these commodities by developing agricultural value chains and agro-allied industries that process and add value. This will allow them to become more competitive in global value chains, raise incomes for their farmers, instead of being stuck at the bottom of global value chains. “

 

 

Deductions for Ghana

In Ghana, rhetoric’s about agriculture holding the key to our economic development is as old as the country’s emancipation date. Successive governments have identified this potential and have often made attempts to steer the country in that direction. From the fickle to the enduring, many policies and programmes have contributed to growing a local agricultural scene that continues to inspire confidence despite being clogged with a myriad of bottlenecks.

Concerted efforts must be made to expand production possibilities of smallholder farmers, remove binding constraints around them – including limited access to technology, markets, infrastructure, finance, among others – and make agriculture, the source of their livelihood, a wealth creating sector, not a sector for perpetuating inter-generational poverty and misery.

Through a deliberate policy like The Planting for Export and Rural Development (PERD) Programme(offshoot of Planting For Food and Jobs) which is a decentralized National Tree Crop Programme to promote rural economic growth and improve household incomes of rural farmers through the provision of certified improved seedlings, extension services, business support and regulatory mechanisms, the country is clearly zeroing-in on hunger and its attendant ills.

The programme will systematically limit the strides of hunger by creating sustainable raw material base to spur up the decentralized industrialization drive through One District Factory initiative. The 5-year PERD programme will support 1million farmers in 170 districts with certified free planting materials to cover over one (1) million hectares of farmlands and engage 10,000 young graduates as crop specialized extension officers.

Aside from the benefit of a diversified revenue base for Ghana, PERD will link agriculture to industry by providing a solid raw material base for industrialization will also help develop rural economies and support the structural transformation of the economy and consequently banish hunger.

According to a 2018 World Bank report dubbed “The Third Economic Update, Agriculture as an Engine of Growth and Jobs Creation”, the agriculture sector has the potential to open the floodgates of transformative growth for other sectors of the economy if the inputs of other viable commodities are properly harnessed. This will also prove crucial in stopping hunger because the creation of jobs will naturally improve income for people to afford adequate food.

 It is increasingly clear that we can do more to mitigate the threat of hunger through agriculture. Agriculture is an important contributor to Ghana’s export earnings, and a major source of inputs for several cardinal sectors. While It is  true that we are yet to see the colossal impact that we are capable of through agriculture, the truth remains that agriculture holds the most realistic and viable solution to the threat of hunger and its associated ills in Ghana and elsewhere on the continent.