Feature by Joshua Asaah
Bolgatanga, Nov 23, GNA – It is unfortunate but true that the three regions of the North continue to experience food insecurity and malnutrition. The Upper East Region for instance, remains the region with the highest proportion of food insecurity where 27 per cent of households are at risk of hunger according to World Food Programme 2015 report.
People in many communities in the region cannot afford three square meals, a day and children are the worst affected. Apart from food inadequacy, food combination is also a major concern.
Farmers are therefore relying heavily on one cropping season to produce food for the whole year. Farming is no more lucrative due to decreasing soil fertility and erratic rainfall pattern that seems never to please the farmer. The lack of resources for farmers to do large scale farming, coupled with the use of unapproved methods of farming largely account for the low yields – the effect of which are food insecurity and hunger.
Amidst these challenges, Ghana is expected to meet the Sustainable Development Goal two which aims at ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition, and promoting sustainable agriculture. For this Goal, the country has targets to ensure that there is no hunger by 2030.
Planting for food and jobs
It is against this backdrop that the ‘Planting for food and jobs’ initiative started by the government this year, has restored the lost hopes of farmers in the Upper East region and the country at large. The initiative aims at increasing agriculture yields and ensuring sustainable supply of food at cheaper costs while creating jobs for Ghanaians.
Under the programme, farmers are being supported with improved seeds and fertilizers to help transform the country’s agriculture sector. President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo- Addo who launched the programme was optimistic that it will increase food production. The initiative will, in the long term, contribute to ending hunger and help Ghana to achieve SDG two.
Fall Armyworm invasion
However, the success of planting for food and jobs programme this farming season is threatened by the invasion of the Fall Armyworm. According to the Upper East Regional Plant Protection and Regulatory Services Officer, Mr Patrick Yensingit, over 11,000 hectares of farmlands in the region were affected by the pest but the harm it did was not enough to badly affect yield as the crops recovered well enough to produce a good yield.
Some farmers in the region said although the Fall Armyworm’s havoc on crops and a short dry spell made them fear losing a lot of produce, the ‘planting for food and jobs’ programme could be a solution to reducing hunger in the Upper East Region this year.
The 1996 National Best Farmer, Mr George Stanley Alokodongo, who is also from the Upper East Region shares the same view, “We would have had about 98 percent production, but the armyworm we might reduce the yield to about 90 or 85 per cent, regardless, we will still make a good harvest”
The 2016 Second National Best farmer, Mr Ariku Martin Akudugu, based in the Binduri District who also sounded optimistic said the region may record a good harvest irrespective of the erratic rainfall pattern.
One of the many factors that contribute to food insecurity is lack of storage facilities. Most farmers in the region resort to storing their farm produce in bans, and other traditional methods that expose their foodstuffs to pests.
It is against this backdrop that the planting for food and jobs programme, promised to construct 1,000 metric tonnes capacity warehouses in each of the 216 districts of the country. At the time of filing this report no single warehouse has been constructed in the Upper East Region. Farmers bemoan that the unavailability of enough storage facilities could contribute to post-harvest loses in the area.
“If we don’t get very nice storage area then definitely weevils and other insects will attack our produce and we will go back to square one”, says Mr George Stanley Alokodongo.
Another farmer, Bruce Akolgo said,“we have to sell most part of our produce as soon as we harvest and that is usually at very low prices because we do not have large storage facilities, so we leave just enough to fill our local barns”
But Ms Safia Yakubu, the Deputy Monitoring and Evaluation Officer in charge of the Planting for Food and Jobs Programme in the Region, said the few existing warehouses will be made available while plans would be made to renovate some abandoned structures that can store food.
Poor road network
The Upper East Region in 2016 recorded over 13,000 tonnes of maize losses being the second region to have recorded the highest post-harvest losses. Among factors that contributed to the losses included poor road networks linking farms to District Capitals in the Region. The Bongo District is one of the Districts in the Region that lack accessible road networks.
The District Chief Executive for Bongo, Mr Peter Ayinbisa, admitted that “the road network in Bongo is nothing good to write home about and those roads lead to the farmlands. So the road network is going to hinder the transportation of farm produce from wherever they are being cultivated to the District Capital”
According to him plans are far advanced to expand feeder roads in the District to mitigate post-harvest losses.
To ensure that farmers earn higher income from their produce, Ms Safia Yakubu, Deputy Monitoring and Evaluation Officer of Upper East Regional Department of Agriculture in charge of the ‘Planting for Food and Jobs’ Programme, allayed the fears of unavailable markets to consume the farm produce.
She said the Ghana School Feeding programme which promises to use locally produced food is ready to purchase foodstuff from the farmers.
In order to achieve Sustainable Development Goal two through the ‘Planting for Food and Jobs’ Programme, Government should begin to adopt measures to combat the fall armyworm in years to come, if there are more invasions.
The lack of adequate Agriculture Extension Officers and unavailable logistics to combat the worm also contributed to the destruction of farms by the pests. In this regard Government should consider lifting the ban on employment especially in the Agriculture Sector, while supplying logistics to the sector so that food security can be achieved and sustained.
Available storage facilities should be constructed to meet the demand of farmers in order to prevent post-harvest losses.
Government should provide accessible road networks linking farms to warehouses and market centres as well as ensure the availability of farm start-up capitals to make the agriculture sector attractive to the youth.