Farming activities have started in earnest as the farming season takes shape in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The coronavirus pandemic ravaging the country has in no way affected the beginning of the farming season as field preparation, sowing and weeding are earnestly ongoing in the farming communities.
A tour of some farming communities in four regions noted for high farming activities in the country revealed that although the farmers are aware of the ravaging pandemic, farming cannot wait.
Farmers in the Bono, Bono East, Ashanti and Eastern regions are busily preparing their farmlands, sowing, weeding and actively engaged in other farming activities.
Rationale of tour
The tour, which was led by the Minister of Food and Agriculture, Dr Owusu Afriyie Akoto accompanied by one of his deputies, Mr George Oduro and some sectional directors of the ministry and a number of journalists afforded the team to ascertain how farming activities are going on in spite of the spread of the virus.
The Minister interacted with farmers, visited selected fields, interacted with farm input suppliers and held discussions with staff of the regional and district Agricultural Department and other stakeholders in the agricultural value chain to understand what was happening on the ground and also to listen to their concerns.
Readiness of farmers
It was a simple message, as far as the farmers were concerned: Coronavirus or no coronavirus, we must eat and the farmers cannot wait because the season is not waiting either.
In some of the farming communities, the farmers, who were ready to farm, were rather complaining of the delay in the supply of improved seeds and or fertilizer.
“The reason why I came out quickly after the lockdown was to monitor what is going on with our flagship programme, the Planting for Food and Jobs and whether the targets are achievable,” the Minister of Food and Agriculture Dr Owusu Afriyie Akoto told journalists.
He said the tour had given him hope and the assurance that the Planting for Food and Jobs initiative was on course and that many more farmers were interested in signing onto the programme.
But a clear challenge of the farmers throughout the tour of the minister was the unavailability of the farm inputs, particularly the improved seeds and the fertilizer.
Most of the farmers complained that they were forced to go to the open market to buy the inputs at very high price even though the government has released those inputs to be supplied to the farmers.
It was obvious that some of the input suppliers were deliberately hoarding and diverting the inputs for their own interest to the detriment of the farmers.
The tour brought to the fore, gaps in the supply of the inputs, which require the ministry to take a serious look at. For instance, does the ministry still need to subsidise the inputs, which never get to the intended users? The farmers, who are supposed to benefit from the subsidised inputs are forced to go to the open market where the same subsidised seeds are sold to them at the cutthroat prices.
The good intentions of the government and for that matter, the ministry to help farmers with subsidised fertilizer and improved seeds are now fertile grounds for dealers to make abnormal profits and still go back to the ministry to claim the remaining subsidies.
The ministry has adopted different ways of ensuring that the subsidies get to the real beneficiaries, but most of the dealers, who are businessmen and women are always ahead of the ministry.
We are our own enemies and if Ghana will go hungry, then it is because of our own selfish and parochial interest. It is important the ministry looks within because, the real enemies of the Planting for Food and Jobs are within.
I was happy to see the minister visibly angry with the dealers, sounding the warning bells that the government would not allow scrupulous individuals to run down the PFJ initiative explaining that information reaching the ministry indicated that some of the dealers in the improved seeds and fertilizer meant for farmers under the PFJ were diverting the items to the open market.
Dr Akoto said, “As much as we want to involve the private sector, we won’t sit down for some hooligans to exploit the state and the farmers.”
Surely, it is good to create jobs opportunities for Ghanaians and that is indeed, the intention of the PFJ but the situation where dealers and retailers of the inputs are stocking their pockets to the detriment of the farmer, definitely is criminal and should not be allowed to perpetuate those criminal activities.
After three years of subsidy and the benefits that came with the use of improved seeds and the application of fertilizer, I think the time has come for the ministry to review its subsidy policy.
I was depressed to learn that some of the improved seeds have been subsidized by as much as 90 per cent where the farmers were expected to pay only GH¢3 instead of GH¢15 per kilo, yet the farmers end up still buying the same seeds for the GH¢15, because the businessman or woman has diverted those seeds to the open market.
Last year, some of the fertilizer meant for the farmers under the PFJ, with clearly labelled PFJ were spotted in the open market in Burkina Faso and other neighbouring countries.
Government however is spending more than $100 million annually on the input subsidies. Clearly, this is unacceptable, especially when they are not getting to the intended beneficiaries, but rather lining up individual pockets.
It is good that the ministry is relooking the prices of the subsidised inputs. This should be done with the urgency it deserves, such that it will reflect in the 2021 major farming season.