Over the past three years, the global economy has suffered from two separate major shocks to its food supply chains.
The first came about from the outbreak and spread of the first-ever global pandemic, COVID-19, which effectively suspended most international trade on agricultural produce as countries across every continent of the world, locked themselves down to curb the spread of the virus in their respective jurisdictions.
Then, just as the world began recovering from this, with supply chains re-opening, war broke out between Russia and Ukraine, two of the most important agricultural producers in the world, with Africa among the worst affected.
One of the most unfortunate effects of all this has been the distortions it has imposed on the perceived outcomes of one of the most ambitious and potentially transformative agricultural production initiatives ever embarked on by Ghana - the Planting for Food and Jobs (PFJ) programme.
Since food inflation set off the ongoing inflationary surge in Ghana, late last year, the widely acclaimed successes of the PFJ programme have been largely subsumed by worries over rising food prices.
However, it is instructive that those rising prices had nothing to do with supply shortfalls; rather it was the result of inefficiencies in the local supply chain for foodstuffs, which created the opportunity for profiteering by operators along that supply chain, wholesalers, transporters and retailer all-inclusive.
Critics have used the global supply shortfalls to dampen the acclamation deservedly generated by PFJ, a move it regards as particularly important since the former Food and Agriculture Minister, Dr Owusu Afriyie Akoto, (who recently resigned to pursue his political ambitions), has been generating crucial political capital for the current government, with his words and deeds since 2017.
However, the data shows that PFJ has been an eminent success, even with the severe headwinds that have confronted it and indeed provides a good model for efforts at enhancing agricultural production in Ghana going forward.
The most instructive statistic in this regard is that the agricultural sector in Ghana recorded its fastest growth in 30 years in both 2020 and 2021, at 7.3 per cent and 8.4 per cent respectively.
Indeed, the only other time the sector recorded growth of over seven per cent was the 7.3 per cent achieved back in 2009.
Instructively, before PFJ was introduced in 2017, Ghana‘s agricultural sector was customarily growing at less than three per cent a year, indeed bottoming out at 0.9 per cent in 2014.
In 2020, as the effects of the PFJ initiative began to reach their full potential, Ghana’s agricultural growth rate became the highest among the three broad economic sectors (the others being industry and services respectively) for the first time since 2009, when its 7.3 per cent growth exceeded industry’s 3.8 per cent and services 6.7 per cent.
In 2020, agriculture’s 7.3 per cent growth easily exceeded the services sector’s 0.75 as the industry contracted by 2.5 per cent.
Ghana’s overall Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth of 0.5 per cent for that year – during which Ghana suffered its first economic recession in nearly four decades because of the effects of COVID-19 was only made possible by the continent’s leading growth performance of its agricultural sector.
The next year proved this was not a fluke.
With COVID-19 receding and as the Russia-Ukraine was yet to start, Ghana’s agricultural sector growth climbed to a historical high of 8.4 per cent, not far behind the 9.4 per cent growth achieved by the services sector and helping to negate the 0.8 per cent contraction in the industrial sector.
Thus again, the agricultural sector was a key contributor to Ghana’s solid economic rebound in 2021 to 5.4 per cent.
Simply put, the data provides undisputed evidence that PFJ has enhanced Ghana’s agricultural production in a sustained way.
It is only the second time in the past four decades that the sector has grown by over seven per cent for two consecutive years, the latest two-year growth spurt significantly outstrips what was achieved in 2008 and 2009.
Even more instructively, the earlier two-year consecutive growth saw the second of the two years experiencing a decline in the growth rate (heralding further declines in the following years) whereas this time around, the second year’s growth was higher than the first year, creating the prospect of further acceleration in the sector’s growth rate going forward.
But growth in agricultural production, as crucial as that is, is not the only landmark benefit that PFJ has given the country and the other is equally important - job creation.
The initiative has not only attracted more Ghanaians than ever before into the agricultural sector but has also attracted a more diverse demography for the industry than ever before too, with regard to the urban/rural split, age, gender and educational background.
Available data reveals that there are now 3,037,381 people engaged in agricultural activity, translating to nearly one in every 10 Ghanaians. This number is fairly evenly divided: 1,999,229 males and 1,038,152 females.
Even more pleasantly surprising is the increase in urban agricultural activity arising out of the encouragement provided by PFJ for urban agriculture.
The latest data reveals that there are now 710,358 urban dwellers now engaging in some form of agricultural activity or the other, which is nearly a third of the 2,327,023 rural dwellers.
The increased number of urbanites engaged in the sector has naturally raised the level of formal education being deployed, a crucial driver of increased sector productivity.
Literate people engaged in agriculture for the first time outnumber illiterates – 1,612,937 versus 1,424,444, with nearly twice as many literates than illiterates in the urban centres.
Indeed, the literate farming community now includes 136,598 graduates of tertiary institutions and another 268,131 who have finished secondary school.
Although the traditional forms of agriculture still attract most people – there are 2,360,402 people farming arable crops and 1,192,990 cultivating tree crops, newer forms of agriculture are now catching on.
For instance, there are 2,015 people engaged in aquaculture, in addition to the 59,548 engaged in traditional fishing.
All the data suggests that a more geographically diversified – and better-educated agricultural labour force, engaged in a wider scope of activity than ever before-- isa driving record-high agriculture growth rates which indeed are powering Ghana’s strong economic growth despite its huge fiscal challenges.
Indeed, while criticism of the government’s public expenditure profiles may attract justified criticism, the expenditure on PFJ has proved to have given real value for money, no matter how the programme’s critics try to paper over the unprecedented gains.
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