By Fred Dzakpata
The outbreak of the novel Coronavirus is having a significant impact on economies, food markets, especially in developing countries.
There are fears this could lead to a shortage of food if not properly addressed especially in Africa. In Ghana, some farmers have already begun feeling the negative impact of the pandemic which is beginning to take a toll on their livelihood.
This report takes a peek into the onset of the pandemic, it impacts on farmers and looks at what sort of measures are being put in place to avert or lessen the impact on farmers.
Ghana’s COVID-19 Situation
Ghana on March 12 recorded its first two cases of the novel coronavirus with the victims being one foreigner and a Ghanaian who came into the country.
Since then the country began an aggressive contact tracing and banned flights from countries with extremely higher cases such as Italy and the United States.
The country also placed a ban on schools, social and public gatherings as well as the closure of the country’s borders banning all incoming flights.
Subsequently, President Akufo-Addo on March 29 announced a two weeks partial lockdown in 5 major areas namely the capital Accra, Kumasi, Tema, Kasoa and Obuasi after the cases rose from two to fifty-six in a bid to contain the spread of the viral disease.
The lockdown was extended for an extra week after which it was lifted for life to return to normalcy.
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Currently, the country has implemented phase one of plans to ease the restrictions by allowing religious and some public activities to take place with not more than 100 participants.
Schools have also been opened to final year students at the Senior High School level, Tertiary as well other sets of students to enable them to complete the third term semester and also take their exams.
As at the time of filing this report Ghana’s case count was over 14,000 with 95 deaths and over 1000 recoveries.
Some experts in the agric sector have warned the ramifications of COVID-19 will be severe on agribusinesses and smallholder farmers who are most vulnerable if the pandemic persist.
The Chamber of Agribusiness Ghana for instance has conducted a nation-wide survey to assess the economic effects of COVID-19 pandemic on Ghanaian agribusinesses.
The survey sought to provide data-driven inputs and proposals to government to map out immediate interventions to cushion the agribusiness sector from the dreaded impact of the pandemic. According to the survey average monthly revenue of Ghanaian agribusiness firms reduced by 61.2 % during the COVID-19 restriction periods.
It says small scale agribusiness firms suffered the largest revenue shortfalls of about 77.4 %; with large scale agribusiness firms experiencing the least revenue shortfall over the same period.
“ My production has reduced and I have had to layoff about 43 casual workers on my farm.” that’s how Felix Kamassah Chief Executive Officer of Maphlix Trust Ghana Limited sums up the impact of COVID-19 on his farm. The company which is located in the Volta Region of Ghana is into the growth of vegetables such as Chilli pepper, Okra, including other exotic plants for local consumption and also for export into the European market.
Mr Kamassah found the love for farming after quitting his well-paid banking job as a Logistics and Procurement Executive. He has since been operating the farming business for over seven years now.
He currently also doubles as the Vice President of the Vegetables Exporters and Producers Association of Ghana and has been happy with his work on the hundred-acre farm at Dzodze in the Volta Region of Ghana except for the outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“ Even during the lockdown going to the farm became a challenge and those people who deal with farm input didn’t have a permit to deliver on time. This resulted in a whole lot of issues because the viral disease took us by surprise because we normally plant for the whole year.” he narrated.
“ I have had to on about ten occasions carry goods to the airport without getting a cargo plane for export. This has really impacted on my cash flow and target for production. Even the hotels are not taking supply now because most of them are not functioning properly,” he narrated.
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According to him, the economic impact on the operation on farmers like him is extremely huge considering that the country's borders have been closed indefinitely for over two months now.
Local consumption, he says has also taken a nosedive because their major off-takers that is players in the hospitality industry are also yet to bounce back to normal operation as result of the huge negative impact on hotels especially.
For him what they are counting on to bounce back is government’s recently announced stimulus package for small and medium businesses . But he fears his farm has been ruled out because of their annual turnover.
“ I suggest the government’s deals with the association like giving them a specific amount for them to identify members who really need the support. Even though there is a lockdown people will still eat. So we need to grow for consumption especially when we want people to eat fruit and vegetables to boost their immune system this Covid 19 era. “ he said .
Another group which has been hardly hit is a group of women farmers across the country especially in the Northern part of Ghana .
Most of these farmers are not only single mothers but also rely on farming as their main source of livelihood considering the fact that they have no other skill and are illiterate.
These women are also the major bread winners and managers of their home in the absence of men in their lives as result of death etc.l
One of such is Grace Sobey, a Smallholder Farmer at Damolgo-Tindongo in the Northern Region of Ghana.
She sells cereals to basic schools in her catchment area but has been out of business following the closure of schools in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic in the West African country.
“I sell my produce at the school and the closure of the school means that my business has collapsed.
Most of the farmers in the rural areas do not have any knowledge about viral disease due to little or no education.
“We know the disease is around, but we do not know when it will go. I do not know when I can go back to doing what I used to do. “ she said.
Because we have not had any face-to-face interaction from the authorities, we do not know how much how it transmitted and other effective ways of preventing it.” She stated.
“ We have not received any support from the local authorities, we are hearing of “COVID-19” but no assistance has been received from the assembly yet. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we [women’s group] have not had any meeting, currently, we are supposed to be farming but the extension services we usually receive have also stopped.” She added.
Lerigzaya Bang is also another farmer in the same area who sells food using produce from her farm.
“ once COVID-19 came people started getting scared of the food I sell. We are scared of even going to the market to sell or buy. Because of the restrictions and we are not sure of what to do, we have now started farming and this is a late time to start farming, as it stands now, we do not know what will happen to our crops.” she said.
Elizabeth Yedeni another farmer says she sells her farm produce to buyers, mostly grains.
“But since the outbreak of COVID-19, the buyers have stopped coming and getting means of transportation of sending the produce down south is also not easy at all. We have not received any support from the authorities, the only thing we have received is what benevolent Organisation such as [ActionAid] gave us “ she revealed.
“Previously, by now we would have started planting but because we couldn’t come together as a women’s group, we have not been able to do that. Since we haven’t the likelihood of not securing an income this season is very high.” She added.
The delay in planting early for the crop season prior to the onset of the rains is one issue most farmers have had to battle with this COVID-19 era.
The repercussion is the likelihood of food shortages in parts of the country or probably an astronomical increase in the prices of foodstuffs this year.
This was especially evident after the announcement of restriction and ban on public gatherings in the country. The development led to the hoarding of food thereby increasing the prices of foodstuff as a result of the excessive demand for foodstuffs.
For instance, Ghana's inflation for April went up by 10.6 percent representing a 2.8 percent increment compared to March's figure of 8.6 percent with the figure for May increasing to 11.3 percent. The gradual increase from March to date has been mainly attributed to a spike in the prices of food commodities.
Fallout from the pandemic
The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has not only exposed the huge gap in terms of investment needed in the health sector of many countries but has also exposed underlining challenges in various sectors such as agriculture.
For most farmers in Ghana, there are a lot of lesson being gleaned already even in the midst of the pandemic which should inform or influence new ways of approach to farming,
Some have mostly had an eye-opener concerning why they would be forced out of business if they continue to the same old way or should there be another global pandemic.
Lessons of formalisation
One issue that runs through the thought of most affected farmers in Ghana as part of interaction with them is the urgent need to formalise their business.
Most of the farms still do not or have not cultivated the habits and culture of proper bookkeeping, registration of the business, engaging professionals on full or part-time bases to audit their financial account.
It also emerged that majority of them do not have a tax identification number which is now mandatory before one can engage in most transactions with commercial banks and other government agencies.
Interventions by CSO
The Northern part of Ghana is known for its rich culture and tremendous endowment in natural resources of all kinds.
However, that cannot be compared to the quality of life by indigenes of that part of the country.
Despite government intervention to feed the vulnerable and poor during the lockdown period, there are still a lot of people who have been impacted negatively by the pandemic many of whom continues to grapple for support beyond the lockdown.
Thankfully some civil society groups and donor agencies such as the European Union have stepped-up effort to ensure they extend some support to this vulnerable group of people including farmers in the Northern part of Ghana.
Some of the farmers have been supported with food and non-food items by civil society groups to help them in this period.
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Conflicting Government Report
Government’s promise to offer stimulus package to vulnerable groups, agribusinesses, and adjoining industries has been received with greater anticipation. However, the government’s roadmap to implement policies and programmes to mitigate the associated economic effects of this pandemic is yet to be fully outlined.
The Director, Policy Planning Monitoring and Evaluation Directorate at the Ministry of Agric Angela Dannson says it came to their notice that during the initial period of the lockdown that even though agric was exempted a few farmers had challenges moving stuff around.
Miss Damson mentioned that officials from the ministry went to the market two days prior to the day of the lockdown and first week of the lockdown and noticed that prices escalated due to the huge demand and the quest by others to hoard foodstuffs.
She however revealed that they observed a gradual reduction after the easing of restriction.
According to her Many of the traders in the markets where they visited attested to the fact that patronage had gone done due to fear of harassment by officials who were strictly ensuring people adhere to the stay-home directive.
She also revealed they found some of the prices of foodstuffs had gone up not mainly because of the lockdown but because they were out of season.
“ Mostly affected were vegetable farmers, because of the closure of the country's borders making it difficult for some vegetable exporters especially to make any money with others having no choice but to discard their produce because local buyers were also not willing to buy”.
“ We had some challenge where input dealers were not able to supply farm input because of the restrictions which were partly compounded by the delay from the suppliers.”
Miss Damson revealed the sector working group comprising of our development partners and government where we meet regularly and appointed a consultant to help us out with a plan.
She said her outfit proposed the provision of seed and fertilisers because most smallholder farmers were impacted.
“We together with our development partners have been preparing a COVID-19 Response Plan to provide loans or grant to some farmers during this period. The challenge is with the delay in fine-tuning the proposal” she said.
According to her, there was an initial plan to support some 1.2 million farmers but the government was impressed upon to subsequently increase it to 1.5 million farmers because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“We have realised that most of the farmers are unable to apply for government stimulus package because they don’t meet the requirement" she revealed.
Organisation such as the African Development Bank, she stated is helping out with funds in procuring inputs to support most of these farmers.
The Ministry according to Ms Damson is also embarking on an educational drive to sensitise the farmers to increase their awareness about how they can still go about with their farming in the midst of the pandemic.
The International Finance Corporation IFC is also helping in coming out with learning materials to educate particularly Exporters in the country.
In terms of logistics, she said they are trying to provide Personal Protective Equipment, PPE' to extension officers since the majority of them are afraid to go out and work for fear of contracting the disease.
Government is also in the process of boosting the capacity of local producers to grow commodities like rice soya, chicken, and others that we normally import into the country.
“Because the boarders are closed we anticipate a huge demand going forward. We are talking to some of the banks to see how best they can support some farmers and one of them the Agriculture Development Bank has begun supporting those in the poultry value chain ”he added.
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However, earlier checks from Ghana’s Ministry of Agric public affairs unit reveals there are no immediate plans to support farmers who have been impacted by the coronavirus . Public Relations Officer of the Ministry Tanko Bagbara says the planting season will not be affected since Ghanaians are currently consuming foodstuffs that were produced last year. “ Currently farmers in the Northern zone and Southern zone have begun planting their crops with the onset of the annual rains across the country.
“ We think is too early to determine whether any farmer has been impacted so it is too early to know maybe we would get to know when those under government’s planting for food and job bring back report s of how the viral disease has affected them” he said.
“What we have done is that my Deputy Minister and other officials have toured some farms across the country to educate the farmers on coronavirus and what they can do to ensure they do not contract the disease,” he added.
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