The Minority Spokesperson on Agriculture, Dr. Owusu Afriyie Akoto, has slammed the National Democratic Congress’ (NDC) manifesto on agriculture, describing it as overly ambitious and unrealistic.
He said the promise by the NDC to increase coffee production from 6,000 metric tonnes to 100,000 metric tonnes, in addition to the pledge to double cocoa production to 1.5 million metric tonnes were merely designed to deceive Ghanaians.
Dr. Akoto was speaking at a press conference organised by the Minority New Patriotic Party (NPP) Caucus in Parliament yesterday.
He said the promise by the government to increase coffee production by about 17 folds would require 200,000 hectares of land and an amount of GHc10 billion over the next five years to make that promise a reality.
He questioned how the government was going to raise money to achieve that promise while it kept cutting down its annual budget in the agric sector.
On cocoa production, he said the government, instead of addressing the issues underlying the decline in cocoa production in recent years, was rather promising a reliance on a new breed for commercial farmers to inject growth into cocoa production.
“The smallholding cocoa farmer has been the driving force behind the industry. The promise to double output is doomed to failure if the challenges facing the smallholder are not resolved. These relate to inadequate inputs and low producer price,” he said.
He noted that the idea that the supply of millions of improved seedlings would translate automatically into doubling output was “a pie in the sky” and predicted a decline in the production in the coming years due to the decision by the government to abolish the grant to farmers for cutting down trees infected by the swollen shoot disease.
Touching on the Green Revolution project which promises to, among other things, double food production and make Ghana self-sufficient in poultry, sugar and tomatoes and a net exporter of maize and rice, he said the NDC was “merely building castles in the air”.
“As witnessed in other countries like India and Mexico, “Green Revolution” succeeds when there is assurance of adequate supply of services and inputs to farmers, including improved seeds, chemicals, extension, irrigation, marketing, farm credit and mechanisation”.
“The supply of most of these resources is either stagnant (mechanisation, irrigation) or declining (chemicals, extensions, credit, marketing) under the administration of the NDC in the period 2009 – 2016.
In other words, the NDC have failed to lay the foundation for a Green Revolution. Hence the target to doubling food production over the coming four years appears totally unrealistic. The promise of a “Green Revolution” is equivalent to “building castles in the air,” he said.
On food imports, Dr. Akoto said based on data provided by the Ghana Statistical Service, over the past eight years, both the volume and value of imports of food had gone beyond alarming proportions.
Food imports, he said, had now occupied a significant proportion of national food consumption and constituted a major drain on the country’s scarce foreign exchange earnings.
“Between calendar year 2007 and 2015 the total value of imports of eight major food items together sky-rocketed by nearly seven-fold – from US$344 Million in 2007 to US$2.3 Billion in 2014 and to over US$2.1 Billion in 2015”.
“During the same period, the total volume of imports of the eight items together escalated from 882,000 metric tonnes in 2007 to a peak of 1,343,000 metric tonnes in 2013 with slight dips in 2014 and 2015. These food items are rice, sugar, poultry, fish, wheat, vegetable oil, salt and vegetables,” he said.
Dr. Akoto indicated that the 2015 import bill of US$2.1 Billion for the eight food items was equivalent to the total foreign exchange earnings from the country’s major export cocoa in 2014/15.
“Looking at it from another perspective, it is more than the US$2 Billion cocoa syndicated loans borrowed annually from foreign banks for the purchase of cocoa in crop year 2015/2016 and for the coming 2016/2017 cocoa crop,” he said.
He said an examination of the individual items revealed even more disturbing trends and added that for example, the value of rice imports had escalated eight-fold from US$152 million in 2007 to a peak of US$1.2 billion in both 2014 and 2015.
In the same period, he said the volume of rice imports climbed from 441,000 metric tonnes to 630,000 metric tonnes.
“The value of imports of sugar rose more than five times – from US$109 million in 2007 to US$ 564 million in 2014. In the case of poultry, the value of imports rose nearly seven-fold – from US$57 million in 2007 to US$374 million in 2015,” he said