Accra, 21 Mar 2012 – The protectionist policies of countries such as Ghana has been criticized by Carlos Perez del Castillo, the chairman of the consortium board of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).
Castillo was in Ottawa recently to speak at the International Development Research Centre about Canada’s support for agricultural research.
According to the article in the Windsor Star the middle-of-the road estimates suggest that the world’s population will have reached nine billion by 2050. This means that for every one of those people to be able to eat, we’ll need at least a 70 percent increase in agricultural production – a 100-percent increase in developing countries.
According to Castillo the task will be complicated by climate change, pressures on arable land and water, more meat-intensive diets in much of the world, the diversion of crops for biofuels, and the fiscal crunch for many of the governments that fund agricultural research.
On a positive note Castillo said the question that should be keeping us all up at night isn’t whether the planet can grow enough food. The real question according to him is whether every human being will be able to access that food.
Castillo continued to say that this is where the natural inclinations of democratic governments might work against humanity’s interests. He argues that funding agricultural research is important, but it’s a relatively easy political sell. Opening up markets and reforming institutions so food can flow freely takes courage, according to Castillo.
He further predicts that there will be more trade in food in the coming years as domestic supplies become inadequate, and that agricultural trade will become a bigger policy priority for governments.
In his address Castillo said that advocates of protectionist measures, such as tariffs, often argue that they’re necessary to ensure a domestic food supply. But closed borders can actually make a country less food-secure if it doesn’t have enough imports to ensure a diversity of sources.
Castillo also says that a lack of open markets means a lack of incentives to produce enough food to export.
High food prices in recent years have actually been an opportunity for governments to dismantle protections, Castillo says, since they have known that farmers would generally fare well in the marketplace without state help. And many countries have started to do that, but not nearly enough.
Protectionism basically takes place when governments ban the exportation of food or when they place excessive tariffs and duties on food imports.
Since the NDC led government came to power in 2008 they have doggedly been propagating a policy of food self-sufficiency, especially with regards to rice. Recently this dogged propaganda has spread to the poultry industry.
To refresh our minds we need to revisit the decision by the NPP led government in 2008 in the midst of the previous global food crisis to scrap the 20 percent import duties on essential foodstuff such as rice, cooking oil and other basic foodstuffs to alleviate the plight of Ghanaian consumers.
By the end of 2009 the newly appointed government announced the reinstatement of these duties and motivating the reinstatement on the grounds that the food crisis was over and that it was necessary to protect the local rice industry.
Both the above arguments have been proved to be deceitful.
In the first place the UN warned of a new looming food crisis one month before the government reintroduced the excessive tariffs that demanded Ghanaians to pay a premium of 37 percent compared to 12.5 percent in neighbouring Ivory Coast.
In the second place Food Security Ghana (FSG) and many other analysts have shown that excessive import duties can’t and won’t save the local rice industry that is plagued with lack of government support, low productivity, bad quality and various other factors.
The doggedness of the government, spearheaded by Mr. Kwesi Ahwoi who is in charge of food and agriculture, went to such extreme lengths that Mr. Awhoi has promised twice to resign if he can’t erase the 70 percent shortfall in local rice production within two to three years.
More recently the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) also promised to ban the importation of poultry by 2013. The poultry and rice industries in Ghana share a few characteristics such as lack of investment and bad quality while supplying only about 30 percent of local demand.
It is clear that the government of Ghana scores high on propaganda and deceit.
All Ghanaians would like and love to see Ghana being self-sufficient with regards to food production.
Few Ghanaians who are suffering due to a frightening increase in the cost of living likes or loves a government that can’t distinguish between short-term and long-term policies that will ensure food security now and in the future.
While the government in Ghana thinks that they are being protectionist to promote the national good, Ghanaians know that they are in fact punishing the Ghanaian masses through short-sightedness.