Early COVID-19 Impacts on Ghana's Food System

By: Joseph Akowuah

Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST)Published 11 September 2020

In March 2020, Ghana recorded the first two cases of COVID-19 and it continued to spread throughout the country as the number of confirmed cases rapidly increased from 2 to 152 and 5 deaths in two weeks. This brought fear and panic among individuals and major activities within the country ceased. As part of government directives to control the rapid spread of the novel disease, government imposed a three-week lockdown and indefinite closure of boarders to restrict movement within the country and also between other countries. This became a big blow for millions of businesses including those in the agriculture sector particularly our men and women involved in the horticultural farming business.

Many Ghanaian farmers who are into fruits, vegetables and perishable cash crop farming, itmes that are typically exported to global markets, lost millions wth the closure of borders, as the food supply was disrupted. Vegetable Farmers in the Ketu South Municipality of the Volta Region, a sub-region in the Southern part of Ghana in particular have recounted their misfortunes due to the COVID-19 in an interview with gbcghanaonline.com (https://www.gbcghanaonline.com/general/covid-19-ketu-south-vegetable-farms-left-to-rot/2020/). They asserted that, before the emergence of the novel disease in the country, farmers in the Municipal had invested so much into tomatoes, carrot, sweet pepper, lettuce, cabbage among different vegetables which have since gone to waste. Vegetables are left to rot on the farm and in storage as commercial traders from the city and neighboring countries are restricted from travelling to the Municipal to buy their farm produce. A farmer emphasized that, he has invested all his money into his farm and now no one is buying his farm produce. Some vegetable farms as a result have been abandoned (see insert picture below).

Abandoned vegetable farm in Ketu South Municipality.png
Photo: Abandoned vegetable farm in Ketu South Municipality

According to traders at Afia Kobi vegetable market, a sub town in the Ashanti region of Ghana, commercial buyers were no longer interested in fruits and vegetables during the lockdown period as large quantities of vegetables were left to rot at the market (see insert pictures). They lamented that, customers switched interest into more staple foods such as maize, cowpeas, rice, gari which is a popular product from cassava and others.

Watermelons left to rot at Afia Kobi vegetable market in Kumasi, Ghana
Photo: Watermelons left to rot at Afia Kobi vegetable market in Kumasi, Ghana

This resulted in a hike in food prices during the lockdown period. The demand for staple food increased significantly as most people tried to buy and store food for a longer period. Since the traders who are considered as aggregators or sometimes called “middle women” were unable to travel to rural areas to procure more farm produce, most traders in the city markets inflated the prices of the little food stuffs they had in stock. One of the most staple food grains in the country, maize, recorded approximately 18 % increase in price which raised an average price of a bag to GHS 164 while cassava recorded about 28 % increase to an average price of GHS 124 per bag as reported by Esoko.com (https://esoko.com/food-prices-in-ghana-april-2020/). Traders made so much money whereas farmers made huge losses as they struggle to get commercial buyers amid the partial lockdown.

Farmers who had already started cultivation before the pandemic also had some challenges in carrying out farm activities. Labour availability became a problem to farmers as the fear of contracting COVID-19 kept labourers away from work. The few available labourers or farm hands were demanding wages above the usual average wage they normally charge, hence farm input cost increased significantly. The partial lockdown has also restricted farmers access to purchase seeds, insecticide, fertilizers and other farm hardware inputs.

The pandemic has greatly affected agriculture in Ghana and also the livelihood of farmers as many have lost their working capital. Some farmers are pleading with government to support them.

In Ghana, the pandemic has also hit those in the cash crops sector. It is reported that, exports of cash crops to Europe, China, America and elsewhere ground to a halt as land, sea and air borders were closed or restricted around the world due to the corona virus. An additional report on Ghana exports is available here and was written by Joseph Opoku Gakpo.

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