Your Excellency Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Distinguished Representative of the United States Government; Madam Vice Chancellor; Political, Economic and Public Affairs Counsellors of the US Embassy and affiliate agencies; senior faculty and management members of the University of Ghana; Students; invited guests; and members of the Press, thank you for granting me audience on this auspicious occasion.
We are gathered here today because we recognize the critical link between food security and the sustenance of peace, stability and broader socio-economic development in Africa and around the world. At a time when the drivers of food insecurity are multiplying and intensifying, the US Embassy in Ghana couldn’t have a chosen a better theme nor a more distinguished diplomat than Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield to speak to us about the contribution of the world’s most advanced economy to reducing food insecurity in Africa. IMANI is grateful to be part of today’s event.
Discussing the role of strategic diplomacy in the grand quest to overcome hunger starts by recalling landmark historical events. It is nearly 70 years ago today that the United States under President Eisenhower enacted the Agricultural Trade Development & Assistance Act, better known as PL480.
PL480 would in the years following become a fulcrum around which an aggressively forward-looking system of public-private partnerships, multilateral cooperation, and public diplomacy projects could crystalise to support more than two dozen African countries in securing valuable access to lifeline food supplies. In the ensuing years, other US global projects against malnutrition like Food for Progress have for the most part been grounded on a foundation of multistakeholder diplomacy, thereby transcending traditional notions of bilateral diplomacy among governments.
For example, since 2000, the International Food Relief Partnership (IFRP) initiative has provided the USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance a powerful canvas to transform standard Title 2 food aid programs into more innovative strategies that reduce market distortions, embrace private actors, bolster government responsibility in recipient countries and create incentives for innovation. New ways of thinking in delivering nourishment to millions around the world fully harness advanced agro-technological interventions involving supply chain transformation, biotechnology, novel financial technologies, geospatial techniques and even bio-organic models of maximizing ecological harmony.
In addition to pro-market innovations, the emerging platforms for multistakeholder diplomacy in boosting global food security also recognizes the need for ecological balance in the quest for greater agricultural productivity. There is a strong urge to ensure that intensive farming does not end up exacerbating the dire climactic and ecological risks confronting those parts of the world, such as many sub-Saharan countries, that are also desperately in need of buffers against development-stunting malnutrition. But there are serious headwinds.
A perfect storm of uneven economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, conflicts and instability across the world, acute heatwaves, and poor food system governance, especially in Africa, continue to worsen the already concerning situation of food insecurity and hunger in many places. However, long before the twin-evils of the pandemic and Russian-Ukraine conflict left an estimated 100 million more people on the African continent food insecure, a total of 282 million people on the continent were already hungry. The situation in Ghana, for instance, is becoming dire as runaway inflation of 30% and climbing coupled with escalating fiscal pressures continue to expose low-income earners and the vulnerable to hunger. The Ghana Statistical Service reports that about 3.6 million – that is about 12% of the population – are food insecure, and 78 percent of these people live in the rural areas of Ghana.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, we also do know that African governments promise to modernize agriculture, improve output efficiency, achieve food security, and profitability for farmers and increase agriculture productivity. However, they have not demonstrated significant commitment to prioritizing agriculture and food security. In 2003, African governments through the Maputo Declaration in Mozambique pledged to commit 10 percent of national budgets to agriculture. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), on average, African governments reduced their spending on agriculture from 4.5 percent of total expenditure in 2001 to 2.5 percent in 2012. According to one study, Ghana’s real average disaggregated spending on agriculture between 2001 and 2015 was 3.3% and less than 2% of total government expenditure between 2015 and 2020.
It beggars belief that in spite of its vast natural resources, including a huge expanse of arable land, Africa has the highest incidence of undernourishment – estimated at almost one in four persons – worldwide. The continent imports food staples valued at about US$25 billion annually, essentially because food production, supply, and consumption systems are not functioning optimally. According to the World Economic Forum, the level of value addition through processing of agricultural commodities is low, and post-harvest losses in sub-Saharan Africa average 30 percent of total production, meaning that the region loses over US$4 billion each year.
IMANI’s own market scanning, landscape analysis and intelligence gathering reaffirms a worry state of affairs in which farmgate to retail level logistics have so broken down in many parts of Ghana that whilst farmers throw large amounts of food away, and thus remain consigned to a lifetime of penury, the urban poor are being forced to resort to overprocessed imported fare of extremely poor nutritional content.
It is not too surprising then that the agriculture sector’s contribution to Ghana’s GDP has declined from 29.3% in 2010 to 20.3% in 2015. It is projected to contribute about 21% to economic development for the next five years to 2025. Despite the various policies and developments fronted by the private sector, the agriculture sector and the businesses within the sector continue to face challenges. Most essentially, amidst recent government programmes like the planting for food and jobs (PFJ) and the 1 district 1 factory (1D1F) initiatives, agribusiness micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) which are critical to linking smallholder producers to national markets, meeting food demand and creating tomorrow’s jobs have struggled, in spite of the commendable political will, to galvanise the necessary investments into logistics, value addition and financing.
It goes without saying that food security can only be attained when small and medium enterprises which employ the largest proportion of the workforce and generate the bulk of economic activity become more embedded in the agricultural value chain.
Multistakeholder diplomacy which does not confine itself to government-to-government relations but embraces the broader spectrum of civic forces stand a strong chance of creating the right partnership frameworks for linking the policy initiatives of the Global North, particularly those of the United States, with the real opportunities for transformation at the operational grassroots of the African and Ghanaian agro-value chain. Creating the optimal economic climate to attract the very high levels of investment required to add value to harvests and build export competitiveness would require strong coordination beyond the traditional food aid nexus.
Given the dire fiscal situation countries like Ghana in sub-Saharan Africa are currently grappling with, and the obvious multilateral dimension to the available solutions for the ongoing global economic crisis, it would be very difficult to separate the issues of food security and sustainable agriculture from this deeper and wider multilateral reform and recovery context.
Likewise, vast amounts of political will and resources are needed to create seamless transport corridors within Africa to put an end to the bizarre spectacle of bumper harvests in one country and drought and famine in the next country just a few dozen miles across artificial frontiers. These resources require coordination across global development finance institutions, harbingers of foreign direct investment, SMEs, domestic governments, Global North governments, such as that of the United States, and logistics players across multiple regions and even continents. Clearly, traditional diplomacy lack the agility required to drive such partnerships. Yet, had such resilient structures beein in place at the beginning of this year as the COVID-19 recovery effort gathered steam, the continent’s current plight of worsening food insecurity would have been averted.
While it is important to acknowledge the contribution of our global north partners to realizing the agricultural vision of our leaders on the continent, we cannot however be wholly dependent on their benevolence. It is instructive to know that while official development assistance has increased by about 250 percent between the 1980s and the 2010s, allocation to agriculture has halved. Data from the Foreign Assistance website suggest that total support from all US Agencies to Ghana has declined significantly from US$710.7million in 2016 to US$117.4million in 2021, falling below 2011 levels of US Agencies assistance to Ghana. We cannot however blame the west for reordering the trajectory of aid. Two decades of advocacy to shift from dependency to mutuality deserve results, especially when Africans have been at the forefront of pushing that agenda. It is entirely the burden and duty of African governments, businesses and civil society to vindicate their own posture of supporting a true and thorough transition from hapless aid dependency to an empowering partnership model with the Global North.
In that light, we would very much like to encourage the US government to continue to pay critical attention to the needs of partner countries, and promote the localization of change programmes. We should for instance shepherd U.S. agriculture and food security investments into increasing access to cheaper finance for agribusinesses and hard infrastructure- adequate roads, border crossings and ports to enhance market access. These contribute to building self-sufficiency of partner countries to build resilience in their agricultural and food systems.
Imani Centre for Policy and Education is committed to promoting localized efforts that significantly contributes to reducing poverty, improving incomes, and stimulating localized market opportunities. Currently, we are implementing a project in the Northern Ghana to advocate for increased land security for women’s groups. These efforts go a long way to support food security at the community level. It is my firm belief that today’s seminar will open up more insightful conversations about food security, and increase public and government’s awareness on the food insecurity risk, and potential opportunities of collaboration between the US government, private sector and the government of Ghana.
We emphatically believe that it is innovative, multistakeholder, partnerships of this nature that the quiet forces of democracy are best placed to enrich and infuse with the necessary boosters for takeoff. It is our very warm pleasure to welcome Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield into this new arena of exciting engagement and opportunities.