Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in the Agricultural Sector and Farmer Groups have called on government to consider the food sector as a critical infrastructure alongside other important sectors in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It, therefore, called on government to announce clear policy interventions to ensure that there was sustained local food production and supply.
A statement issued in Accra jointly by the CSOs and the Farmer Groups said the food chain in Ghana was a complex web dominated by smallholder farmers, who faced challenges in accessing production resources, basic social services such as healthcare, clean water and limited access to nutritious food that they themselves produced.
It said the obstructions in the transport system, the closure of schools leading to the halting of the school feeding programme that demand food items from farmers directly, the restrictions in movement of farmers in lockdown areas could lead to post-harvest losses in most perishable goods in rural areas.
The statement said the disruption in agribusiness activities, including; input supplies, service delivery and movement of extension officers within and outside the restricted zones may cumulatively affect food production.
"Though the exemption of movement of agro-inputs such as fertilizer is laudable, this may come with different constraints such as smugglers using the opportunity to smuggle or hoard the subsidized fertilizer and denying the right beneficiaries from getting it if effective monitoring mechanisms were not instituted," it said.
It said it could lead to low food production and subsequent shortage in the future.
It said given the inelastic demand for food commodities, a decline in domestic food production and reduction of importation of basic staples such as rice to Ghana that may arise due to restriction from source countries could lead to food price hikes, hoarding, and smuggling.
The statement said overall, the poor, the neglected, women and children and the population with low purchasing power may suffer from access to nutritious food.
It said while public education on the coronavirus in Ghana was widespread, most of the information was in English language and focused more on national and regional media platforms.
It called on government to resource the NCCE at the district level to intensify community level sensitization, since a significant rural communities had no access to televisions and could hardly understand English language.
It said community radio stations should also be mandated to develop innovative information in local dialects to sensitize farmers and hard-to-reach populations.
"As farmers and organizations working in agriculture, we have already taken initiatives and are working with local health authorities and community radio stations to support the public education on COVID-19 with tailored messages for farmers in their local dialects within selected districts," it said.
The Group said, "we are ready and willing to offer any support that government may require of us in technical and other aspects that are within our means to fight the pandemic."
The statement said in connection with this, government should recognize and support
Traditional Authorities (Chiefs and Queens) and communities that adopted self-imposed lock down.
It said the measures taken so far by the government and public response to those measures presented different challenges and risks for food production and supply.
It said given the critical importance of the agricultural sector for the stability of the Ghanaian economy, 'we call on government to elaborate its stimulus support for farmers in the form of grants to improve their farming activities as this is not clear from government policy so far.'
"We propose special arrangements for farmers without the virus to be allowed to continue with their farming activities outside the restricted zones and such farmers should be supplied with adequate protective equipment to guarantee their protection from the virus," it added.
The Group said they foresaw a situation, where the exemptions of restriction on movement of fertilizer could be abused leading to fertilizer smuggling and hoarding across the country.