Food Crisis looms amidst COVID-19, Fall Army Worm Invasion

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Ghana risks acute shortage of food particularly grains following the combined impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic and potential destruction of food crops by Fall Army Worms. The Ministry of Agriculture has already issued an alert advising farmers to be on the lookout for the endemic pests in parts of the Ahafo, Ashanti, Bono, Bono East, Central, Eastern, Greater Accra and Western regions.
The Ministry in a statement noted with concern that the “Fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) will continue to pose a serious threat to food security and livelihood of thousands of smallholder maize farmers.
The statement subsequently urged farmers and the general public are to report FAW infestations to the nearest Department of Agric. Office, Agricultural Extension Agents or PPRSD Head Office, Pokuase, Accra for advice”.
The fear by the sector Ministry stems from the harsh experiences in 2017 and 2018 crop seasons when the pests destroyed thousands of acres of maize, cowpea and cocoa farms in the Brong Ahafo, Ashanti and western regions.
Over 14, 000 farms have been completely destroyed with 112,000 farmlands infected according to the Peasant Farmers Association. Government within that period released a whopping 15billion cedis to combat the pests but that yielded little result.
Minister for Agric, Dr Owusu Afriyie Akoto who recently addressed a news conference allayed fears suggesting government’s flagship programmes including Planting for Food and Jobs had produced enough resulting in a glut of foodstuff selling cheaper on the market compared to previous years.
But that assertion has been debunked. The Peasant Farmers Association and the General Agricultural Workers Union, GAWU believe much of the food produce on the market are still cultivated by traditional farmers with little or no input from government.
Experts also fear, the Buffer Stock Company does not have enough to last six months should the COVID-19 pandemic in Ghana escalate.
The Fall armyworms, which originated in the Americas, had never been seen on the African continent before the experience two years ago. Since then, Nigeria, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya and other African nations have seen the pests invade farms.
The pest is not actually a worm. It is a hungry caterpillar that eats up crops before it turns into a moth. The adult moths lay their eggs on seedlings and plant leaves. Within five to 10 days, the caterpillars hatch and launch a massive onslaught on vegetation. They feed on several crops including, staple food sources like maize and cowpea.
The notice comes days after a the launch of a Global Food Crises Report which called for concerted effort to avert ‘hunger pandemic’ reminiscent of “multiple famines of biblical proportions” that could result in 300,000 deaths per day.
Executive Director of World Food Programme, David Beasley, speaking at an online briefing broadcast by the UN on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter observed that there are currently 821 million food-insecure people in the world.
He said……..“If we don’t prepare and act now, to secure access, avoid funding shortfalls and disruptions to trade,” he said, the result could be a “humanitarian catastrophe … in a short few months”.
The report highlights 55 countries where 135 million people face crisis-level food insecurity— and that is without counting the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the response to which creates an “excruciating trade-off between saving lives or livelihoods or, in a worst-case scenario, saving people from the coronavirus to have them die from hunger.”
Chief among worries are countries across Africa and the Middle East — with shutdowns exacerbating poverty, more people are expected to die from the economic impact of COVID-19 than from the virus itself, the Global Food Crises Report suggests.

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In 2018, the Nana Akufo Addo led government embarked on an aggressive programme to build warehouses to store excess food.
There are however concerns that, many of these projects are still yet to be completed while, there is no concrete policy on stockpiling or processing the main the traditional staple food produce in Ghana, ie maize, rice, wheat, tubers like cassava, yam, tomatoes and other vegetables
They are citing the experience rice farmers faced in January this year. Rice Farmers in the North of Ghana were exposed to market queens who exploited them for lack of ready market for their produce.
Bushfires fuelled by the harmattan winds had reportedly destroyed over 300 hectares of rice fields in the region and their headache was aggravated by lack of storage facilities compelling them to sell out the produce cheaply. The cry of the National President of the Peasant Farmers Association (PFAG), Mr Abdul-Rahman Mohammed, triggered public debate on the need for government to step through purchases by the Buffer Stock Company through agencies like HAVNASH Company but small holder farmers were uncomfortable with the conditions.
It is estimated that Africa loses US$13 billion worth of crops to fall army worms.
In the wake of the joint notice by the World Food Programme and the Agric Minister on the potential threat by the pests, experts pray government engages stakeholders on best strategy to increase yield through completion and effective use of the One Village –One Dam, 1D1F projects, storage facilities and collaboration with the private sector to process perishable food products for storage.

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