Urgent Call for Strategic Investments in the Seed Systems of Six Staple Crops in Ghana for Agricultural and Industrial Transformation

AGRICULTURAL

The West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI), www.wacci.ug.edu.gh, a World Bank Africa Centre of Excellence at the University of Ghana (UG) organized a two-day (April 22 & 23) consultative meeting on “Developing a Compelling Case for Investments in the Seed Systems of Six Staple Crops for Agricultural and Industrial Transformation”. The crops are rice, maize, soybean, cowpea, tomato, and cassava.

The requirement for improved, high-quality seeds that are resilient to biological and physical stresses is a sine qua non for a successful harvest. When combined with healthy soil, nutrients, water, and good agronomic practices, high-quality seeds produce the best results, as evidenced by yields of the desired product with the expected characteristics. Thus, utilizing enhanced, high-quality seeds is critical for any agricultural transformation initiative. Ghana possesses the necessary institutions, policy and regulatory framework, and expertise to establish a robust seed system that ensures the quality, availability, and affordability of good seeds for the agricultural and industrial transformation agenda envisioned by the Ghanaian government in its Planting for Food and Jobs (PFJ) and Rural Industrialization Policy – One District One Factory (1D1F) flagship programs.

WACCI, originally established with funding from the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) to promote regional specialization in plant breeding has graduated 105 plant breeders from 19 countries at the Ph.D. level since its inception in 2007. Twenty-four of these are Ghanaians working in eight national agricultural research institutions and universities. These graduates are at the forefront of fighting food and nutrition insecurity through delivering climate-smart, resilient, nutritious, and productive varieties of the major staple crops in Africa. The efforts of the hard-working scientists would come to naught if their work is not integrated into the agenda of the national agricultural research system.

The meeting, convened by WACCI and supported in part by the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA), Switzerland, brought together 21 high-level participants from the agricultural sector, including plant breeders, social scientists, and policy planners, and actors in the public and private sectors. The discussions centered on the challenges and opportunities inherent in the value chains of the six crops in order to identify investment opportunities for seed system development that will accelerate the transformation of the agri-food systems, “from the laboratory to the fork”.

The transformation of agri-food systems is a national imperative that will benefit not only food and nutrition security but also socio-economic development through massive forex savings for smart development investments and provision of raw materials for agro-based industries, as well as the creation of jobs for the youth.

  1. Rice – Current national demand is about 1.5 million MT. Local production meets only 47% of this demand. Ghana’s rice import bill exceeds US$ 500 million annually. The current local rice varieties used by farmers yield on average 3.2 MT/ha. We cannot continue to expand the area under cultivation rather, a policy-driven sustainable intensification agenda utilizing improved, high yielding, nutritious and resilient varieties must be pursued. This is possible with the current level of knowledge and capacity of our scientists who need to continually hunt for better varieties through impact-driven science. In Vietnam (the leading rice exporter to Ghana) and Thailand, the average yields in farmers’ fields are around 5.8 MT/ha. We can achieve better yields at the present time through smart investments in some available superior varieties, e.g. CRI-Enapa, with inbuilt resilience to abiotic and biotic stresses yet to be commercialized.
  2. Maize – National maize production is about 3 million MT cultivated on over 1.1 million hectares of land. Under the PFJ initiative, over 7,300 MT of seed was supplied to farmers but this was to about 25% of maize farmers. The national average yield of 2.5 MT/ha is lower than the global average of 5.5 MT/ha. Hybrids that are highly productive and resilient are needed to increase productivity per unit area without increasing the area under production to meet the demand for food and feed. There are improved hybrid maize varieties developed at WACCI that yield between 9-11 MT/ha in good environments. In harsh environments, they yield at least 6 MT/ha. If 40% of maize farmers in Ghana were to access these improved hybrids, Ghana’s reliance on maize imports will end. There are better varieties yet to be released e.g. improved hybrid yellow maize varieties that would meet the demand of both the poultry and food industry. Investments in impact-driven research and the maize seed value chain are needed for maize self-sufficiency to open doors for increased buffer stocks of maize in the country.
  3. Soybean – There is a shortfall of about 3,860 MT in the supply of seed under the national PFJ initiative, according to MoFA. The average yields of soybean remain low, at about 1.65 MT/ha. Additionally, poor seed germination and biological and physical stresses continue to limit soybean production in Ghana. Investments are required for the establishment of modern platforms for sustainable seed production to meet demand through public-private sector collaborative programs. There are varieties with a yield potential of 3 MT/ha. Further research on the resilience and adaptability of these varieties is needed for the release of superior varieties to boost soybean production to meet the food, feed, and export needs of the country.
  4. Cowpea – This is also a priority crop under the PFJ and demand for improved seeds is expected to increase. Currently, yields remain low at 1.5 MT/ha whilst the potential yield is 2.5 MT/ha. WACCI is breeding improved high-yielding varieties of cowpea with in-built resilience to pests and diseases for release and commercialization by 2024. The crop has huge potential for nutrition security in Ghana and also opens opportunities for women farmers to contribute to improved livelihoods.
  5. Cassava – This crop could become a game-changing crop if more attention is given to its improvement. It contributes about 22% of Ghana’s Agricultural GDP but the current varieties need to be replaced with better varieties as climate change and associated challenges continuously limit the productivity of the crop. The average yield of the varieties in farmers’ fields is about 20 MT/ha which is only 47% of the yield potential of the crop. This calls for investments in the development of resilient varieties and the establishment of infrastructure to support the sustainable production of disease-free, high-quality planting materials for farmers for increased productivity. There must also be an emphasis on demand-led breeding of cassava to meet not only farmers’ needs but also, the industrial needs of the crop. Cassava for starch, for instance, is a smart investment and more research is needed to develop superior suitable cassava varieties for industrial purposes to cut down on the importation of starch.
  6. Tomato – This is a key component in the diets of households in Ghana. The national demand for tomatoes is about 1,048,000 MT. However, the local production of 410,800 MT only meets 40% of this demand. To supplement the demand, Ghana imports over 100,000 MT/yr of fresh fruits from Burkina Faso at a cost of over US$ 120 million. It is also estimated that tomato mix imports into the country are in the region of 66,000 MT (equivalent to about 528,000 MT of fresh fruits). So in total, Ghana imports about 628,000 MT of tomatoes annually, estimated at over US$ 720 million per year. The national average yields are low and range between 7.5-10 MT/ha. WACCI has recently released three hybrid tomato varieties which are resilient to biotic and abiotic stresses and give about 40 MT/ha in yields. Investments in research and development and the tomato value chain can lead to tomato self-sufficiency.

According to reports from the Ministry of Finance, Ghana spent over US$ 2.5 billion on food imports in 2019. This estimate may be doubled at the moment, based on current global market values. Ghana must strive hard to eliminate food imports within the next five years and to produce adequate food for domestic consumption and the local industry.

There are several imperatives that necessitate immediate action in order to address food and nutrition security in a sustainable manner. To begin, Ghana's population is not static. When you consider the current position and our preparedness for emergencies, our population is expanding at an alarming rate. Ghana's population is projected at 32.37 million in 2022. By 2030, there would be an additional over 5 million mouths to feed, and by 2063, when Africa is predicted to become the rich continent we desire, Ghana's population will be over 61 million. Crop yields are declining in farmers' fields as a result of climate change—rains are falling at inconvenient times, floods occur unexpectedly, diseases and pests have become more destructive, and heat worsens issues in farmers' fields. Additionally, the soils are deteriorating. Reduced yields will require the country to spend more foreign exchange, which will be unavailable to import additional food for people and animals. Without foreseeing catastrophe, let us consider all conceivable outcomes and prepare for the worst-case situation. During a future pandemic such as COVID-19, shipping vessels from rice-exporting countries such as Vietnam would be unable to reach Ghana, while aircraft from Israel and France would be unable to deliver tomato seeds for Ghanaian farmers to access. This would result in record levels of starvation. Many will suffer on a scale never envisaged from hunger and malnutrition-related ailments. To avert immediate starvation, we require strategic buffer supplies of food and feed.

Agriculture success stories in recent years in countries such as Brazil, China, and Malaysia were not accidental, but deliberate, as a result of a change in the agricultural development space and the management of change through the creation of a conducive environment for strategic public-private partnerships and smart investments in impact-driven science and innovation. How much longer will we remain silent as millions of people suffer from hunger and malnutrition-related diseases? Perhaps the time has come for governments to regard the neglect of investments in science, technology, and innovation related to food and nutrition as a crime against humanity. We have a Malabo declaration, which we signed in 2014 as African nations, reaffirming our commitment to the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme's principles and values (CAADP). African nations, for example, recommitted to investing 10% of public expenditure to agriculture and to ensuring its efficiency and effectiveness in the context of agriculture-led growth as a primary approach for achieving food and nutrition security and shared prosperity targets.

As a group, we believe that Ghana is falling short of expectations in terms of achieving an inclusive agricultural transformation. We believe that if Ghana took swift and innovative action, it might re-establish a path toward improved agriculture for food and nutrition, security, and socioeconomic development.

The high-level panel is making a persuasive case for developing successful seed systems for the six commodities in order to attract the necessary investments for agricultural value chain development. Without a doubt, science, technology, and innovation will be identified as the gaps that have hindered growth in Africa. The motivation for this initiative is a food secure and healthy Ghana, as well as "a Ghana Beyond Aid." By June 2022, the Consortium's draft report will be ready for wider stakeholder consultation.