There is an increase in the demand for food. The global food security challenge is straightforward: by 2050, the world must feed 9 billion people. The demand for food will be 60% greater than it is today. How do we ensure that there will be healthy food on the table every day for the next century?
Africa’s workforce in Agriculture
The UN DESA 2015 estimates that there are 7 billion people in the world; 20 years from now, the population will rise to 8.5 billion; and by 2050 it will be close to 10 billion. As the world population continues to increase, there is the need to increase the cultivation and production of food crops to ensure food security. Africa has the potential to feed itself and the world as more than half of the labour force are engaged in farming or agribusiness.
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 emphasizes on ending hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. Africa can feed itself in a generation and help contribute to global food security despite its history of persistent food shortages.
The United Nations posits that 500 million small farms worldwide, provide up to 80 per cent of food consumed in a large part of the developing world. Investing in smallholder farms is an important way to increase food security and nutrition for the poorest, as well as food production for local and global markets. Small scale farmers are encouraged, through incentives and subsidies, to venture into commercial farming with the aim of feeding nations, earning income and for family consumption. Ghana government has launched the ‘Planting for Food and Jobs’ program, a GHS 560million (initial cost) initiative that ensures increase in production through the provision of seeds among other agricultural inputs and agro-chemicals such as fertilizer at reduced prices.
The processes of increasing production are sometimes marred by virus and pest infestations, poor soil quality, environmental degradation, climate change, etc. In May 2017, armyworms attacked Ghana’s agricultural program to a risk tune of $133 million, causing the Agriculture Minister to declare an ‘agricultural state of emergency’. Armyworms have already invaded up to 20 countries in Africa with experts predicting a damage value of $3 billion to Africa’s maize crop in the next 12 months. Armyworms, as the name connotes, eats into crops and destroy entire harvest.
To mitigate the situation, agronomists recommend the use of agrochemical inputs such as fertilizers, weedicides, pesticides and other agricultural inputs. In the case of the armyworms infestation in Ghana, the Ministry of Agriculture has commenced mass spraying as the pests have destroyed over 500 acres of maize farms in 13 districts in Ashanti region alone. Farmers in Africa use significantly fewer fertilizers inputs to enrichen the soil with the lacking nutrients or combat weeds and pests, resulting in dramatic improvements in crop output. Investing in fertilizers, weedicides, pesticides and other farming supplements will boost production and enhance food security.
Despite the enormous benefits of using agrochemicals, incorrect application methods can result in health risks and dissatisfaction to the consumer. Health implications to the consumer may come about as a result of the inappropriate selection of pesticides used on foodstuffs, over use of pesticides and harvesting the crops before the residues have washed off after application. The correct application of the input are mostly indicated on the input product. For example, farmers are advised to apply inorganic fertilizers [such as N.P.K 15-15-15 and sulphate of ammonia (S/A)] soon after seed emergence (at the nursery) or a few days after transplanting to promote growth and development. Other examples include the use of 40 mils of insecticide in a knapsack sprayer of 16 liters for an area of 1 acre. Agricultural inputs, if properly applied, mostly assures high productivity without any health-related side effects. Furthermore, most of the agro-chemicals have a minimum amount of days for which a farmer is not expected to harvest any crop from his field for the market or for his own consumption. What is expected is the strict adherence to the instructions on applying the chemicals.
In order to meet world food demand, there is the need to increase production through commercial farming, application of agricultural inputs and innovation to increase production in agriculture. Moving on, there ought to be continuous workshops and capacity-building events to enlighten farmers on the appropriate application of the inputs. Also, agricultural extension officers have to be deployed to serve as checks on the application of the inputs and build quality control capacities for farmers and agribusiness entrepreneurs. Protective clothes should be worn by the farmers during the spraying exercise to prevent respiratory disorders and other related diseases.
Also, technology can be harnessed to ensure quality agricultural inputs. Uruguay has benefited from the use of handheld chemical detecting devices that allows testing of pesticides on the field, saving farmers the time of undertaking the same validation in the laboratory. The results immediately will inform farmers to reject the product if it is unsafe.
The writer, Sylvester Kwame Osei, is a communications professional at Wienco (Ghana) Limited. Sylvester.email@example.com