The world is in the grip of a food crisis with prices of various staples sky-rocketing. In Ghana, prices have more than doubled since the crisis.
But in the midst of the challenges posed by the rise in world food prices, the government of Ghana has decided to use part of its agriculture land to grow crops for biofuel.
Recently, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva arrived in Ghana for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD XII), and while in Ghana he signed an agreement with the Ghana government to grow sugarcane for bio-ethanol in Ghana.
During the signing ceremony, da Silva said, “in Ghana we are developing a project that will result in growing 27,000 hectares (of sugarcane) for the production of 150 million litres of ethanol per year that are destined for the Swedish market.”
According to an International Food Policy Research Institute report; “Problems such as corruption, collusion and nepotism can significantly inhibit the capacity of governments to promote development efforts.”
Ghana’s case falls within this category where more than US$400 million is currently spent annually on the importation of rice alone, when the crop could be cultivated in almost all the regions of the country. In the same way, the local poultry industry has suffered due to excessive importation of poultry products from Brazil and other countries.
African countries, under pressure from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), have removed subsidies on agricultural inputs while unbridled trade liberalisation have opened the valves widely for foreign products to enter these countries to the detriment of local production which cannot compete evenly with these cheaper and yet sometimes questionable quality imports.
Some argue that with good governance and ambitious planning both food and biofuels can be grown in countries such as Ghana. As Kofia Korda says in this article, The greatest weapon to fight hunger is good governance. Most African leaders lack the courage to embark on ambitious agricultural programmes. There are too many contradictions in the system which must be addressed. There is no use declaring support for local production when those who control political power are themselves importers or are in alliance with food importers.
Meanwhile biofuel companies move into Ghana regardless of issues surrounding food politics. Lion Bridge Ventures for example, a UK registered limited company based in Croydon, London has set up Jatropha Africa which seeks to build a leading position amongst the Jatropha growers of Africa and become a provider of high quality Jatropha Seeds and Oil to customers around the world.
These are interesting times for Ghana. There are opportunities to expand food production and create other income sources via biofuel crops. Getting the balance right will be crucial and this will need strong and intelligent leadership.
But beware! As this article says (they have become) concerned about the level of deforestation caused by biofuel. It’s one thing for biofuel to exist because of a competitive market, but quite another to allow subsidies and credit offets finance deforestation for biofuel. If you farm biofuel, beware, these subsidies and offset credits will go away the moment the Europeans realize they are financing destruction of forests. They claim, Carbon offset credits are fuelling the rainforest burning.
Development is a precarious business.