Is Ghana’s Decision To Go Biofuel Prudent?
Is Ghana’s Decision To Go Biofuel Prudent? Website
The world is in crisis. The price of food has skyrocketed several times over. And 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." That sounds great and makes a lot of economic sense. But isn’t it paradoxical in the face of the current food crisis and against the fact that Ghana, which has about 70% of its population in the rural areas involved in agriculture imports over 40% of its food needs? Another interesting angle to Ghana’s agriculture dilemma is the fact that while agriculture contributes nearly 40% to the country’s GDP, only 10% of the national budget is allocated to the sector. Ghana has the capability to lead a ‘green revolution’ in Africa, in this critical moment. But does the country have the political will to do so? While it is also acknowledged that Ghana has the capacity to be the first in this regard just as it did during the struggle for independence, it is instructive to note, that Ghana uses only about 16% of its arable land for farming. The fact was aptly captured by Kofi Annan the immediate past Secretary-General of the United Nations when he said that it is possible for Africa to achieve a ‘green revolution’ to meet the challenges of the high cost of food. He argues that to achieve that, it is necessary to work with Africa’s farmers. He also said Africa’s farmers can achieve so much in food production when they are provided with the inputs, fertilizer, improved seeds and given access to markets. It doesn’t sound right for a continent with the capacity to feed itself to depend on food imports. Nigeria for instance spends over $2 billion on food imports yearly. The energy crisis facing the world certainly makes it tempting to diversify into using agriculture land to produce non-food crops for bio-fuel for export. But isn’t it far more desirable to invest in and expand the country’s agriculture sector for food production for local consumption and consequently for exports? Hopefully, the country has weighed all the options involved with the decision to grow non-food crops for biofuel. Indeed, as many have argued already, doesn’t the current situation even more than before call for a more calculated effort at re-engineering the agriculture sector? Like the World Bank has indicated in its World Development Report for 2008, agriculture must take center stage, even though, they have realised that a bit too late.