I have explained how the agriculture supply chain works and talked about the state of the agriculture sector in Ghana. It is time to talk about the specific challenges of agriculture in the West African context and explain a bit more about how my work fits into this picture. I am working on the USAID-funded ADVANCE project, which seeks to improve the agriculture value chain and increase competitiveness in domestic, regional, and global markets. There are two specific challenges for Ghana: achieving food self-sufficiency, and becoming competitive in the global marketplace. The first is largely achievable for most crops. The latter is achievable for some crops (and already achieved, in the case of cocoa and certain fruits) and impossible (or near-impossible) for others. I’ll explain why in a minute.
ADVANCE employs what is called a “market facilitation approach” to agriculture sector development. For the last half-century, aid and development in agriculture in Africa has focused on providing technical assistance and giving things away for free. Building warehouses and processing facilities, subsidizing the cost of seed and fertilizer, offering low-interest loans, and providing cost-sharing for mechanization purchases have had the adverse impact of decreasing industry competitiveness and making private sector investment unattractive (can’t compete against the government and Big Aid). There has been a long parade of agriculture development projects that treat Africa like an academic petri dish, without much understanding of the crippling effects hand-outs have on the competitiveness of an industry. To be fair, the cards are stacked against developing countries when it comes to agriculture. The United States and Europe exhibit socialist tendencies by heavily subsidizing their agriculture industries, while at the same time demanding that the recipients of World Bank and IMF loans (read: poor countries) undergo “Structural Adjustment Programs.” SAPs, as they are called, call for the wholesale adoption of neoliberal trade policies, including dropping all import tariffs, removing government subsidies, and allowing foreign imports. The hypocrisy is a little mind-blowing, but you can type “Food Aid” and “Africa” into Google and find all the information you need.