INTERVIEW-Ghana's success in fight against hunger has lessons for others

by Chris Arsenault | @chrisarsenaul | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 21 October 2014 15:25 GMT

Men work with the cocoa bean harvest. in Enchi, Ghana. Picture June 17, 2014, Thierry Gouegnon

Image Caption and Rights Information
Government policies on cocoa taxes and subsidies helped Ghana more than triple per capita GDP

ROME(Thomson Reuters Foundation) - As India starts its version of Brazil's famous zero hunger campaign, the world's most populous democracy could take some inspiration from Ghana.

The West African country "has met zero hunger", Jose Graziano da Silva, head of the Food and Agriculture Organization said on Thursday. Former Ghanaian president John Kufuor can take at least some of the credit for this.

It started with a simple move to change the tax code when Kufuor's government first took office in 2001.

Taxes on cocoa, a key export crop, stood at 60 percent of the market price, so growers could keep only 40 percent of the value of their production.

"We reversed this, giving the farmers 60 percent of the profits," Kufuor said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "The state had been over-taxing the farmer."

"Farmers needed chemicals for fighting pests and fertilizers, the government paid for this."

The investment paid off and cocoa production doubled within four years, sending more money into state coffers for infrastructure investment.

The government then turned its attention to trying to mitigate deforestation. In 1960, more than 60 percent of the country was covered in forest but deforestation has decreased coverage to 21.7 percent today.

The state allowed landless families and unemployed people to use land where the forests had been cut, to plant crops interspersed with new trees in what became known as the Modified Taunga System.

After getting training from the state, local residents were able to earn an income when the trees were harvested, preventing additional land from being logged and improving food security for some of Ghana's most vulnerable citizens.

Finally, the country tried to move up the value chain for its cocoa production. "Chocolate, which is loved internationally, especially by the ladies, wasn't part of our traditional diet," Kufuor said. "The beans were exported."

"We saw the need to attract top quality processors to Ghana."

Some large multinational confectionery companies moved in and set up factories, though the country still exports more raw beans than refined chocolate. "The objective is to add value locally so 70 percent of the cocoa is processed and only 30 percent is exported (raw). We are moving towards this," Kufuor said.

Ghana's per capita GDP shot up to $1,300 in 2007 from $400 in 2001, thanks largely to growth in the agriculture sector, high commodity prices, and the discovery of oil, which allowed it to reach Lower Middle Income status and meet the Millennium Development Goals on poverty reduction ahead of schedule.

"One of the key factors (in Ghana's success) has been strong political commitment at the highest level," FAO Ghana representative Lamourdia Thiombiano said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"They subsidised production, put resources into boosting capacity and invested in providing services to farmers."

"More production led to relatively better access to food," Thiombiano said.

Significant development challenges remain, despite the improvements in agriculture, and Ghana ranked 138 out of 187 countries surveyed in the U.N. 2014 Human Development Report.

Today Kufuor, who gives speeches on the U.N. circuit and runs his own foundation, is optimistic that "rays of hope" and good policies will continue to improve food security in a world where one in eight people still suffer from chronic malnutrition. (Reporting By Chris Arsenault, editing by Tim Pearce)