Accra and Donkorkrom — Paul Ayormah and his fellow farmers make their way home after hours spent manually weeding a friend's one-acre maize farm in Ghana's Eastern Region.
"Tomorrow it will be the turn of my maize farm," he tells IPS.
This year, Ayormah and his colleagues who live in Donkorkrom in the Kwahu Afram Plains District of the Eastern Region, have resorted to alternative means of cultivating their farms. The farmers group together and travel to each other's farms, where they work to prepare and weed the farmland, taking turns to do the same for everyone else in the group. They have also resorted to using cattle dung to fertilise their crop.
"We are doing this to cut down on the cost involved in preparing our land for planting our maize," Ayormah tells IPS.
Ayormah, a father of five, inherited his two-acre maize farm from his late father. And as the breadwinner in his family, Ayormah relies solely on his produce as a source of income.
Ayormah says that in a good season he is able to harvest 40 bags of maize, which he then sells in Koforidua, the capital of the Eastern Region, for an average of USD27 per bag.
"The money I make is what I use to take care of my family. Two of my children are in tertiary [education], one is in high school, and the other two are in junior high and primary school [respectively]. So there is hardly enough money at home," he explains.
Ayormah believes he will have a good enough harvest this season, but says "I cannot promise a bumper harvest."
Ghana's economy is predominately dependent on agriculture, particularly cocoa, though the government has taken steps to ensure that the cultivation of staples such as rice, maize and soya is also enhanced.
The Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) says that 52 percent of the country's labour force is engaged in agriculture, which contributes 54 percent of the country's gross domestic product. However, it notes that the country's agricultural sector is driven predominately by smallholder farmers, and about 60 percent of all farms are less than 1.2 hectares in size and are largely rain-fed.
"Already our economy is not developing at the level we want it to and then we have this huge number of people depending on a small population for survival. So the little income or food must be shared among many people and this retards our economic growth and development." -- Dr. Leticia Appiah, National Population Council director
Last April, president Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo launched Ghana's flagship agricultural policy, Planting for Food and Jobs, a five-year plan geared towards increasing food productivity and ensuring food security for the country. The policy's long-term goal is to reduce food import bills to the barest minimum.
The programme also provides farmers who own two to three acres of land with a 50 percent subsidy of fertiliser and other farm inputs, such as improved seedlings.
Farmers who enrol in the programme enjoy a flexible repayment method where they pay their 50 percent towards the fertiliser cost in two instalments of 25 percent prior to and after harvest. Each payment is estimated to cost USD12.
Ayormah benefited from the programme last year, and had hoped that the use of chemical fertiliser would increase his farming yield and income. However, delayed rains and an armyworm infestation caused him to lose almost half of his produce.
He says although the programme was helpful, he cannot afford to pay the final USD12 he owes the government.
"With the little I will get from my farm produce this year, I will pay the money I owe the government so I can benefit [from the fertiliser] next year and get a bumper harvest," he explains.
"If all goes well I hope to [harvest] my 40 bags. But this year is going to be a little difficult for my family because I am not getting the government fertiliser," Ayormah laments.
A report by the ministry of food and agriculture assessesing the one-year implementation of the Planting for Food and Jobs policy, notes the negative impact of delayed rains and armyworm infestation on maize production in the country. So far, government interventions such as the routine pesticide spraying on farms is bringing the armyworm infestation under control. But 20,000 hectares of land have already been affected.
Dr. Owusu Afriyie Akoto, Ghana's minister of food and agriculture, tells IPS the situation faced by farmers in other parts of the country, particularly the Northern Region, poses a potential threat to food security for this west African nation.
Hiroyuki Nagahama, vice chair of the Japan Parliamentarians Federation for Population (JPFP) at the Asian and African Parliamentarians, spoke with IPS during a three-day visit this August to learn the opportunities and challenges that Ghana faces.
Nagahama says that if the current grown rate on the continent, in excess of two percent, is not checked, U.N. Population estimates and projections put Africa at a risk of contributing 90 percent to the increase in the world's population between 2020 to 2100.
He further notes that the population growth rate does not correspond with the food produced on the continent and this poses a threat to food security.
"According to calculations by the FAO, food security can be possible through cutting down on losses from food and engaging appropriately in farm management and production. But, economic principles compels us to ask difficult questions about how the population of Africa will have access to food supply," Nagahama says.
A new project by the Asian Population and Development Association (APDA) and the JPFP, which focuses on enhancing national and global awareness of parliamentarians' role as a pivotal pillar for achieving the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development, was launched this year. The project also supports parliamentarians as they implement necessary policy, legislative changes and mobilise resources for population-related issues.
It is a platform to examine the ways in which both developed and developing countries can, in equal partnership, serve as the driving force to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and create a world where no one is left behind.
Rashid Pelpou, chair of Ghana's Parliamentary Caucus on Population and Development, tells IPS it is estimated that 1.2 million of Ghana's 29.46 million people are currently food insecure.
And that a further two million Ghanaians are vulnerable to food insecurity nationwide. In the event of an unexpected natural or man-made shock, their pattern of food consumption can be greatly impacted.
He says that as representatives of the people, parliamentarians' priorities are to ensure that laws and budget allocations translates into constituents having physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food.
In Ghana, the National Population Council (NPC) stated last August that the country's current 2.5 percent population growth rate was high above the global rate of 1.5 percent, calling it a disturbing trend.
Dr. Leticia Appiah, NPC director, tells IPS that population management is an emergency that requires urgent action. She previously said that the "annual population increase is 700,000 to 800,000, which is quite alarming."
Appiah tells IPS that when people give birth to more children than they can afford, not only does the family suffer in terms of its ability to care for these children, but the government becomes burdened as it provides social services.
"Already our economy is not developing at the level we want it to and then we have this huge number of people depending on a small population for survival. So the little income or food must be shared among many people and this retards our economic growth and development," Appiah explains.
African Development Bank Group data shows that "economic growth fell from 14 percent in 2011 at the onset of oil production to 3.5 percent in 2016, the lowest in two decades." In April the Ghana Statistical Service announced an 8.5 percent expansion in gross domestic product.
"We have to really focus on reproductive health otherwise we will miss the investment we have made in immunisation and create more problems for ourselves," Appiah says.
Nagahama addresses the issue of Africa's population growth: "It is an individual's right to choose how many children they will have and at what interval. But in reality there are many children who are born from unwanted pregnancies and births."
"To remove such plight, it is important for us parliamentarians to legislate, allocate funding and implement programmes for universal access to reproductive health services in ways that are culturally acceptable,"Nagahama says.
Niyi Ojoalape, the U.N. Population Fund's Ghana representative, tells IPS that strong government coordination is the way to harness demographic dividend--the growth in an economy that is the resultant effect of a change in the age structure of a country's population.
Ghana currently has a national population policy with strategies to manage the country's population for long term benefit, but implementation of this has lacked political will over the years.
Ojoalape notes that without sustainable implementation over the long term, Ghana will not be able to reap the benefits.