Growing Ghana's Food Bank
By Michele Learner
Nana Ayim Poakwah has an interesting problem: amid the hunger and poverty in his native Ghana, 40 percent of its agricultural harvests go to waste. If saved, that could go a long away in feeding the 23 million people of this West African country.
Poakwah's solution is to build a food bank -- one that is, however, different from conventional food banks like those in the United States.
“The U.S. model is generally based around excess food in supermarkets – getting it to hungry people before its expiration date. There are few supermarkets in Ghana that are able to donate excess food. For us, the excess food is on the farm.”
The director of Ghana's Food Aid Network explains that the reason so much of Ghana’s harvest goes to waste is that the food chain is not developed -- farmers are not able to store their products safely and get them to market. So farm families eat some of the crops, sell some locally, and are forced to leave the rest in the field.
To begin to solve this problem, Ghana's food bank program provides simple storage facilities which are suitable for Ghana's rural areas. It arranges transportation to market, such as trucks that can serve many individual farmers. The program also helps farming cooperatives and farmers connect directly with buyers, eliminating the middleman, so they can get higher prices for their crops.
“In exchange for our help, they give 10 percent of the harvest to the food bank. It works for both sides,” Poakwah says. “Without the program, farmers would lose much more of their harvest. And we get the food to vulnerable people, especially children.”
The program is designed so that farmers can manage it well themselves, and it depends on their efforts and cooperation. “It’s the beginning of a change in the lives of our farmers,” Poakwah says. “They keep the inventory records. Each bag that goes on the truck has a farmer’s name painted on it, so the buyer knows who is supposed to be paid and how much. The program handles staple grain crops and also other foods – beans, cowpeas, pineapples.”
Poakwah dedicates much of his time and energy to reducing hunger in Ghana. In addition to directing the Ghana Food Aid Network, he is the operations advisor of the Ghana School Feeding Program and the national coordinator of the Ghana National Alliance Against Hunger. So when it comes to the next steps to reduce hunger in Ghana, his thoughts range from farm programs to national policies.
He emphasizes that many farmers still need improvements in storage, transportation, and connections to markets. When the prices of grains rose 30-40 percent in late 2008, most farmers were not able to raise their production to take advantage of the higher prices and help ease food shortages.
“Enabling the growers to do some basic processing of the crops will help them add value to their products and extend the ‘shelf life’ of the food. Even cassava would last longer if it were ground into flour after harvest,” he says.
Poakwah suggests the promotion of backyard gardens in urban areas, since even small spaces can produce foods to improve a family’s nutrition. On a national level, he emphasizes the need to devote more of Ghana’s budget to agriculture, including applied research that could help bring a Green Revolution to Africa.
Ghana’s food bank initiative works with those of 13 other countries, including the United States. Other nations with food banking projects include Guatemala, Jordan, South Africa, Turkey, India, Argentina, Mexico, and Colombia.