Ghana has set a goal to create 1.5 million jobs in the next two years by investing in agriculture as the West African nation seeks to produce more of its own food to cut the cost of imports, according to the minister for agriculture.
The plan comes after President Nana Akufo-Addo was elected in December after pledging to boost the agricultural sector and create jobs in a country where almost half of people between 15 and 24 years are unemployed.
While Ghana is the world’s second-biggest cocoa producer, it imports more than two-thirds of the staples such as wheat and rice that it needs, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Farming “is going to take off in a very big way,” Minister of Food and Agriculture Owusu Afriyie Akoto said in an interview in the capital, Accra.
“The target is to create 750,000 jobs in the coming season on the farms and then next year we are going to double that to 1.5 million jobs.”
The program is launching in April and will focus on raising the output of rice, corn, soya, sorghum and vegetables, Akoto said.
The government will supply farmers with better seed and fertilizers while training them in growing techniques in a country where most production comes from small-holder farms, he said.
For the government’s plan to work, it must have a clear implementation strategy with key performance targets and timelines that can be measured, Godfred Bokpin, head of the finance department at the University of Ghana’s Business School, said by phone on Friday.
Creating “750,000 jobs is quite ambitious,” he said. “If you look along the value chain, from nursing to planting, harvesting and transportation and before it reaches our tables and restaurants, one will say that a lot of jobs will be created.”
The initiatives will help Ghana to reduce its reliance on imports, Akoto said. Ghana’s annual food inflation rate rose to 9.7 percent in December, from 8 percent the year before, as the cedi fell 11.3 percent against the dollar in 2016.
The currency strengthened 0.6 percent to 4.31 against the dollar at 12:43 p.m. on Monday in Accra.
While the country bans the use of commercial genetically modified seed, it will start to allow the use of non-gmo varieties that were developed by the state-controlled Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Akoto said.
“Our scientists have used the traditional hybrid method to develop high-yielding, drought resistant seeds,” Akoto said. “All these varieties are sitting gathering dust on the shelves of our universities.”
Oversight of the Ghana Cocoa Board will move to the Ministry of Food and Agriculture from the Ministry of Finance, he said. The country wants to increase annual output to more than 1 million tons from the current season’s target of 850,000 to 900,000 metric tons.
Cocoa and crude are the nation’s main commodity exports, with Ghana second only to neighboring Ivory Coast as the world’s largest producer of the chocolate ingredient. The International Monetary Fund forecasts the country’s growth for 2017 at 7.4 percent and 8.4 percent for the following year.
“We are going to integrate the agricultural system,” Akoto said. “Cocoa agronomy must benefit from the synergy with other crops and expertise of extension officers.”