ACCRA, Ghana — The story today of hunger in Ghana is that of a glass half-full, with new motivation and plans by the Ghanaian government to close in on eradicating hunger by 2025.
Background of Hunger in Ghana
At this time in 2015, the Ghanaian government was recognized for its many successes in reducing hunger in Ghana. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Milan recognized the country for reducing the malnourished population from 7 million in the early 1990s to fewer than 1 million. Ghana is now one of 72 countries that have reduced those suffering from hunger to less than five percent of the population.
As remarkable as this progress is, Ghana still has more to do. For example chronic malnutrition, also known as “stunting,” still affects 23 percent of children five years and younger, down seven percentage points from 30 percent in 1988.
Acute malnutrition, known as “wasting,” stands at six percent, down two percentage points from eight percent in 1988. Categorization as underweight, meaning low weight-for-age, also still affects 13 percent of the children, though that is down from 31 percent in 1988.
Economic Costs of Hunger in Ghana
Malnutrition does not just harm the children who suffer from it; it also hurts Ghana’s economy and long-term growth prospects. A report released in August 2016, titled “The Cost of Hunger in Africa: The Impact of Undernutrition on Ghana’s Long-Term Development” estimates child malnutrition costs Ghana GHC 4.6 billion annually, approximately $2.6 billion. That’s about 6.4 percent of Ghana’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Sponsors of the report believe that an understanding of the true socioeconomic costs of malnutrition will make healthcare, specifically in regard to hunger in Ghana, a higher priority for the Ghanaian government.
Public spending on education in Ghana is above that of Sub-Saharan Africa overall; Ghana spends 33.1 percent of its total government expenditure on education compared to the average 18.1 percent for Sub-Saharan Africa. But healthcare spending in Ghana lags behind the rest of the region. In Ghana, 5.3 percent of the GDP goes to healthcare compared with 6.5 percent in all of Sub-Saharan Africa.
If the government gives malnutrition the priority it merits, the government could essentially eliminate child malnutrition in the country. More immediately, the government can meet the proposed goal of reducing stunting to 10 percent by 2025, a 56 percent decrease from 2012.
Ghana will have the support and assistance of NGOs such as Freedom from Hunger and The Hunger Project. It will also have the assistance of USAID programs such as Feed the Future.
Feed the Future is the U.S. government’s signature program to help end global hunger and food insecurity. It focuses on helping small farmers in developing nations become thriving businesses that contribute to eradicating both hunger and poverty in their region.
In Ghana, Feed the Future primarily targets the northern region of the country where poverty rates are twice as high as in the south. The north also sees more wasting and underweight children than the southern region.
Feed the Future has two goals in Ghana. The first is to reduce poverty in target regions by 20 percent. The second goal is to lower stunting rates among children five years old and younger from 36.1 percent to 29 percent in those regions. Feed the Future’s strategies include:
1. Improving the nutrition of women and children
2. Increasing production of maize, rice and soybeans
3. Raising gross margins, doubled for each hectare of land owned by small farmers
In 2014, Feed the Future helped nearly 24,000 Ghanaian farmers produce nearly 94,000 tons of rice, maize and soybeans. This created $27.7 million in total sales, up from the baseline of $12.8 million in 2012. It also leveraged more than $4 million in private investments in food and agriculture. Feed the Future’s programs reached 4,600 children under five years old, reducing hunger in Ghana among those who need assistance the most.
Toward its core goals of reducing poverty and childhood malnutrition, Feed the Future has recently seen substantial progress. Between 2012 and 2015 poverty rates declined by about 12 percent in the Ghanaian regions where Feed the Future focuses. Stunting declined by 17 percent.
Through its partnership with programs like Feed the Future, and the incentive of the full socioeconomic cost of hunger, the Ghanaian government could be well on its way to achieving its goal of eradicating hunger in Ghana, especially among children.
– Robert Cornet