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2017 National Best farmer Philip Agyeman bags $100,000

33 Years of Farmers Day

Ghana in Focus

Mohammed Abu, ADM, Ghana

The 2017 edition of the National Farmers Day celebration which was the 33rd in the series, ended recently with business as usual-speeches and prices of all kinds for farmers who had excelled in their various fields of endeavor in the food production value chain.

Those at the District and Regional levels weren’t left out and had earlier had their turn
Ghana’s Ministry of Agriculture has since 1988 up till today used the occasion to acknowledge and celebrate Ghanaian farmers who made significant contribution towards crop, livestock and fish production.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, has agriculture for the past 33 years of the institutionalization of the Awards, been actually positioned well enough to unlock the economic prosperity of our motherland?

To do a quick reappraisal, let us dispassionately look at the following questions:

1. What percentage of Ghana’s total arable land of 17.5 million acres was under cultivation following the institutionalization of the awards and what is the current percentage?
2. What was the total contribution of peasant or small holder as against commercial farming to agriculture GDP and what is it as of today?
3. Those farmers who had been previously awarded in the past for doing between 100-200 acres as commercial farmers, how many of them have graduated into doing between 200 and 1000 acres as of today and what specific support was given to them by governments?
4. What percentage of total irrigable land was under irrigation in 1988 and what is the percentage as of today?
5. How many youth were in agriculture in 1988 and how many of them are in agriculture today thirty-three years down the lane?
6. What percentage of the national budget was allocated to agriculture in 1988 and what is it as of today?
7. What percentage of annual output of cocoa beans is being processed locally and what is the plan to change the narrative so as to avoid the multimillion dollar annual loss to the nation due to continual fall in primary commodity prices in the world market?

8. How many peasant farmers since 1988 have been supported by governments to graduate from their low status to medium and large scale or commercial farming?
9. What specific policy has governments put in place to ensure that finance for agribusiness is not only easily accessible but above all affordable?
10. What specific policy measures and guidelines have been put in place to de-risk agriculture and make it more attractive to financial institutions who have been shying away from it because of the high risk nature of the industry?

11.What percentage share of food accounted for family expenditure in 1988 and as of today?

12.What was the percentage share of agriculture to GDP and employment of the total labour force ?

As I entreat us to ponder over the afore-listed points which in fact, constitute our agriculture sector performance indicators, I wish to say that, we need a new sense of national direction and little bit more seriousness for once as a nation.

It is good to pat farmers on the back but beyond that, the culture of political rhetoric must be finally and permanently abandoned. In its place should be a new dawn of sincere and full commitment on the part of governments who spell out policies that position agriculture as the mainstay of the economy in real and actual terms that also reflects in the socioeconomic well-being of the citizenry .

We have heard enough of “agriculture is the backbone of the economy” from politicians on various political platforms for decades and we now want to see maximum action now words. We want to see the positive socioeconomic impact of “Planting for Food and Jobs” ,and “One District one Factory” under the Marshal  Plan in agriculture over  the next four years.

In talking about industrialization today,through “One District ,One Factory”,it is  pertinent to recall that the late Osagyefo-led  CPP administration  left Ghana  hundreds of factories following his overthrow in 1966.How many of them are working now? Why couldn’t we maintain, improve upon them and sustain them? Have we changed for the better in terms of our apathy ,lack of true patriotism and poor maintenance culture ?

In the supreme interest of  our motherland ,”Planting for Food and Jobs within the context  of a   National Development Plan  that strategically ensures  modern scientific knowledge and technology driven commercial primary agriculture and  ago-industry is given a pivotal role is non-negotiable. What has become of the proposed 40-year National Development Plan?

How can any nation progress and develop without a comprehensive National Development Plan that captures how the various sectors of the national economy is going to be strategically positioned and carried along leveraging on their collective strength for the good of the gross national economy?

Political party manifestos that capture measures to be adopted in addressing certain national issues should the party be entrusted with the governance of the country from experience, is not always partisan in nature, but more so, are not sustainable over time.

The duration of the proposed 40 years National Development Plan put out by the previous NDC administration, some argued was over ambitious and should have been a minimum five years or maximum of ten years and renewable like neigbouring Ivory Coast is currently doing.So it was the duration of the Plan that was debatable here but not its relevance and importance to the national development agenda

.United Arab Emirates (UAE) Case Study
A particular case in point is the 30 Years Economic Diversification Plan of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that sought to cut down the contribution of the oil and gas sector to GDP considerably over the period in question taking into account the fact that, the country was and is even still today, the third largest producer/exporter of oil in the world. This was to avoid over dependence on oil and gas for the greater bulk of national revenue earnings thereby sparing the country of the so-called “resource curse”.

Indeed this plan paid off well. The country’s first and late President Sheikh Zayyed Bin Al Nahayyan, who launched the plan in the mid-1970s following the birth of the country in 1975,departed for eternity in 2005 with the UAE oil and gas sector accounting for 30 percent of the country’s GDP.

Indeed total commitment and a tenacity of purpose on the part of government to the see the plan carried through, was responsible for the success story.Massive investments in tourism infrastructure strategically positioning the emirate of Dubai as the hub for global tourism, commerce and finance over the 30 year period did the magic. This has since translated into over USD10 billion annual revenue earnings from Dubai’s tourism industry alone to the benefit of the gross UAE national economy.

Plans no matter how good they appear on paper could fail if they are not backed up with full commitment. Despite the fact that as a desert country the UAE is faced with considerable natural limitations in terms of agro-ecological resources, agriculture still occupied an important place in the plan. Aside oil and others, the country today, also prides herself in vegetable exports using ground water irrigation facilities.

Most advanced countries be it the US or EU member countries rode on the back of agriculture to their economic prosperity within the context of their National Development Plans. If that is so why not Ghana that has been blessed with exceptionally good land that gives produce of special quality?
Ghana’s Competitive Edge

Cocoa
Other countries either in Africa or other parts of the world could always surpass Ghana in terms of quantitative production of cocoa beans but not in qualitative terms .Even though Ghana has for decades lost her world’s leading cocoa producing nation status, yet qualitatively, she still reigns supreme  over her peers. Ghana’s cocoa is the bench mark in the global cocoa market .Made-in-Ghana cocoa products such “Milo”and chocolates have a unique and exclusive taste and the most sought after in East Asia and the Middle East notably.

Sheanuts
Over 20 African countries produce sheanuts but yet, once again, Ghana’s sheanut is the best in qualitative terms among the whole lot. Ghana’s cashew nuts has also been acknowledged for its superior quality. One could go on and on?

This is Ghana’s naturally endowed agroecological competitive edge begging to be taken maximum advantage of for the national good.  .How have we been able to capitalize on this and exploit it to our maximum economic advantage as a nation? We celebrate farmers who have been able to do a few hundreds of acres of one particular crop here and there.

In real modern commercial farming of international standards,it is not about 50-200 hectares. It is about thousands of hectares with state of the art farm infrastructure that operates as not only a viable business but as a science .How many local Ghanaian farmers especially the District, Regional and National Best Farmers Award winners have been helped so far by our governments to reach modern commercial farming standard status since 1988?

What is the current business status of the National Best Farmers awarded between 1988 and 2000? Is there any government mechanism in place to monitor their progress, identify their challenges and to help them overcome them and also facilitate their growth?

If the answers to the above questions are no, then that constitutes bad motherhood and we must change for the better. But even if it  were all yes, we still ought to be doing more .For “too much meat doesn’t spoil the soup but rather enhances the taste” the Hausa wise saying goes.

Upon all the tremendous ago-ecological resources we are endowed by nature, we continue spending billions of US dollars in importing rice and general agriculture products annually .This is against the background that, the Northern Savannah Ecological Zone (NSEZ) boasts of 8 million hectares of arable land that can produce rice to feed not only Ghana but even the sub-region as a whole.

So what is there to celebrate seriously when adequate support for those being supposedly being honored is not being given them to reach their fullest  potential and lift the  nation out of her import dependent economic status? Whether they are given prices in kind or in cash is neither here nor there.

Yes USD100,000.00 price for the National Best Farmer even though impressive of course by Ghanaian standards, that is not enough and must not celebrated by political activists as a yard stick for measuring which political administration has done better in terms of promoting agriculture than the other as we were treated to during a television programmes marking the celebrations.

What would have been on a more serious business note would have been to further  engage the farmer to present his business expansion plan aimed at moving from the few hundreds of farming to 500 and above may be over the next five to ten years.Government could then have  facilitated either grants, affordable debt financing ,equity or Join venture financing mode for him.

If this approach had been adopted since 1988 by now we should have been talking about Ghanaian owned modern standard commercial farming contributing the biggest chunk of  agricultural GDP from which  the the nation would have the major beneficiary .

Talking about agriculture (primary) employing over 60 percent of Ghana’s labor force is as good to say, small holder farming outstrips commercial scale farming in production tremendously in Ghana. Or in saying that agriculture contributes about 40 percent of GDP only means that both our primary production and agro processing industries are still in the low peripher

The advanced countries most notably the US who rode on the back of agriculture to economic prosperity do not not today talk about big figures of agriculture’s  contribution to GDP.The US Department of Agriculture,says the sector  accounted for  about 5.5  percent of GDP as of 2016 adding that food accounts for 12.6 percent of American household expenditure.If other sectors of the economy are also growing we shouldn’t expect that agriculture should always maintain an unrivaled higher share of GDP

In the light of the foregoing, declining percentage contribution of agriculture to GDP that have might have been experienced during the tenure of office of a particular administration,may not actually mean agriculture fared badly under its watch. The  blame game and worthless scoring of political points between  the NPP and NDC political divide doesn’t help anyone

Television presenters would do their image and the nation much good if they avoid fielding political activists’ with no industry or technical knowledge in agriculture during Farmers Day TV discussions .They should rather field fair minded technocrats such as agriculture economists, scientists, and policy analysts free of any political bias to enrich their programme content by quizzing them to proffer solutions to the country’s food self-sufficiency and import dependence challenges among others.

The analysis of some political activists on television programmes during the 2017 edition of the  farmer’s day celebration as it related to the performance of agriculture in Ghana between 2009 and as of today, was sickening as it lacked technical,scientific facts and sense save to score cheap political points against each other. We are sick and tired of this posture as it helps no one.

It would be proudly recalled that in the mid-1970s when the General Acheampong-led Supreme Military Council (SMC) focused on the NSEZ as the heart-beat of the then government’s most impressive “Operation Feed Yourself” green revolution , Ghana became self-sufficient in rice and maize production and exported the surplus to other African countries.

It is hoped  that, the Agriculture Marshall Plan, that the government is working on putting in place would come handy with pragmatic steps that would make commercial farming and ago-industry play a more significant role  while at the same time, carry along the small holders, create avenues for their graduation to medium and finally larger scale or commercial farmers in a piece meal process.

I  also dare to say that the plan ideally, should have been a component of a National Development Plan and not a stand-alone plan of a particular government since it could fizzle into thin air somewhere along the line following a change of government.But if  it  were  part of a National Development Plan and binding on successive governments no matter who is in power to be carried out to its logical conclusion that would have been much better for Ghana.

Youth Unemployment: Ghana/Africa’s ticking time bomb
Granted that about 60 percent of Ghana’s current population is said to be made up of the youth, this indeed constitute a national security and food risk if badly handled into the future. At the same time, it could also be a blessing in disguise. It no doubt could be exploited to the country’s maximum economic advantage if governments are serious.
Sadly, Africa’s exceedingly youthful population is an abundantly available currency individual country governments generally have so far woefully failed to spend and for what reason, only God knows.

Experts project that by 2050, Africa risk breakdown in social order as it becomes the most youthfully populated continent on earth .If issues of youth unemployment and appalling economic conditions is not addressed most effectively moving forward, they forewarn, an “Africa spring” that would many times surpass the so-called “Arab Spring”, awaits the continent.

To this end, the current government of Ghana and successive ones need to be up and doing .The institutionalization of the National Youth Authority, National Youth Policy, National Youth in Agriculture & Aquaculture, among others constitute  good infrastructure to be used  for stemming the tide.

The aggressive hunt for jobs by Ghanaian youth that characterized the change in government last year is a warning signal enough. The dangerous African youth escape to Europe through Libya knowing the risk involved should prick our conscience beyond expression of indignation and condemnation of their enslavement by barbarous Libyan racists’ thugs in recent times.

What at all is motivating them to take such risks? This is the million dollar question that should engage our attention as African politicians, media, religious, security authorities, civil society and what have you? Have we provided the enabling environment for them at home that serves of promise to serve as a disincentive to seek greener pastures in foreign lands under dangerous circumstances?

To this end, the ADM wishes to call on the government to pay particular attention to the on-going National Youth in Agriculture & Aquaculture programme .It must do all what it takes to make it achieve most astounding success moving forward.

How many youth have already been made successful agripreneurs under the programme and what is government’s targeted annual percentage increase of youth commercial farmers within its first four year term in office?
The agriculture sector no doubt has the potential to address Ghana’s youth unemployment problem most satisfactorily if governments show a little bit more seriousness.

Government has no business in farming?
As for the neocolonialist economic theory of “government has no business in agriculture”, we must be circumspect .If by that, one means to say governments shouldn’t be involved in direct agribusiness, but they shouldn’t also  run away from their responsibility of massive investments in roads, irrigation, energy and other related infrastructure to facilitate private sector participation in agribusiness .

This is important    to    serve as incentives and above all, to guarantee returns on investments made by private commercial farmers whether they are local or foreign. There again, the Ghana Infrastructure Fund(GIF) established by the previous government could be made maximum use of as Special Purpose Vehicle for massive investment in roads and other related infrastructure in the country’s areas with notable agro-ecological resources that should be effectively harnessed for transforming the national economy .

By the way what is wrong if a government institution like the COCOBOD had gone into PPP arrangements with private corporate bodies to establish more giant cocoa processing and manufacturing plants aimed at addressing the over reliance on raw cocoa beans for the greater bulk of national agro exports revenue and for which we are losing so much annually as a nation?

In terms of marketing of their products such ventures could diversify and target the African continent as we also need the immune system boosting and other benefits of cocoa as others elsewhere .

About the author

MOHAMMED ABU

Chief Correspondent,,West Africa Region,African Development magazine

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