Feature Article of Sunday, 13 January 2013
Columnist: AgroMindsetKNUST Chapter
TEL: 0246287788 0247714498 E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The President of the Republic of Ghana
H. E. John Dramani Mahama
7th January 2013
Dear Mr. President,
Give Our Rural, Poor Farmers Some Attention
We would want to begin by first of all congratulating you on your election as President of the Republic of Ghana. Several were the hopes you raised during the campaign for this position, and we at the Agro Mindset Organisation working with the vision of building Africa’s next green revolution, look forward to working with you to use the agricultural sector to create employment opportunities for the teeming unemployed youth of our country, wrestle the millions of poor rural based citizens of our very wealthy nation from the jaws of poverty, and make our nation food secure.
Mr. President, this correspondence to you at this particular point in time would not have been necessary if the cyclical political rhetoric that have been churned out by political leaders over the years during campaigning periods to prioritize the agricultural sector and make Ghana the food basket of Africa had been backed with action. Unfortunately, every four years, when the treks across deprived communities in a plea for votes have come to an end and the political campaign offices have been closed down to business, our politicians return to Accra, forgetful of virtually everything that has been said, and watch on as the activities of lobbyists and special interest groups out crowd the cry of the rural farmers and the promises of a better day that were made by the politicians on the campaign trail.
The critical role of the agricultural sector to the development of our country is an assertion we appear to have under emphasized for far too long. Agriculture is the backbone of the economy, employing about 60 percent of our population and was until recently the single largest contributing sector to Ghana’s Gross Domestic Product, but it is now beginning to appear the spine has been sucked out of the backbone without us noticing.
The government which you led during its climaxing months and hitherto was second in command has a lot to boast of, in terms of helping improve the agricultural sector over the last four years. The Youth-In-Agriculture Programme your administration rolled out has helped the nation cut down on the unemployment situation in the country, quantities of produced food crops including maize and rice grown has multiplied, and huge gains were made in further improving upon the amount of cash crops like cocoa harvested annually. Thumbs up to you and your agricultural generals for a good job done.
But in our view, these huge leaps in the performance of the agricultural sector would not be meaningful if the small holder farmers in the rural areas engaged in small scale agriculture, owning farm sizes less than 3 acres, and struggling to make optimum outputs from their investments are not targeted with similarly enthusiastic policies. They constitute about 80 percent of farmer populations in Ghana, exemplified by the fact that they are old and weak men and women, with little or no education, unskilled or lowly skilled, unaware of modern trends in the agricultural sector, who take farming as a way of life, hence hardly attach the needed diligence required for successful farming operations, and are under performing, breaking their backs to till the land and feed a nation.
Mr. President, as you take the reins of governance for the next four years, we would encourage you to refocus attention on implementing targeted policies that would help these poor, rural based farmers improve upon production, expand their farm sizes and get higher up the economic ladder which will restore hope to the upcoming generation. The rural poor are the people who deserve the support even more, because they have shown that they are fully committed to the art and science of growing food, and they would be able to make even more meaningful impact if given adequate support.
Mr. President, you do not need to set up a new committee to go investigate and report back to you on what can be done for these farmers so they can catapult the efforts at making our nation food secure into a higher gear, it all comes back to the same old challenges and the very age old ideas that have been espoused over their years; Access to credit facilities to expand and modernize operations, availability of improved and subsidized seeds and inputs, construction of irrigational facilities, closer agricultural extension services, training in entrepreneurship and literacy, facilitation of the establishment of cooperative societies to give them a stronger voice, among others. Leadership would just have to walk the talk as far as these ideas are concerned and make them available to the rural farmers, and then, we would get there.
Mr. President, majority of our citizens live in rural areas and, mainly, they depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Agriculture thus remains vital for sustainable development, poverty reduction and food security. Prioritizing agricultural development, with some focus on the poor farmers would yield significant, interconnected benefits, particularly in achieving food security and reducing hunger; increasing incomes and reducing poverty; advancing the human development agenda in health and education; and reversing environmental damage. Integrating Ghana’s farms into value chains does not only promise to provide new sources for agricultural products, but will also enable smallholders to purchase better inputs and raise investment levels and inclusive agribusiness practices will create business growth opportunities for smallholders.
Mr. President, as indicated earlier, we would want to commend your just ended administration for the policies that have been rolled out to encourage more young people to venture into agricultural production, particularly through the Youth in Agriculture Programme. Despite the fact that agriculture is likely to remain a key sector for young people in much of Ghana, it has an image problem. The Ghanaian society generally has a negative perception of agriculture; which is detrimental to the sustainability of the sector, hence a need for appropriate and timely intervention in order to cause the youth to believe in the vast prospects of the sector and to ensure that the agricultural sector becomes more productive and sustainable. There is the need for us to develop more of such policies to motivate young people to go into agriculture to sustain the sector and, at the same time solve the problem of youth unemployment.
Finally, we would want to give one advice to you on the team you would be assembling to help you run the country over the next four years because we know that the quality and kind of leadership at all levels of our governance structure would be crucial in delivering on the task at hand, particularly in the agricultural sector. We would encourage you to endeavour to ensure that those you appoint to the helm of affairs at the Agric Ministry, from the minister to the deputies and other key political appointments are persons who have practical backgrounds in the sector and have a fair understanding of agricultural production in Ghana. Political-will, good governance and wise policies are key to helping write a better Ghana agric story as politicians serve as a key important variable in agricultural production, next to erratic weather. That, we think is the only way leadership of substance can be brought to bear on developing the sector.
In the words of US President Barack Obama at a Symposium on agriculture and Global Food Security last year which was attended by our late President John Mills; “history teaches us that one of the most effective ways to pull people and entire nations out of poverty is to invest in their agriculture.” And that is exactly what we would encourage your administration to do.
David Asare Asiamah, Obed Opoku
Executive Director President of KNUST Chapter
Agro Mindset Organisation Agro Mindset Organisation