Feature Article of Friday, 21 January 2011
Columnist: Sakyi, Kwesi Atta
Backyard Gardening, Truck farming and Market Gardening – Potential for employment,
Income generation and food sufficiency
Kwesi Atta Sakyi
It is heartening to note that a high profile person, Mr. Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary General is leading an agricultural renaissance in Africa through the organization known as AGRA. Africa has huge potential for being a global food basket. It is however disgraceful that despite our possessing fertile lands and abundant supply of water, Africa for many years has been relying on food imports. Currently in Ghana, a huge amount of scarce foreign exchange is expended and wasted annually on the importation of rice, fish and meat from other countries. This is in deed very appalling. Ghana for example, should be a net exporter of food. Be that as it may, it will be prudent to explore ways by which we can turn the tables in our favour and attain internal food sufficiency. During the reign of the late General Kutu Acheampong, there was a nationwide campaign to increase food production and it was dubbed Operation Feed Yourself (OFY). During the 70s, the programme assumed such national importance that directives went out to all schools and government ministries to release their workers early in the afternoons to go farming. Accra was turned into a sea of green with lush looking cassava leaves and maize plants adorning the backyards of many households. The programme really made Ghanaians aware of the need to attain food sufficiency and to take pride in farming. In the advanced countries in Europe and North America, truck farming and market gardening are important practices as the residents in the suburbs and peri-urban areas make a living raising livestock, vegetables, fruits and poultry which they truck to the city centres to sell. From my critical observation, Ghanaians have a deficiency in fish and meat supplies, hence the high prices of these items. Inner city and peri-urban dwellers can exploit the situation by employing the youth to work on their backyard and peri-urban farms so as to feed the rapidly increasing urban population. Vegetables like spinach, cabbage, green pepper, carrots and lettuce have become money spinners as these are very expensive on the markets. These food items are seen to be food items for expatriates and the rich locals. However, this is a wrong perception as everybody is in need of a balanced diet. I hope AGRA will be extended to all the corners of the country and willing farmers should be subsidized and assisted with farm inputs such as hybrid seeds, equipment and finance. City dwellers should use compost to grow organic food for both local consumption and export. It is germane here to make some suggestions which hopefully will be heeded by policy makers in the arena of power.
1. The Government should play a leading role in making agriculture the mainstay of the Ghanaian economy by establishing plantations and model farms in all the 10 regions.
2. The Government should selectively create incentives that will attract the youth to take to farming. Such incentives could include soft loans and grants, tax exempt for agricultural inputs, among others.
3. All government institutions such as schools, colleges, universities and prisons should be encouraged to set up their own commercial farms to feed their inmates.
4. Minimum price guarantee should be instituted to protect the incomes of farmers as it is done in the EU.
5. The commercial banks and other lending institutions should be prevailed upon to give concessionary loans to farmers who want to go into truck farming in all peri-urban areas
6. Large scale poultry and livestock farming should be encouraged in all our urban areas, having partnership with foreign entities that have the expertise and capital.
7. Mounting a nation-wide campaign to sensitize urban dwellers to grow their own food in their backyards and to keep poultry and livestock in hygienic environments
8. Extending technical expertise to urban farmers by using the officials at the Ministry of Agriculture
9. Buffer stock schemes to be set up to buy off excess produce for storage or export.