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Opinions of Thursday, 22 September 2016

Columnist: Graphic.com.gh

Can the SADA master plan unlock Ghana's agric potential?

By Maxwell Akalaare Adombila

In recent years, Ghana has spent a minimum of US$1.5 billion of its limited resources to import food annually, while some eight million hectares of arable land continue to waste away in the Northern Savanna Ecological Zone (NSEZ).

Accounting for 54.5 per cent of Ghana's landmass, optimal agricultural production in the NSEZ, which covers five administrative regions, can produce enough food to feed the entire country with some left for export.

It can also facilitate investments in adjourning sectors, such as agro-processing, inputs assembling, manufacturing and beverage processing, which will lead to a steep fall in unemployment numbers.

Furthermore, the zone's comparative advantage in the production of livestock, cereals, legumes, and vegetables means that any effort in addressing the challenges with the value chain would help to turn the NSEZ into a commercial agricultural hub for such products.

The central nature of the area to the West African subregion means that the proper commercialisation of agriculture in the five NSEZ regions would easily turn the zone into a hub for counterpart food import-dependent neighbours.

Currently, majority of the food imports of these countries, including Ghana, come from Europe and Asia as age-old challenges continue to limit intra-sub-regional trade to just 11 per cent.

SADA Master Plan

Despite the potential and the availability of markets, the agriculture sector in the NSEZ, and Ghana as a whole, has been left to suffer, with growth in the sector continually on the decline over the past five years.

While that happens, the area's swampy lands are left at the mercy of unemployed youth finding money through crude mining techniques, herdsmen burning bushes in search of pastures for their livestock or hunters clearing trees, including the precious shea tree, to find games. Through these activities, the land suffers climate change, desertification intensifies and the whole nation loses.

This is where the commercialisation of agriculture through the tactical removal of the various obstacles is even more crucial.

Although virtually everybody admits to the need to properly exploit the zone's huge economic potential, not much has been done in the past to help guide investors on how to turn this potential into businesses, a challenge the SADA Master Plan is now seeking to address.

The plan is a medium-term development agenda that the revitalised or new Savanna Accelerated Development Authority (SADA) is using to serve as a blueprint and credible investment guide to unlock the area's potential, starting with agriculture.

As a national institution tasked with the transformation of the zone, the authority is hoping that through the plan, it can attract private sector funds into the area as it continues to play the role of a facilitator.

Link with SDGs

Although the plan is yet to be completed, a draft copy shows how the authority is using the master plan to achieve its statutory mandate of transforming the zone into an economic hub of opportunities for businesses and people.

The plan outlines 12 game-changer projects that are needed as catalyts to develop specific sectors in the area.

The projects include the opening up of the Tamale central business district to fuel growth, the construction of an inland port at Buipe and the turning of the Buipe town a port city, the construction of an agriculture processing park at Kintampo and the development of a dry port, a logistics centre and a free trade zone in Bolgatanga to help diversify the economy of the Upper East Region and its surrounding communities.

It also includes plans to develop a 30-hectare tourism cluster and the expansion and modernisation of water transport systems in the Volta Region.

The initiation of these projects and many others envisaged in the master plan will help fast-track the growth of the economy and make it easier for the country to attain the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that were adopted a year ago.

This is because as the authority uses the conducive environment and credible plan to attract investments into the area, the income levels of the people will improve, the poverty gap will close and standard of living raised.

The ultimate result will be a country where poverty and hunger will be things of the past. The planet will also be properly protected. All people will enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives. Peace will prevail and partnerships with the private sector and development partners and sister nations will thrive.