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Opinions of Saturday, 5 December 2009

Columnist: Adomako, Appiah Kusi

Farmers Day: Necessary Or Sufficient?

Appiah Kusi Adomako, Leaders of Tomorrow Foundation, Kumasi

It has been more than twenty five years since the first Friday of every December been designated as a National Famers Day in the country to honour our dedicated farmers in the country without whom Ghana’s jet of progress could not have soared into orbit. May I use this opportunity to thank farmers in the country for their untiring effort.

After nearly twenty years since of institutionalizing this concept, it is now proper that we pause to make some reflections. A big question which has been lingering through my mind: Is declaring the first Friday of every December as a national holiday in honour of farmers and giving prizes to some ‘deserving’ farmers enough? There comes a time when enough is not enough. There is more room for improvement.

Farmers in this country have been taken for a ride. This neglect is as old as the earliest history books and contemporary as the morning newspapers. We only hear government and politicians making promises to farmers during National Farmers Day or during electioneering time. Farmers in this country are being used as a clutch; we only need them when we want to change gear.

As a nation driven by agriculture such that we earn much of our GDP from this sector, we must do more for this sector and the people in this sector. We cannot be unmoved and unconcerned about people who drive the nation forward, for progress does not roll on the wheels of inevitability. We must do specific measurable and proper investment in agriculture.

I find it strange to believe that we use proceeds from cocoa to drive the nation forward but we have been reluctant in even helping the farmer or developing the cocoa growing communities. Why on earth should cocoa hospitals be built in Accra and Kumasi when the farmer, who through his toil and sweat made such facilities possible, would have to walk for more than ten miles through meandering foot path to attend a health post or some ill equipped district hospital? It’s high time that the Ghana Cocoa Marketing Board (CMB) decided to respond to the needs of the farmers. If we cherish the farmers’ cocoa bean, then we must cherish their personality and health. Even the CMB scholarships which cocoa farmers’ wards are supposed to receive are unable to serve their intended purpose. There are countless numbers of people in Accra and Kumasi who have never seen a cocoa tree before and not to mention the cocoa bean, but whose wards are enjoying CMB scholarship when the cocoa farmer’s son would have to truncate his school because there is no money to cater for him. What a paradox? Today, if we were to commission the BNI or CHRAJ to conduct a forensic investigation to know those who have benefited from this scheme, we would know such people. We end up depriving the genuine beneficiary of the scholarship scheme. When we do this it becomes like what James Russell Lowell would say: Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne.

In the area of education, the schools that serve the farming communities are nothing but dilapidated structures. In some cocoa growing communities, pupils attend classes under trees and it has always seemed like a curse to be born in such villages in this country. It appears we take the milk from the villager and use it to feed the city dweller and ask the villager to drink water in place of the milk. If we continue to do this, every court of jurisprudence would indict all of us.

We need to use the National Farmers Day to highlight the plight of the neglected rural dwellers. What the farmer wants is not a holiday but protection against the importation of cheap agricultural products into the country. What they want is not a holiday but access to loans and technology transfer. What they want is clean water, electricity and good clinic which they would have not walk for more than thirty minutes. Again and again, they want a quality education for their wards so that he can also have a son who would one day become a doctor or an engineer or lawyer.

Farmer do not even have control as to how much they want to sell their products. In most circumstance it is difficult for them to get loans and where they given, the interest rate goes above the prevailing rates. Perhaps, the government can subsidize loans meant for agriculture purposes. I think it is high time we rise against the imperialistic policies of the Bretonwood institutions-the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and jettison their policies and give subsidies to our farmers. It highly ironical to know that in Ghana more than fifty percent of the working population are in the agriculture sector yet the cost of food is high. Why? Because, the farmers lack the equipment or the technical how to expand their frontiers. What government can even do here is to attach extension officer to medium to large scale farmers so as to help in the transfer of knowledge and technology.

Government should as matter of urgency, start using proceeds from cocoa and other agricultural proceeds to develop such communities. At least, for a start every cocoa growing district should have District Cocoa Hospitals, model schools in every cocoa or farming district. This can exist in addition to what the GETFund is doing to get a model secondary school in every district. The CMB should start and use cocoa proceeds to fund this project. After all, we do not have Len Clay Stadium in Tamale or Anglogold Primary School in Mankesim. Why? This is because Anglogold is not a philanthropic organization to be building stadiums or schools to serve people other than their own.

The CMB should also consider designing a social security scheme for cocoa farmers. Even more, the board should consider an insurance scheme for cocoa farms. If we agree that the farmers’ toil and sweat for many years help the country to build spanning bridges and roads, and to pay the salaries of government workers in Accra, Ho and Kumasi such that these government employees would enjoy pension benefits, we should not close our minds to similar conditions for our farmers. Should the farmer have his farm gutted by fire, it would mean that he would have difficulties in making a living. What the CMB should do is to deduct say 18% of each sack of cocoa beans sold to be given to SSNIT to start a pension and social security scheme for the farmers. The CMB can even decide to pay for the National Health Insurance premium for all cocoa farmers who have registered with them.

If we fail to respond to the needs of the farmers I can foresee that in the near future, cocoa farmers might be tempted to decide instead of selling their cocoa produce to the government, can bag them and tell the government of day that if it fails to do what they want for them they would either not sell their cocoa beans to the CMB or they would burn them. This has happened before in Ghana during the colonial time. History always repeats itself.

Government and should start to develop housing schemes for farmers in the farming communities. This would bring development to our rural communities. Farmers should also be tutored on modern methods of agriculture.

We need to respect our farmers and give them whatever is due them. Let us stop the lip service which has characterized our lives but let us do life service. Let us not only make noise during Farmers’ Day and then afterwards we do nothing. For we are not only judged by our actions but also our inaction.

Our farmers, we salute you.

Appiah Kusi Adomako is an international freelance writer and the president of the Ghana Chapter of Leaders of Tomorrow Foundation. He can be contacted through: Leaders of Tomorrow Foundation, P.O. BOX. KS 13640. Kumasi. Tel; 024-212-5355, 027-740-2467 www.leaders-of-tomorrow-inc.coml; appiahkusiy2k@yahoo.com