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Opinions of Friday, 23 October 2015

Columnist: Hinneh, Samuel

Ghana needs to designate lands for agricultural purposes

Opinion Opinion

The rate of urbanisation and other developmental amenities is rapidly at the ascendancy in the country, threatening land availability for the productive activities such as farming. Food security plays an important role in the survival of mankind, hence policies and programmes safeguarding food are highly crucial to fight poverty.

In Ghana, land generally, and more crucially, fertile land has become scarce, particularly for smallholder farmers. Farming in the rural areas in the country faces lots of associated problems as many of the farmers’ lands are usually taken away by organisations or even government for activities such as mining with little or no compensation to venture into farming or alternative livelihoods.

A study conducted by Department of Land Economy, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, titled, Changing Land Issues For Poor Rural People In Sub-Saharan Africa (The Ghanaian Case) reveals that fertile farmlands are rapidly declining in Ghana due to pressure from population growth and urbanisation, threatening rural livelihoods and food security.

Sand winning is also another source of pressure on land which deeply affects farmers, particularly women in the fisheries aspect of agriculture. The rapid rate of property development in the urban and peri-urban areas has created considerable demand for sand, stones and other building materials. In response, several farm lands are being destroyed in favour of winning sand and stone quarrying.

Sand wining and gravel extraction are equally prevalent along the coast, where fishing is predominant. The combined effect of the sand winning and stone extraction is resulting in the degradation of vast farmlands and accordingly putting pressure on poor rural farmers who are already vulnerable. The combined effect of all these issues is a reduction in the supply of land which is available to rural people and this is contributing to redefine land issues across the areas.

Brian Crawford, the Chief of Party for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)/Ghana Sustainable Fisheries Management Project (SFMP), says Ghana has to put in place measures to ensure available land is targeted at specific purposes, be it fishing, to protect farmers from the practice of land grabbing.

Along the coast, drastic measures can be put in place to ensure that land used for fishing is not given out to organisations or individuals including estate developers to undertake commercial ventures such as beach resorts, he said in an interview during the World Rural Women’s Day.

Other areas can then be allocated for beach resort construction but not specific areas where fishing activity abounds, Crawford added during the event which took place at Winneba, in the central region on the theme, Land: Our Livelihood, Our Heritage.

Coastal lands where fishing has been a national heritage for decades is being converted to beach resorts, residential, oil and gas developments among other uses and these are displacing fishery-based livelihoods. It is becoming increasingly difficult for fishing communities to maintain the land areas needed to sustain their fishing livelihood.

"People often ask why a fisheries project should care about land issues since fish live in the sea and are caught at sea. Coastal communities and women involved in fisheries need land to conduct their business. Land for boats to beach and unload fish. Land to process and market fish. Land for homes to live in.

"As fisheries is water dependent and uses coastal lands, coastal land needs to be set aside and secured to enable these activities to be carried out,” he stated.
"Many women involved in fishing also farm so it is important as well for women to have access to and tenure land for supplemental livelihoods. The Fisheries Commission, traditional authorities, local government have a role to play in securing land. While the subject is land, we know fisheries catches are in decline, so we also need women to be strong advocates for more sustainable and responsible fish practices and second coastal land for fish livelihood,” Crawford noted.

Comfort Tagoe, an Executive Member of Development Action Association (DAA), a farmer based organisation, says sand winning has led to the disappearance of turtles along the coast, therefore the destruction of beaches is not supporting fishing.

Akua Emissah from the Onyame Ntsedee Odasani Women Group, Apam, called for innovative ways to engage people along the coast to undertake clean up exercise to keep beaches in the country healthy.

Concerns have however been raised that chiefs and other traditional authorities are no longer being neutral arbiters in land cases. With land values rising at unprecedented rates, the stakes are high. The latent temptation to acquire and sell off land is clear on the part of all local actors such as chiefs. There are reported cases where disputing parties over land took the case to a traditional authority for resolution.

The chiefs were said to have taken the land, and subsequently granted them out without the knowledge of any of the disputing parties.

In Ghana the problems in the rural areas revolve around the fact that the agricultural potential is not fully realized as normally portrayed by low productivity and rural poverty.

Inheritance is a major form of land acquisition and it is apparent that this form of land acquisition is largely responsible for the fragmentation of land. In some cases, the establishment of large plantations has withdrawn large tracts of land from peasant cultivation causing “landlessness” and the consequent conflicts between peasant farmers and the plantation owners.

The USAID’s SFMP five-year project is an example of initiative which aims to support Ghana’s national fisheries policies to rebuild marine fish stocks that are important to food security in Ghana as well as the West African region.

According to the Ghana Fisheries and Aquaculture Sector Development Plan 2011 to 2016, Ghana has valuable fisheries that generate in the order of US$ 1 billion in revenue each year. The fisheries support 135,000 fishers in the marine sub-sector alone. Ghana’s fisheries contribute 4.5 percent to annual GDP and indirectly support the livelihoods of 2.2 million people or 10% of all people in Ghana.

Unfortunately the economic benefits available from fisheries are being drained away. In all probability it costs more to catch and manage fisheries in Ghana than they return to the economy in income. This is because there is too little investment in management and value addition and there are too many vessels catching too few fish.

The same plan says the fishing industry in the country has reached a low level equilibrium that provides little prospect for improving the welfare of fisher people or contributing to the economy as a whole. With effective management this situation could be reversed. International experience shows that well managed fisheries can generate economic returns of between of 30 – 60 % of fishery revenue equivalent to at least US$300 million per year for fisheries in Ghana.

Rebecca Eshun, president of Moree Fish Smokers Association of the DAA expressed the concerned about rural woman’s inaccessibility to land which may offset the gains being made by the SFMP project relative to improvements in post-harvest processing and livelihoods of women.

"Many fisher folks focus on farming as alternative livelihood sources, which have implications on accessibility to arable lands for that purpose. Access to farmlands can secure farming and fish farming as a viable alternative or supplemental livelihood for fishing households as the fishing industry is in decline,” she noted.

The central regional minister, Aquinas Tawiah Quansah, says fisheries resource is an asset which millions of people in the region rely on for livelihood and for that matter cannot be allowed to collapse.

From the 2013 canoe frame survey, there are 3,895 canoes as well as 3,016 outboard motors and 40,563 fishermen in the region, says the minister.

"The latest population census showed majority of our people live and would continue to live in the coastal belts of our country. Population increase, land degradation, deforestation, sand winning and poor land use practices and the attendant problems on land use on the coastal ecosystem is critical not only to land use development but also important to food security and health as a people, ” Quansah said.

There is the urgent need for planners to adopt the right integrated coastal management approaches to planning and development, he says.

"It is crucial that adequate provisions are made during the development and preparation of metropolitan, municipal and district Spatial Plans to factor in all fisheries and it related industries which form the backbone of the local coastal economy,” the regional minister stated.

The annual celebration of World Rural Women‘s Day (15th October) is considered a practical way of obtaining recognition and support for the multiple roles that rural women play, including indigenous women who are mostly farmers and small-scale entrepreneurs in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty. Women Farmers account for about 50% of food production and food security worldwide and this figure rises to at least 80% in developing countries.

The event in Ghana was organised by the DAA with support from the USAID’s SFMP project.