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Opinions of Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Columnist: Fuseini Abdul-Fatawu

Government’s ‘planting for food and jobs’ programme, so far, so good

Early this year, the President, His Excellency, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, launched the Planting for Jobs and Food Programme in the Brong Ahafo Region. During the launch, the president indicated that government is going to support farmers with subsidised inputs to aid in their farming work. This is done so that there would be increased food production and value for money for the farmers registered under the programme. Government will also provide Agric Extension officers to guide the farmers in their agribusiness.

With fertilizers already subsidised at GH¢57.5 per bag, a farmer registered under this programme will pay half of this amount during the farming season and the remaining half paid after the farming season. The same applies to the sulphate of ammonia and urea which was also subsidised at GH¢47 per acre. A farmer who registers for an acre will take two bags of fertilizer, a bag of sulphate/urea and well-treated obaatanpa seedlings at total cost GH¢196.00. The farmer will, however, pay half of the amount which is GH¢98.00 for the first half of the farming season and pay the other half after the harvest of his products. Each farmer can register to a maximum of 10 acres depending on his capacity. A very benevolent, caring and interest-free loan to the farmers.

The programme started well and it has helped a lot of poor farmers. The programme has taken some farmers away from joining some private farming companies/firms who to a large extent has been exploiting them. A lot of farmers cannot express their delight and satisfaction to the government. It is a fantastic project and the government must be applauded for it.

CHALLENGES

Like every normal human project, the very early stage of this project faced some huge difficulties. First on the list is the lack of adequate seedlings. More than half of the farmers who registered could not get their seedlings. Some waited for long for the government to bring the seedlings only for them to be told at the last minute that the seedlings are not coming again even though they have paid for it. Besides, the government's promise to the farmers that they will be supplied with hybrid seeds when they register for the programme also failed to materialise.

Another huge challenge the programme faced was unnecessary political interference. Some political actors who were educated on the programme and expected to also educate their subordinates failed to do so. Instead, they rather hoarded the forms they were given, registered some few persons they said were "their people" and left many others including their own party members who they perceive to be their internal opponents. Some also took the form and gave them to some assembly members and denied others in order. They gave the forms to assembly members they think are gullible and as such will use such forms to buy their votes and conscience during the struggle for the DCEship. This unfortunate development pushed a lot of people away from the programme and made majority to think that it is for only a privileged few who are in the good books of the elected and appointed government representatives in the constituency/district and Parliament.

In fact even after some poor farmers successfully registering into the programme, some government appointees went as far as going to the Agric offices, picking out the names of those poor farmers that they perceive aren't their people and hid the forms that contain their names at places no one except themselves can trace. Unfortunately, the soft copy of the registered members of the programme at the Agric office couldn't reproduce some of their names. A kind of political punishment for them not towing the line of the appointed government representatives.

One more challenge to the programme is the poor publicity from the Ministry of Agric. Most people from the villages who are supposed to be beneficiaries of the programme weren't aware of the programme. The few who heard of the programme thought that the programme was only meant for NPP members. The hoarding and smuggling out of poor farmers names by some appointed government representatives also affirmed this assertion to the farmers. In my district, the Sissala East District, it took the intervention of the Deputy Upper West Regional Minister, Honourable Amidu Chinnia Issahaku, for most farmers to realise that the programme isn't meant for only NPP members but all farmers in Ghana who are interested. It was after the Deputy Regional Minister interaction with a local radio station that a lot of people begin to register for the programme.

The lack of tractor services and the invasion of farms by the fall armyworm are some other challenges to the programme. Some farmers couldn't register for the programme because they don't even have the money to plough their lands. The armyworms have equally attacked a lot of farms and government has not responded adequately to this problem. A lot of farms are invaded in my district and there are inadequate chemicals to supply to the farmers. Almost 90% of the farms in my district are invaded but there's inadequate support given to the farmers. The response of the government to this particular problem makes some to think that the government despite its huge interest in agriculture doesn't take this particular problem a serious one.

THE WAY FORWARD

Government must work hard to ensure that quality seedlings, be it hybrid or OPV, are prepared and organized well months before the beginning of the farming season. They should be many to match the number of farmers registered.

Government must also talk to its appointed representatives in the districts and some of its MPs especially those from the ruling NPP to stop using or seeing its good policies as a tool to punish their political opponents be they in their own party or out of it. Government should train them on how to market its good policies for people to buy as their current actions of political victimisation make a lot of people to see them very weak in that regard.

Government must as a matter of urgency get a team to research on the armyworm invasion and get solutions to them

In conclusion, the whole programme is good and laudable. Government should work hard to expand it in the coming years.

I shall, In sha Allah, be back ...