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Opinions of Friday, 23 April 2021

Columnist: Patrick Tandoh-Offin, PhD

Planting for Export and Rural Development : An agenda whose time has come

The initiative was launched by President Akufo-Addo in 2019 The initiative was launched by President Akufo-Addo in 2019

Granted that we were not too convinced about the postulations for the introduction of the Planting for Export and Rural Development (PERD) initiative as part of Government’s efforts to wean Ghana off the perennial dependence on Cocoa export, and hence on foreign aid, we now have ample justifications to, at least, pay some attention.

In the past week, there has been reports of the first ever Cocoa export from the Hainan Province of China to Belgium. Ghanaians have received this news with mixed reactions.

While many are doubting the veracity of the story, there are others who are ‘angry’ about how we have allowed the very Chinese people to ‘destroy’ our lands and the ecosystem that supports, among other things, Cocoa production, the very crop we have depended on for all these years to build our economy. But can we really blame the Chinese for taking their destinies into their own hands? I am not sure of how the people of Fernando Po reacted when they heard about the process by which Tetteh Quarshie brought Cocoa to Ghana.

My understanding is that Cocoa grows and survives in tropical environments. The Hainan Province in China also happens to have tropical climates. At this point, they are only going to continue to improve on their efforts at expanding their market share of the Cocoa production and export, to the gratuitous chagrin of some Ghanaians. That notwithstanding, any such ‘anger’ can only be likened to a shadow-chasing endeavor that is not likely to yield any positive outcome.

It thus suggests that Ghana’s reign or dominance with the export of Cocoa is coming under some imminent threat. And this is where the relevance of the proposals by the Ministry of Food and Agriculture to diversify Ghana’s tree crops become more discernible. It will be useful, therefore, to see the PERD initiatives from the perspective of John Kingdon (1984), as an agenda whose time has come.

Kingdon in Agendas, Alternatives and Public Policies (1984) proposed the “Multiple Streams Framework” (MSF) to explain the process involved in any policy-making to consist of three streams, namely, problem, policy and politics which are brought together (coupling) through the relentless efforts of policy or political entrepreneurs.

Policy entrepreneurship therefore involves advocacy functions, ability to employ innovative strategies to take advantage of opportunities as well as challenges situations to promote what may be considered to be desirable policy outcomes at any point in time. Other attributes of policy entrepreneurship include creativity, persuasiveness, networking and determination.

The strengths of Kingdon’s Framework are found in its relevance for setting development agendas. The framework is equally useful as a tool for policy advocacy, especially where key attributes of a proposed policy or solution looks highly imperceptible and may require the services of a good salesperson to make them more apparent.

The PERD is a program to increase and diversify Ghana’s tree crop production and export away from the country’s over-reliance on Cocoa to include other tree crops such as rubber, coconut, oil pal, cashew coffee and shea. In July 2019, the Minister for Food and Agriculture stated that PERD has the potential to bring in US$12 Billion annually.

To this end, the MOFA through the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD) have been undertaking some activities including the cultivation of nurseries for the seedlings for the other tree crops for commercial production in various communities.

Juxtaposing the recent developments of Cocoa beans export from the Hainan Province in China to Belgium, to the intentions that informed the introduction of the PERD and the activities to promote and popularize the initiative only goes to affirm the tenets of the Multiple Streams framework.

In that regard, one can argue that the MOFA, MLGRD and other relevant agencies are doing their best to assuage any possible export earning challenges that could arise from the looming competition from almighty China’s involvement in Cocoa production and export. However, the following points may be worth further consideration if Ghana seeks to improve on her competitive strength through the benefits to be derived from the PERD stream of tree crops production and export:

First of all, there is an urgent need to ensure that we give a life and meaning to all the national, continental and global prescriptions and programs for land reforms that Ghana has ratified to ensure ease of access to land and land rights for all citizens, especially women and the youth.

For the PERD programs to be profitable, participants will require sizeable amount of land to engage in the plantation and tree crop cultivation. Addressing issues of access to land and land rights for all citizens through guaranteed land banks, where necessary, can go a long way to grant access for large percentage of our people who have been rendered landless for various reason such as peri-urban land-use conversions and land grabbing.

Secondly, there Local Government and District Assemblies have a role to play to make the PERD initiatives successful. This is because the Assemblies are closer to the people and so can easily play the ‘Policy Entrepreneurs’ function to advocate and popularize the initiatives under the PERD. Assemblies create the space for the development of cooperatives and networks of farmer groups to facilitate access to seeds and other resources to support the participation of citizens and citizen groups in the program.

Thirdly, Assemblies as agents of development can harness the potentials in their jurisdictions to attract One District One Factory (1D1F) initiatives for value-chain addition through agro-processing of the tree crops. Assemblies with Vocational and Technical Training centers as well as other Tertiary institutions are better placed to support the development of appropriate technology for the improving the value of commercial agricultural activities under the PERD. The potential multiplier effect will make our communities livable and competitive.

Finally, it is equally essential to emphasize that the perception of agriculture and agricultural activities, especially, among the youth require deliberate initiatives from ‘policy entrepreneurs’ to re-orient and make skills and careers in agriculture more attractive. To this end, the PERD program can look at initiatives to make agriculture and agricultural careers attractive to Basic, Junior and Senior High Students, as well as Tertiary students through what is referred to as Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE).

Such initiative encourages school gardening to produce the seedlings that commercial plantation farmers can buy from the Schools. The Schools themselves may be supported to undertake the cultivation of some of the PERD crops where necessary which can improve the internally generated fund for the Schools to support their programs, while also teaching and inculcating useful habit in our future generations.