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Opinions of Thursday, 17 December 2009

Columnist: Agyemang, Katakyie Kwame Opoku

President Mills ‘Fools’ Ghanaian Farmers!

A strong army, it is said, goes on its stomach. This adage buttresses the essential role agriculture plays in the Ghanaian ‘ecomini’. Many a times our political leaders have argued that agriculture is the backbone of Ghana’s economy. This is due to the contribution of the sector to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). For instance, in 2008, the agricultural sector contributed over 37% to the GDP. This feat in addition to the sector’s provision of over 70% of the food requirements of the country, 60% of labour force, a linkage with the manufacturing industries, provision of foreign exchange, among others, has compelled successive governments to put in place measures to use agricultural wealth as a springboard for the country’s overall economic development. In the early sixties, Nkrumah’s CPP built several state farms and factories with a view to ensuring that the country would achieve self-sufficiency in food production. However, all the factories including the Ghana Food Distribution Corporation were sold by Rawlings’ PNDC, some in the name of the so-called divestiture but regrettably the several billions of Ghana cedis earned from the sale could not be accounted for. ‘The Operation Feed Yourself’ introduced by Acheampong’s SMC I in the late seventies could be described as one of the best practical programmes in the annals of Ghana’s history but unfortunately this programme could not be sustained.

On assumption of office in 2001, the Kufuor-led NPP administration showed a high level of commitment in the agricultural sector. In fact, it was the party’s vision to modernise the agricultural sector in order to transform the economy and consequently reduce rural poverty. By 2002, the yearly growth production of the sector had increased from 2.1% to 4.4%. Again, by 2006, the production had increased to 6.5%. In view of this, Ghana was able to achieve self-sufficiency in most staple crops – maize, cassava, yam, plantain etc under the NPP administration.

One of the remarkable achievements of the NPP was in the area of cocoa production. The government’s Mass Cocoa Spraying exercise, which provided over 50,000 jobs for the youth increased the annual production from 350,000 metric tons in 2000 to 750,000 metric tons in 2006. This feat alone moved Ghana from the 4th position to the 2nd position among the world’s leading producers. Besides, the cocoa price of 64kg a bag was increased from 21.7 Ghana cedis in 2000 to 102 Ghana cedis in 2008. It is again significant to note that the NPP paid a whopping sum of 608.2billion cedis as bonus to cocoa farmers between 2001 and 2009. Whilst these bonuses were being paid once and twice every year by the NPP government, the National Diabolic Congress (NDC) administration paid bonuses only in 1992 and 1996.

Readers would agree with me that pests and diseases is one major problem facing agriculture in Ghana. Farmers over the years have also had to deal with increasingly expensive inputs because of high rate of inflation. This therefore requires that fertilizers are made affordable and available to farmers. To this end, the NPP government reduced the price of fertilizer drastically. For instance, a bag of fertilizer that was sold at 52 Ghana cedis in 2000 was reduced to 26 Ghana cedis. Again, since the cultivation of crops depends on the availability of rainfall, the NPP administration made sure that ten seriously deteriorated irrigation dams were rehabilitated-Afife, Kpando, Bolgatanga, Mankessim, Weija etc. In effect, the rehabilitation of the above-mentioned dams, in addition to 80 new small dams and dug outs and 800 new portable pumping machines in the 3 Northern Regions increased the crop area from 922 hectares to 2,326 hectares. Aside, farmers have also been faced with fewer incentives to produce in addition to the general deterioration of necessary infrastructure and services. For instance, post harvest losses continue to make farming unattractive. Since time immemorial, bumper harvest has led to the rot of many perishable commodities like tomato, pepper, garden eggs all due to inadequate storage facilities. The NPP therefore provided some storage facilities for the preservation of these perishable products. Though these facilities were inadequate, the establishment of warehouses in Ejura, Wenchi and Sunyani was geared towards the solution of the problem.

It has also been argued over the years that Ghana could achieve self sufficiency in food production if our farmers embarked on farm mechanization. This is because the use of simple implements - hoes, cutlasses etc. could only produce food for family consumption with little surplus for commercial purposes. The NPP under the distinguished leadership of President Kufuor established (9) nine Mechanization Centres to enable farmers access the tractors and also to service the 2,052 new tractors, 30 mechanical and solar dryers, 400 multi-purpose threshers, 20 oil palm and sheabutter processing machines, 326 power tillers, 30 fruit and vegetable processing machines, among others which were made available during the NPP era. Moreover, the party demonstrated that agriculture is not limited to only farming. President Kufuor therefore created the Ministry of Fisheries to address the problems in this sub-sector. In addition, 14 modern fishing harbours were built along the coastal areas to enhance the activities of the fisher folks.

My dear readers, it must be placed on record that the Presidential Special Initiatives (PSI) on cassava, oil palm, plantain etc implemented by the NPP government, which could be likened to Nkrumah’s State Farms and Acheampong’s Operation Feed Yourself (OPY), could have made Ghana a force to reckon with in terms of generation of employment, achieving self-sufficiency in food production and economic growth. It was a practical way of state intervention in agriculture but as we all know the policy has not achieved the desired results because of our inability to deal with the teething problems. This clearly shows that there is a need to empower the private sector to take us to our economic destination. Many perishable commodities still rot in the farms whilst the rest encounter difficulty in getting to the marketing centres due to inadequate transportation facilities. The roads in our farming communities are bad and the situation becomes worse during the rainy season. Before the NPP took office in 2001, the total road network including Nkrumah’s Motorway was 39,000km. However, as at the time the NPP left office in 2009, this has increased to 64,000km, a feat which will be difficult for the National Disappointed Congress (NDC) to overturn. This expansion includes feeder roads in the hinterlands and other farming communities.

Nor is this all, for, the exhibition of good governance that characterised the 8-year NPP administration enabled the country to access a cosmic sum of US$547 million from the US government for the initiation and implementation of pro-poor policies especially in agriculture to reduce poverty levels in rural areas. It is also a fact that our farmers need guaranteed prices for their products. The NPP administration therefore opened markets for these producers in the US through the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which also collaborated with our ECOWAS partners to organise trade fairs. The government further supported the exporters with more aggressive promotion activities through the Export Development Fund (EDIF), which invested nearly 70 billion Ghana cedis in export promotion with 28% going into agro-processing. The micro-finance loans to farmers, the reduction of interest rate from 50% in 2000 to 24% in 2008, the plethora of commercial banks, among others enabled farmers and fishermen to access affordable loans on time for their economic activities. The NPP also realised that there was a need to improve the health needs of our farmers who are mostly aged due to the rural-urban drift. Hence in 2003, the party introduced the National Health Insurance Scheme to replace the NDC’s inhumane Cash and Carry system which consistently increased the mortality rate between 1981 and 2000.

It would interest readers to note that the above pragmatic policies and programmes went a long way in reducing poverty levels of farmers from 51.7% in 1999 to 28.5% by 2005 and to 27.4% in 2008. This, the party believed was not enough and decided to add more value to agricultural products if it was given the mandate in 2009 but unfortunately Ghanaians decided to mistakenly try the law professor who swore and used the tribal card, intimidation and propaganda to give Ghanaians a ‘Better Ghana’.

Fellow Ghanaians, in this 21st century all the problems that have affected the agricultural sector over the years are still with us - inadequate capital, inadequate storage facilities, inadequate irrigation facilities, bad roads, lack of guaranteed prices, lack of extension services, pests and diseases, poor varieties of crops etc. But I remember in one of our Agricultural lessons at Abodom Methodist Middle School in 1984 the afore-mentioned problems were discussed. I also remember the said problems being discussed at Opoku Ware School and Wesley College during our Agricultural Science lessons. It therefore took me by surprise when in 2000 at KNUST; our Geography lecturer repeated the same problems in our Human Geography lesson. And I am very sure that these agricultural problems are being discussed in all our educational institutions as I write this piece. So the question I pose to our political leaders is; why have we as nation not been able to solve at least one agricultural problem in the last 50 years? What is wrong with our leaders? Do they really think at all? And if they do, what do they think about - their girlfriends, family members, friends, party foot soldiers?

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the major problem facing our dear country today. We boast of having the best academic and respectable titles-Prof., Lawyer, Rev. Dr., Pastor, Nana, Na, Archbishop etc but our cities are still filthy, 56 billion are being splashed on renovation of only 7 ministerial bungalows whilst school children study under trees, unemployment and poverty levels are high, food prices are escalating, social vices are on the increase, the NDC foot soldiers are being given red carpet, Ghana is still a net-importer of food, there is high level of corruption among public officials - Muntaka, Ayariga, Baba Kamara, Alhaji Mumuni, Sipa-Yankey etc yet another ‘nutter’ Alex Sebgefia babbles that the President is a lawyer, the Chief of Staff is a lawyer, his deputy is a lawyer and the spokesman is a lawyer. Does one being a lawyer merely solve the above-mentioned problems? What is the benefit of the so-called academic titles/knowledge if such knowledge cannot be used to transform the lives of the ordinary people? I would have wished Alex Sebgefia to say this; the President is incompetent, the chief of staff is a ‘team B’ player, his deputy is a ‘nutter’, the spokesman is a thief. This would have made sense to Ghanaians because according to Robert Green Ingersoll; it is a 1000 times better to have common sense without education than to have education without common sense. I am sure Hannah Bissiw is reading this piece.

I personally cannot fathom why Prof. Mills does not see himself as the President of the Republic of Ghana. He still thinks he is on a campaign trip. How long can he pay lip services to our farmers? A couple of weeks ago, the President who promised to pay 80% of the producer price of cocoa to cocoa farmers was supposed to unveil plans to revamp the agricultural sector but rather turned to the issue Ya Na’s death. To this he said, ‘The government would bring justice to the people of Dagbon by finding the murderers of Ya Na - Yakubu Andani II and his 40 elders as part of our commitment to the rule of law’. In fact, to the surprise of some of us, that was not the first time the president was making such a pronouncement. Prof. Mills has been the Chief Executive of this country for nearly 12 months and yet not a single perpetrator of this heinous crime has been arrested by his government. So the question is; when will those killers whom then candidate Mills claimed in 2008 to have paraded the principal streets of Yendi with some parts of the late Dagbon Overlord be arrested and prosecuted? Again, when is his government going to provide Ghanaians with the list of names of the so-called 40 elders who were assassinated together with Ya Na? All that we hear is that Ya Na and his 40 kinsmen were killed on that occasion as if the number 40 represents the proper names of the kinsmen.

According to Peter F. Drucker; there is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all. This is what is prevailing in Mills’ administration. For the past 11 months, the hope of Ghanaians is completely lost. Mills-led National Disaster Congress (NDC) administration has proven beyond all reasonable doubt that it is a complete failure. It has failed in all sectors - education, health, good governance, employment generation, economy, among others. The party simply lacks the competent team to perform hence the accolade ‘Team B’ cabinet. It is indeed a terrible party of opportunists. They have been peckish for the last 8 years and have only come to fill their stomachs. Has anybody thought about why a whole founder of this diabolic party referred to them as ‘greedy bastards’? Why should anybody deceive himself into thinking that the likes of Anyidohu, Kwetey, Ayariga, Okudzeto, Benyiwa-Doe, Gbevlo-Lartey and Segbefia could make any positive contribution to the development of Mother Ghana? Does Ghana lack quality human resource to manage this dear country of ours? ‘Ah! Ghanafoo ato aba bone’ (Ghanaians have wasted their votes). The NDC brags that high taxes have been imposed on imported rice as a means of encouraging local production of the commodity. Is this not funny? Do they have economists among them? If yes, do they know anything about elasticity of demand as far as the consumption of rice in Ghana is concerned? Why did the party not increase taxes on foreign alcoholic drinks such as Guinness so that Ghanaians will consume ‘akpeteshie’? What prevents the government from producing quality and affordable local rice to enable the consumer to make a rational choice? Can I invoke the spirits of ‘Anto Nyama’ to curse the president and his ‘mediocre’ team should any of them eat any imported rice henceforth?

In winding up, I urge the president and his incompetent team to move quickly to unveil practical programmes and policies to bring to an end the major problems that confront the agricultural sector. Such policies should be geared towards improving the transportation network, guaranteed prices, adding value to the products, provision of affordable loans, irrigation and storage facilities, provision of subsidies for production inputs (fertilizer, insecticides, fungicides and equipment), farm mechanisation, timely provision of pre-mix fuel and improving social amenities in the rural areas. In this way Ghana as a country would not be addressing the same agricultural problems in the years ahead. The Ghanaian farmer deserves better. ‘Obanyansafoo y3bu no b3, na y3nka no as3m’.

God bless Ghana! God bless NPP!! God bless Farmers!!!

Katakyie Kwame Opoku Agyemang, MEd. Hull, UK

kpaulucious@yahoo.com 07944309859 “Vision, coupled with persistency, results in true success”