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Opinions of Sunday, 19 March 2006

Columnist: Agyepong, Benjamin Opoku

RE: To War Against Unemployment

As an NPP activist residing abroad who have consistently argued for the NPP?s course especially on this network, to say that am saddened by the statement that ?government has directed all ministries to devote 5% of budgetary allocation to national employment task force for unemployment alleviation? is undoubtedly an understatement. It really hurts to see that the party of Danquah-Busiah which has as its core philosophy; the development of the rural areas of the country and to bring employment to the villages, thereby reducing the rural-urban migration seems to lack strategies for the way forward.

NPP now seems to abandoning its long standing strategy of tackling the problem of rural-urban migration from the days of old to follow the tried and failed strategy of solving the same problem from the top-down. In the first place, NPP should know that, by setting up a ministry for the development of the capital city without a corresponding effort to resource the ministry of rural development was a recipe for encouraging the youth to migrate to the cities with all the anticipated consequences. After all, who does not like the life in a modern city?

Ghana is an agricultural country not because she is located in the tropical region but because agriculture employs over 60% of the labor force, and contributes substantially towards the country?s GDP and Export earnings, therefore, any policy that fails to take this into consideration, and integrate agricultural development as part of the broader development strategy is likely to fail. Fire is quenched by attacking the source of the fire and not the flames. Similarly, urban unemployment must be tackled by looking at the supply source of urban unemployment.

We read daily on this website and in many other media, the collapse of the poultry industry in Ghana whiles the import of frozen chicken is gaining currency nationwide. The rice industry, which was hitherto a good source of employment in the Northern Ghana is ?terminally ill?, and economic doctors have ruled out any chance of her survival. Cocoyam is fast becoming history in Ghana, and in place all these locally produced foods, foreign food items are fast replacing them by filling our local markets, it is not only the afore-mentioned foodstuffs that are facing unwanted competition from subsidized imports but also, the textiles industry is collapsing faster than we can imagine. Why should the youth stay in the rural areas if the industry that gave them employment is fast collapsing? Yes, many argue that we live in a different era now, the era of globalization, so we have to open all our industries to global competition. This sounds simple but with catastrophic outcomes like we are witnessing now.

Any government that mortgages its food security to a foreign interest is like a government that cedes its political security to a foreign army, and if it is unthinkable for Ghana to disband its army and places her dependence on any foreign army for protection in times of external aggression and domestic security threats, then it is equally a betrayal of governance to cede our food security to any foreign interest. But unfortunately, that is what is gradually happening in Ghana now. We have allowed unfettered access of our market to our trading partners and the result is the dumping of agricultural produce that is fast killing our hitherto thriving agricultural industry leading to the exodus of youths into the cities in search of gainful employment. We are effectively outsourcing our food production to foreign interest and this is dangerous if not alarming.

Suggested Solutions:

As already suggested, you do not solve this problem by finding jobs for the unemployed youth in the cities. Such measures will eventually double the influx of the youth into the cities since rumors will reach the villages that people are being employed in the cities.

What needs to be done is to protect our agricultural industry no matter the cost, and to make it attractive to young people in order to keep them in the rural areas. I know some may scoff at the idea of protection, since protection did not work out well for our industries in the past. That is perfectly true, but agriculture is not industry, and our comparative advantage in agriculture is being overwhelmed by subsidized cheap imports to our own demise. Without subsidy, Europe and America can not compete with us for food production, even with all their mechanized farming and high yield crops. But subsidy has made food so cheap that they are even able to export to our markets cheaper than they sell in their local markets. They do this to maintain food security and to make sure that people are gainfully employed in agriculture. If this is good for the proponents of free trade, why is it not good for us?

Ghana is allowing all sorts of food to be imported into the country including genetically engineered foods which are believed to have serious health risks. If 80% of the rice we consume in Ghana is imported, and rice is fast becoming a staple food in Ghana even as we speak, then this shows that we are in serious trouble as a nation. We do not seem to have learnt anything from the 1983/84 episode, we all remember that during the hunger of 1983, people left the cities in droves to engage in farming especially grain farming, that rush into farming resulted from the high prices maize and other crops enjoyed and the encouragement the then PNDC government gave to people to go into farming. Came 1984, the resulting bumper harvest led to price collapse and farmers could not even sell their produce, the government too was ill prepared to buy the excess produce since it did not even know what to do with that, the end result was that the people drifted back into the cities to engage in petty trading. This should have taught us the lesson that people would go into farming if they could be guaranteed a living income and a reasonable life as farmers.

How can we guarantee farmers livable income?

Since the government can not impose prohibitive tariffs on agricultural imports, to cut their inflow due to the real fear of retaliatory measures from the same people who donate to finance our annual budgets, we have to tackle the problem from our local end. Two ways come to mind. (1) The government has to subsidize every foodstuff produced in the country so that farmers can get reasonable income from farming whilst at the same time, consumers buy food cheaper in the market. This however, will face serious problems due to our inefficient institutions. How can we ascertain how much each farmer produces? How can we even be sure that the intended subsidies will get to the farmers and not pocketed by people charged with the policy? Providing subsidy to our farmers sounds good theoretically but it will be difficult to implement if not impossible. (2) The second solution which I find a bit plausible is that; the government must either subsidize industrialists to import agricultural processing machinery to set up factories in the rural areas to provide ready market for farmers? produce and sell the manufactured products in the cities or export part thereof to other ECOWAS countries, or the government must import the machinery herself, then ask individuals to form companies for which the machines could be sold to them on work and pay basis. Whichever option that may be adopted, it is important that government dissociates itself from direct production and only work to facilitate the private sector to pursue the endeavor since that had failed in so many nations including Ghana and will never succeed if tried again.

In a nutshell, the solution to the urban youth unemployment is not in the urban centers as many are convinced of but instead, it is in the rural areas where the people migrate from, and simply found by making agriculture and rural living worth staying for.



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