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Opinions of Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Columnist: Amidu, Ibrahim- Tanko


By Ibrahim- Tanko Amidu
May 2, 2014
In between the end of my 'A' level exams and taking up residence in Vandal city I worked for about 3 months with the Upper Regional Agricultural Development programme (URADEP). Even in those days, I was struck by the huge investment in the administrative infrastructure and wondered how this was going to be sustained by the government after the end of the programme. I have not seen an impact evaluation of URADEP, but I do know that agric in the catchment has not been transformed, give or take a few improvements.
For my post-degree national service, I worked with the Upper regional development corporation, one of a number set up by the Acheampong regime to facilitate regional development. These corporations were into everything, and for the one I worked it their projects included bakeries, cattle ranches, rest houses and running of ‘consumable’ and hardware stores. Apart from the Central regional one which morphed into CEDECOM, none of these corporations still exists and their impact on development in the regions doubtful.
In between these agencies and SADA, the 3 regions of northern Ghana have seen NORRIP, UWADEP and others. Sadly, from what we are hearing about SADA's travails, not much has been learnt from these previous programmes. A nation that refuses to learn the lessons from its past is condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past and to watch its development stagnate. Some of the key lessons which should have informed the design and implementation include:
1) Strategic role of the entity: For such programmes to succeed, they need to be pitched at the level of facilitating the actions of relevant actors, private sector and public. Some of SADA’s actions have been at the level of direct implementation of projects a la the development corporations;
2) Relationship with agencies: Do not attempt to duplicate the efforts of state agencies or compete with them for funding; you will antagonise them and not have access to their resources and capacities. Why should SADA be planting trees when there is a Forestry Commission? Or go into butterscotch production or guinea fowls when MoFA exists? The list is endless.
3) Stakeholder Ownership: The then Northern Regional Minister, Bede Ziedeng, lamented in December 2013 about the ‘lukewarm attitude of stakeholders’ to SADA reflected in their ‘unwillingness to attend meetings’. When the stakeholders don’t have a sense of ownership of the agency and what it seeks to achieve, effectiveness is compromised and sustainability becomes an issue. The three Regional Ministers in northern Ghana were in the news last week making statements that conveyed the impression that they did not see SADA as responding to their needs and priorities. The northern regional minister said it was ‘all about water, for agriculture and for consumption’ and the upper-east minister wanted SADA to facilitate the implementation of the region’s strategic plan….
4) Ghettoization of the programme: Most of the discussions of SADA have presented it as an intervention to ‘bridge the north-south divide’. I think that is a wrong premise to start from. It does not locate the programme within the wider context of longterm national development strategy and thereby misses the necessary linkages with other national strategies and agencies. For example, the agro-ecological zone that SADA encompasses provides opportunities for Ghana to gain a competitive advantage in the horticultural export business to Europe; it also can provide the impetus or be a catalyst for agro-based industrialisation. These are key entry points for national development and SADA should have been seen and supported as such.
5) Rent-seeking behaviour of the political class: It is a truism that the political class will exploit every opportunity to make money at the expense of the state, for themselves and for their parties. It doesn’t matter the ethnicity of the management or Board or whatever. I don’t know why we expected SADA to be different. MIDA, which was insulated from political control, and thereby access to its resources, showed what can be achieved with proper systems and competent staff in place.
6) Development processes don’t follow election cycles: Sustainable and effective development processes require an investment of time and resources to build systems, think through strategies and build relationships/linkages. Any attempt to rush the process results in disaster. SADA started sprinting even before learning how to sit, not to talk of crawling or taking the first wobbly steps. With only a Board and a CEO in place, it proceeded to roll out initiatives that required the presence of the full complement of management.
SADA and similar programmes focusing on specific regions/agro-ecological zones are a good idea. We just need to think smart and think strategic.

*The writer is the Programme Manager of STAR-Ghana