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Opinions of Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Columnist: Abugri, George Sydney

The story of Kwame Nkrumah’s milk farm at Amrahia

By George Sydney Abugri

THE location could provide a romantic setting for the shooting of motion pic¬ture scenes. It looks the ideal location for a great king's castle, a billionaire's estate or a world famous monas¬tery.

For sheer scenic beauty and serenity, the place looks almost unreal but the rolling hills and green pastures stretching as far as the eye can see are quite real.

Located somewhere in this vast masterpiece of creation lying about 31 kilometres east of Accra is Ghana's largest dairy farm with a history symbolic of death and rebirth to a new life: Here is the story: The year is 1965. Dr. Kwame Nkrumah thinks up this idea about making Ghana or at least some parts of the country a post-indepedence land of milk and honey.

Nkrumah decided to deal with the milk first. Canned milk is not bad but nothing beats fresh milk for taste, refreshing quality and nutritional value. Dr. Nkrumah knew that fresh milk comes from dairy farms and that to feed a large population with fresh milk, you need a large dairy farm.

The Amrahia Dairy farm was one of the projects Nkrumah embarked upon under his programme of industrialization. Like most of the projects he embarked upon the dairy farm saw a decline when the government of the First Republic was interrupted by the overthrow of Dr Nkrumah in 1966.

The subsequent govern¬ment took a look at Dr. Nkrumah's “fresh milk for the people” plan, and realizing that milk production and consumption in Ghana was markedly low, continued the development of the farm.

By 1974, the basic in¬frastructure needed for the dairy project was ready. Local cattle do not produce milk all year round. The government therefore brought in a herd of 100 Freisan cattle from Brit¬ain in 1974 and a herd of 200 Jersey breed from Holland in 1976.

The Amrahia Dairy Farm was designed to also pro¬vide facilities and resources for the use of students of agriculture and for research tailored to benefit local farmers.

The farm’s central administrative building which is the first the visitor comes up to from the far entrance to the south, is perched on the crest of a hill. From the hill crest you see cattle grazing on the vast green pastures below and the tiny figures of workers tending the pas¬tures.

Immediately below, at the foot of the hill is the milk factory, cow sheds and buildings housing other equipment needed for the processing and packaging of fresh milk. From the hill top you can barely make out a dim outline of the Larteh area sprawling along the sky¬4ine to the east. There is Aburi to the north.
Peduase Lodge lies in the same direction. You can make out the Adjankote television transmitter. The Tema Oil Refinery is also barely visible to the south. The architec¬tural elegance of the SSNIT housing estate at Adenta to the south-east is enhanced by the view from the angle and height of the viewer on the hills. No better location could have been chosen for a dairy farm.

For several years after the dairy farm began production in 1977, every¬thing seemed to be going on well. From a few hundred, the dairy herd on the farm rose to nearly a thou¬sand. Customers trooped there for milk. Fan Milk was one of the largest consumers. The university community at Legon de¬pended almost wholly on the farm for fresh milk.

Then misfortune struck in 1979: Shortly after June 4 uprising, the farm's supply of water which is a vital resource in the operation of a dairy farm was inexplicably cut off from the source of sup¬ply at Ayi-Mensah. The farm's dairy cattle began to die from dehydration.

The situation became very critical and then turned into a nightmare. In desperation the farm's management tried to get in water by tankers but the tankers were few and far between. At one stage the cattle were dying at the rate of up to 30 a day.

“Whenever a tanker arrived, the lean, dying cattle would move in a swarm after the tanker. It was really pathetic. When¬ever one cow urinated, sev¬eral around would run to its rear to drink the urine”, one of the farm’s managers told me.

The cut in water sup¬ply was only one of the problems the farm was fac¬ing by 1979. The farm had sold some foreign breeds to local farmers to upgrade their stock but had made no follow-ups because of problems with transport facilities. For the same reason, the farm could not collect milk from local farmers.

The remaining few cows on the farm were evacuated at the height of the calamity in 1979. Dr. Nkrumah's dream had shown promise and then collapsed.

In early 1980s, the World Bank agreed to fund a National Livestock Development Project with a hefty grant of some 20 billion cedis. The Govern¬ment of Ghana agreed to chip in a project partner-ship percentage of 200 million cedis.
One of the major com¬ponents of the project was the development of dairy farming. With an injection of funding from the project, the Amrahia Dairy Farm came alive again and resumed the production of milk.
Every morning, farm trucks delivered empty milk containers and collected milk from farm gates for the dairy's factory. Using special equipment, milk from local farmers was tested for possible adulteration, colour, odour and level of acidity.
Only milk which passed the test was purchased from local farmers. When I visited the farm, there were two refrigerating tanks each with a capacity of about 2,500 litres. The terrain on the 650- hectare property of the farm is rough and steep in some parts so I toured the farm with a farm manager in a pick-up and on foot.
Buyers of Amrahia Farm milk in those days in¬cluded catering and food service providers in Accra like Four Flowers Enter¬prise, Shalom, Afrikiko as well as local ice cream and yoghurt producers. Nestle seems to have shown some interest in making bulk purchases from the farm.
One of the local farm¬ers supplying milk to the Amrahia Farm was Abdul-¬Rahaman Kwarteng. We visited his farm settlement near Otinibi to the West of the Amrahia community. He has 380 cows and 400 calves on his farm and now sold between 30 to 40 litres of milk a day to the Amrahia Farm. His wife used some of .the milk to prepare the local cheese known as wagadzi.

I remember posing for a photograph with the farmer, with some of his calves in the background and his wife making some cheese nearby. I left the farm with a gallon of milk, a piece of cheese and fond memories of the paradise farm.
Today, the farm still produces excellent fresh milk and yoghurt. As Ghana marks the 59th anniversary of independence however, there have been renewed calls for a more vigorous revamping and equipping of the farm to operate at its maximum capacity.
Website: www.sydneyabugri.com