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Opinions of Friday, 7 April 2006

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

Why Must Some Eat Chicken Only At Christmas?

Easter is fast approaching and I am sure most Ghanaians will not miss the merry making that comes with it. Those with fat wads can?t wait to give it a warm embrace. I am certain some are already worried because they don?t have the financial wherewithal to carry out the pleasantries. It is even worse if you had a terrible Christmas.

In the abundance of water the fool is thirsty is a tombstone that no one who died of thirst is proud of. Yet in Ghana today, with all our glorious natural resources, people eat chicken only at Christmas or on special occasions. Chicken is a delicacy that is literally reserved for the well to do or working few. In Africa must unite, Nkrumah talks about the ability of the Ghanaian to afford eggs and other basics that were previously reserved for the colonial masters. The ability to afford chicken and its products was a milestone for Nkrumah. Fast-forward to today and not much has changed. Our piebald and eccentric economy, gyrating to the whims of outside prodding says it all. Shame on us!!

Why must a country with such fertile land, mineral resources and smart people continue to starve on the basics of life? Why should kids go to school on empty stomach? Why can?t we have a meal plan for all the kids in Ghana? If education is our salvation then we better take a second look. I know the default rag doll that we all love to pounce on is the government. Leadership is so much in short supply that we don?t know where to turn. We have no coherent cascading economic plans tailored towards putting the basics in place. I hope the plan that I am about to lay out will pique your curiosity. Hopefully, your curiosity will transmute into salubrious action on the ground. At worst, this effort can be a public/private partnership.

I want to use poultry, as one example of how we can become self sufficient if we want to. Hopefully, we can employ this paradigm in other areas too. What if we had one hatchery in every region in Ghana? What if we had a poultry feed mill in each region? What if we identify farmers in each region and make them this offer. We will provide the feed, the day olds, and the veterinary needs for raising a certain number of birds. In 6-8 weeks time, we will show up to harvest the raised birds and in return give you a cheque for raising the birds. The birds are slaughtered and processed to meet the demands of the local market and shipped outside if need be. This effort will be in addition to other farm activities that already exist. Sounds simple, doesn?t it? Why can?t we do something like this in Ghana? Why?

Let us now look at the benefits that will accrue to all involved. The farmers will have a swell in their income bag. This will enable them to school their kids and build some wealth. The market will have lean locally raised birds to the expectation of our food authorities. Do we have credible food inspectors in Ghana? At least we will know what goes into raising these birds and the quality of the chicken that we eat. Jobs will be provided to people who otherwise may not have jobs. The increase in production will force down prices of birds on the market. Since these are perishable goods with overhead, the need to sell them at maturity can significantly depress prices should the market be flooded. All of a sudden the average Ghanaian can afford eggs and chicken at cheap prices. Note that the inability to afford chicken currently hedges primarily on cost, thus the need to push prices down. We can even begin to explore markets outside Ghana. The feed mill will also help farmers who raise cash crops like corn and fishermen too. Farmers will be able to sell corn to the mill for some cash flow as they wait for other crops to mature. The net effect is that, these activities will ripple through the broader economy. Hopefully, and without officially banning imports, the local chicken can compete with imports.

Even if we have to subsidize chicken a little more to make imports unattractive, we must do it. It is a much better alternative than just sitting idly as our consumption creates jobs for others. If we can?t produce to feed ourselves, amidst such unparalleled resources, what is our worth? Also, the Dubai Port deal should educate all of us that there is nothing like free markets. We have the responsibility of picking and choosing what areas to keep out of bounds. I strongly believe that food importation should be one such area. Food is more of a security issue than we care to admit. Our economic security will continue to rest with the dogs, economic hit men and charlatans for as long as we are not able to feed ourselves. This is one puzzle that baffles me endlessly.

Now, let us look at how we can creatively fund this initiative. So far, we don?t have a name for program but we can adopt one. Let us call it the ?no chicken left behind? project. We can go outside and take a loan to specifically fund this. Secondly, we can generate revenue from within by floating shares in a company. We can levy special taxes on luxury items like alcohol and cigarettes and use the money to feed our people. We can even opt for a public/private venture where the government, through one time inflationary initiative print money to meet this productive activity. Once we get going, the government can withdraw the money from circulation. So there are all kinds of ways to do this. I sincerely believe that we can simply do this by finding the money within. If I had a say, I will more likely impose taxes on luxuries items and actually also rope in the informal sector to kick off an initiative like this.

Folks, I am very confident that the idea I just laid out can be done without impinging dastardly on the treasury. This approach is also not overly onerous on government. It is more of a partnership that in the end benefits the government tremendously. Indeed, the government must sell any interest it stakes in this project, should it be involved, as soon as it takes off. Through initiatives like this, we begin to show confidence in our people to solve their problems, grow or jump start the private sector, ensure food security, nurture a healthy population and build confidence among Ghanaians about their ability to push their country forward. Indeed the capital outlay for such a project will not surpass the 30 million dollar cost of the presidential mansion but would have positively jolted the economy and its people to prosperity.

Now, let us quickly assay what the current situation is. We import chicken, both day olds and cadaver, from overseas. We literally have no inspection regime and a way of checking on quality. Never mind the bird flu scare that could endanger our folks. The poultry association of Ghana is fighting the government to stanch such imports and shore up local farmers to no avail. There are rumors that the president?s men are gaining profusely from the poultry and rice business. If the latter is true, then we have a serious, if not tsunami size problem. If it is not true, it still does not justify why we must continue to import chicken in a land that is so verdant and blessed with smart people. When I look at Ghana, I see so many wonderful opportunities that we can come together to actualize locally. We can do a whole lot internally and without the help of the IMF or these other potentates who want to dictate to us at every turn.

From now onwards, let us make it our charge to make sure that chicken becomes just the other meat on the plate. Let us make it a point that we don?t send our kids to school with empty stomachs. We can feed ourselves and in the process, create jobs that liven up our economy without taking orders from anyone. As a Ghanaian, are you not tired of being treated like a pauper by this self-serving imperialist? This is the kind of low capital initiatives that our folks must tap into. There are enough examples for us to learn from. We must trust and begin to empower our people to take charge. We will not make it by deflating the confidence of our people and continuously beating it in their head that salvation will come from outside. Our salvation lies within us not from without us. Have you organized any progressive forces lately or today? The time to act is now! Tomorrow may never come!

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.