It is predictable that if you asked a lower primary kid to draw a hard worker; he or she would draw a farmer. Ask them to draw the most important worker; many children would draw a farmer. Ask them to draw a person undergoing punishment and almost all kids would draw somebody weeding.
In our sub-conscious mind, we all – like our children – know how important farming and fishing are. Yet, at the same time, we make farming a kind of punishment for the more than a third of the population that has elected to feed us from the fields and the high seas. This day, we ask whether Ghana couldn’t have treated her farmers better than she treats them currently. Even for cocoa that our governments trumpet as paying so well; those office workers pushing papers on the haulage and export of cocoa get better paid than the farmer. Ghana Cocoa Board scholarships are meant for brilliant kids and wards of cocoa farmers; but, that is only on the books. Those who actually get the bursaries are relations of cozy politicians, well-paid COCOBOD officials and others who spend the equivalent of a term’s fees on a day’s breakfast. An illiterate farmer from Otwe-beweateh pursuing the same scholarship for one of his seven children could be frustrated one after the other by the go-come, go-come syndrome in our bureaucracy.
Maize and other cereal growers are cursed when they reap bumper harvests; because, then, prizes drop to the ground. When the crop fails, farmers have to rely on their relations in the urban areas or abroad for lifeline, or starve. Television Africa, last year, showed a news item in which a whole crate of 140 oranges were sold at the farm gate at Ayensudo, Central Region, for Five or Seven Ghana Cedis. Roads in those areas are impassable and every farmer there is living in penury. Those who just go to buy the oranges to sell in the urban areas and those who buy them to eat or throw away are way richer than those who spend years producing. There must certainly be something wrong with our system.
All our political parties – including those in opposition – maintain that agriculture should be the engine of growth. They say farming and fishing is the mainstay of the economy. And that, if we have to industrialise; our best bet is agro-based industrialisation. Our dream will remain a delusion as long as we pay lip-service to agriculture development. Government should bring pleasure and dignity to our fishing and farming.
As we await the 2017/18 Cocoa Season; the Hackman Owusu Agyeman Cocobod should put stringent measures in place to pluck the holes through which produce clerks steal from the poor cocoa farmer at the weighing scales. Some conscientious media have sounded the warning time without number; but most PCs continue to pilfer kilogrammes of dried beans from each sack of cocoa placed on their scales, because the farmer has no protector. Today, sulfate of ammonia, NPK and other fertilisers that were supplied the cocoa farmer free-of-charge are being sold to him. The new regime pleads that there is no money to buy and dole out. This government contends that free fertilisers are either smuggled out for sale or misused because they are not adequately valued. At the same time, the administration is citing the falling world price of the commodity to say it can neither pay bonuses nor increase the producer price.
These are certainly austerity measures. They become unbearable if the farmer cannot get ready and affordable labour; if the Cocoa Mass Spraying delays till capsids and other pests have devoured a third or half of the cocoa fruits; if beneficiaries of the hi-tech services are selected only from the regime party – as it often is the case.
Under John Evans Atta Mills, the Kwesi Ahwoi Agric Ministry set out to erect a few silos at Takyiman and other cereal producing or marketing centres. It turned out to be a colossal failure. Tractors were brought around that same time for mechanization; the scandalous distribution and monopoly effected by some government appointees are only part of our history now. From the time Gladys Asmah was Minister of Fisheries – through the era of Hanny-Sherry Aryeetey – to date, always Government is building fishing landing pads or sites: few remain completed and functional. The use of pair-trawlers, dynamites, powerful lamps and tiny nets for fishing is illegal; many foreigners and our own brethren engage in the illegality with relish and impunity. So, the poor and un-connected farmer and fisher are the butt of all the crimes, fleecing and unfair deals in our farming and fishing industry.
Aren’t the District Enterprises – otherwise referred to as One-District-One-Factory – being championed by the Alan John Kwadwo Kyerematen going to be, by and large, use agricultural products? I confidently say most of them are going to be agro-based. If we build our industries on this wishy-washy agriculture, we are bound to fail. Kutu Acheampong succeeded for a few years in his Operation Feed Yourself. The same I. K. failed in his bid to continue with Operation Feed Your Industries. Why? The OFY lacked medium and long-term (in short, sustainability) planning. Apart from the condemnable lack of commitment from the Atta Mills/Mahama governments to sustain the Cassava Starch Factory, the Kufuor regime that founded the Ayensu project at Bawjiase must share in the blame for failing to ensure raw cassava would be supplied in needed quantities all-year-round. We fail to plan in this country. And, the reverse is true: we plan to fail.
The increasing high crime, street hawking, prostitution and mass unemployment are partly a mark of rebellion against farming that has been turned into punishment in this country. The wanton mowing of cocoa, oil-palm, rubber and other cash crop trees to make way for galamsey is – to some extent – a furious reaction to the unfair treatment of the people who elected to feed our stomachs and industries. Ghana Today is, by no means, endorsing or even justifying prostitution, armed robbery, illicit gold-digging or any crime for that matter; what I am saying is that the frustration in and low returns from farming and fishing make other vocations tempting, if not attractive. Who will reverse this curse?
Whoever will come and make two blades of corn grow where one used to grow; whoever will come and process almost all the cocoa we reap in this country into priceless goods; whoever will come and make the farmer and fisher lead happy and hygienic lives would be worthy of praise than a whole generation of politicians promising and never delivering. (Our Finance Minster, Ken Ofori-Atta, recently told an investors’ forum abroad that – whereas we sell the raw beans for just US$5billion as price-takers; those who buy from us add value and make US$140billion out of it. How do we get out of this pathetic farming situation in Ghana? It takes making good policies. It takes dedicated implementation of the good policies. It takes inspiration and perseverance. Is our government listening?
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