I am beginning to have a strange fear about the political and economic growth of this beloved country of mine. Maybe I am becoming paranoid and would be happy for a proper diagnosis so that I may consult a good psychiatrist.
What are we doing to ourselves now by seeing everything from partisan lenses? Even communal labour in rural areas have been turned into NDC and NPP matters. You dare not proffer an opinion on anything without being branded as an NDC or NPP person. My fears are even exacerbated when I consider otherwise good intellectuals now twisting their commentaries to merely score political points.
Did we all not agree to accept democracy when we adopted the 1992 constitution? Did that not imply the expression of alternative views and suggestions without drawing swords? I pity the law enforcement agencies whose work is gradually becoming so difficult because of needless political coloration.
My fears are even more pronounced anytime we have to discuss the current banking and financial crises and the cacophony of “no payment, no vote” sounded by “victims”. This posture is without regard to how the crises arose, the cost and methods of paying those whose funds are involved and how we are going to stem a repetition of the factors that gave rise to the present uncomfortable situation.
Suddenly, there is a pretention of no wrongdoing at all by any official that led to the current debacle from the banks and NBFI space or even the Regulatory bodies. Sympathies appear to be swayed in favour of the perpetrators of the debacle instead of those tasked with cleaning the mess against near impossible alternative strategies; all because of politics.
Just arraign a suspect to court and suddenly people begin to look at which party the alleged offender belongs to before they even consider the merits of the charges and the incalculable blow the economy has suffered as a result of the infractions.
Free SHS graduates
My second source of apprehension has to do with the new set of graduates that are going to join the queue for jobs; those euphemistically called Akufo-Addo graduates. Yes, education is good for everybody but my worry is the kind of mentality that these students join the world of work with. Here are people who have been made to think that they are entitled to white-collar jobs because they have graduated from secondary school at a time when graduates from some universities have been unemployed for quite a few years.
Here are graduates who have been fed in secondary school without any input from themselves or their parents and guardians. To what extent have we equipped them to face the world of work, particularly the horde that have been shoved through the grammar type of education with disdain for technical and vocational skills?
Exponential growth in the street selling
My fear is heightened each time I drive past and see how the number of street sellers have suddenly multiplied. I am frightened by their new-found aggressiveness as they sell their wares. I particularly fear the young men who would want to clean your windscreen and bark at you or draw knives if you dare ask them to stop. I am afraid because they vent their frustration on me without realizing that I am not responsible for the taxes they pay, nor have I any role to play in who they vote for, why they vote for such persons and how they vote… out of a free will or against financial inducements.
I am afraid of the uncontrolled rural-urban drift and the increasing despondency that have bedeviled living in the rural areas while the cities are bursting at the seams with heightened insanitary conditions, haphazard housing and a rising crime wave.
Increasing debt burden
I am afraid of the increasing debt to GDP ratio and wonder what we have done with all those monies we have borrowed over the years and whether we have significantly improved our capacity to pay these loans when due. My fear is rooted in the recognition that we all know that our development trajectory is lopsided but governments upon governments have not succeeded in fundamentally shifting the development nexus to a self- reliant economy in spite of different slogans over the last fifty years.
To read from the Ghana Statistical Service that agriculture contribution to Ghana’s GDP has been consistently falling over the years makes me want to cry. Why spend over USD.500million annually importing rice alone? That we continue to import even tomatoes and onions from our Sahelian counterparts is a major shame for all Ghanaians to share.
This week, watching farmers from Upper West Region with sullen faces on television lamenting about a glut in tomatoes output without corresponding buyers saddened me to the marrow. I bet the cost of just 10 V8 vehicles in the public sector can set up a mini-factory to process the excess tomatoes. I wonder how the farmers are going to generate incomes to pay for the cost of fertilizers and other inputs and whether they would have the same zeal to cultivate in the next season.
Luck lustre agricultural growth
The World Bank has admonished developing countries to place more emphasis on developing agriculture for their economic growth, instead of depending on an exhaustible resource like oil. It is not as if our leaders are unaware that this is where we have a comparative advantage. Even the UAE economy is under severe stress from falling oil prices. Nigeria’s economy is tottering from the same crises and we continue to pat ourselves over our insignificant production levels at the expense of agricultural growth.
Nobody likes to be chastised but the truth is that the solution to a problem begins with an admission that indeed the problem exists. And the problem in Ghana is that we are performing far below our potential as far as agriculture is concerned. And things become even more problematic because we do not seem to be making any significant inroads into linking agriculture to industry.
Immigrants, including Ghanaians, continue to undertake hazardous journeys through the Sahara desert and Mediterranean sea to seek greener pastures in Europe. Watching the gory scenes of death and desperation makes me wonder whether our leaders have not let us down. These same souls could be gainfully employed through agricultural pursuits.
What at all does it take to feed this small country that we cannot fix permanently?
Before geopolitical interest groups succeeded in dismembering Libya, a desert country, friends who have lived there before spoke highly of the country’s agricultural exploits in spite of the unfavorable desert vegetation, during Ghadafi’s reign. We are told of irrigation schemes with water sourced from the depths of the desert and effectively used to promote agriculture.
Hearing such stories makes me wonder whether Ghana’s democracy in its present form, with all the ideals of personal liberties and freedom to “choose to be needlessly vocal, lazy and poor” are not to blame for our less than optimal economic growth. And we continue to talk unashamedly about getting independence with the Asian tigers around the same period!
Over fifty years on, we are producing graduates who look down on agriculture with such uncanny disdain. My love and respect for nature led me to incorporating plantation farming into my retirement plans in my late forties. This was during times that I was earning comparably good emoluments as a bank executive. From this foray into agriculture so far, the greatest challenge that I have faced ironically is the dearth of farm labourers in the countryside.
Any time I see the hordes of unemployed youth in the cities engaging in street selling, sleeping in wooden kiosks, creating slums, so insistent on “their rights” and “contributing their quotas to despicable open defecation and other insanitary conditions in our cities”, my hopes for this country’s future sag, even if momentarily.
This unsustainable lopsided development paradigm that ignores the rural areas and rather consciously promotes rural-urban migration must be reversed through an agricultural revolution, on a much bigger scale than whatever achievements we claim to have made over the last few years.
Unfettered freedom in its current form in Ghana, cannot be a catalyst for any kind of development. The late Lee Kuan Yew said it so eloquently in his book, “From Third World to First World….”. Where is the leadership to galvanise the youth and sensitise them to really believe that agriculture is not for “the never do well?”
I have read and heard enough about industrialization being the engine of growth in this country. But if such industrialization does not recognize and exploit our extremely high comparative advantages in agriculture, we shall continue to wallow in poverty and hopelessness, while people clinch to the freedom to make any choices, even if these stagnate this country’s growth.
We must purge the citizenry of their scornful attitude to agriculture, by sensitizing the youth especially about how agricultural growth is tied to their future well- being. It is sad to note the pervasive hopelessness of farmers in the rural areas who are stuck with the unfortunate belief that agriculture is only for disappointed people.
Such sentiments make me lose hope for mother Ghana’s future. If we continue to despise agriculture and its players, we shall continue to shout ourselves hoarse and import over $600 million worth of rice and poultry products alone annually.
Shall we continue to unashamedly import common onions and tomatoes from a Sahelian/desert country and still wonder why our cedi continues to depreciate?
Less than 20% of Americans are engaged in agriculture to feed the rest of the population. Yet they still have surplus for exports with value addition. The Israelis are busily engaged in agriculture- their unfavourable vegetation, notwithstanding. In Botswana, it is so exhilarating to find that most of the elite own their cattle farms and love to spend weekends on these farms.
So what does it take to emulate these countries and lift ourselves from our self-inflicted economic doldrums and the resultant hopelessness of our youth? I can’t claim to have all the answer but I believe strongly that a real change of negative perceptions about agriculture is a sure starting point. Even JSS graduates who can barely write their names properly now scorn all forms of agricultural pursuits.
In the late ’60s and early ’70s, there was a sense of fulfillment and nobility among agricultural workers even in the villages. Even our not so educated head of state- Col. Acheampong got his military government to raise agriculture to earn some dignity to the point of self- sufficiency. Some say he merely capitalised on the framework that had been laid by the Busia regime that he overthrew. If we get the results, does it matter whose idea that was?
What stops us from creating inter-ministerial coordination to get every public SSS to produce say forty percent of their food needs on their fallow lands that have become the target of constant encroachment? For schools in the cities which may not have abundant land, what does it take to build cages or fences to raise poultry, rabbits, guinea pigs etc on the school compound to give students practical knowledge about agricultural science? Would this not imbue in them some entrepreneurial disposition to want to engage in various forms of agriculture as a livelihood after school?
What has happened to the various universities’ research farms, when they now have such huge markets with increasing student intake?
Admittedly, the National Service Scheme has some farms of a sort, producing a few thousand bags of grains annually. From a purely cost/benefit perspective, however, their output pales into insignificance. Let us think more commercial than political. A strong Thatcherite hand is necessary to purge people of their entitlement mentality and force them into the field to make themselves “dirty for the right purposes”.
Can we not get the prisons to cultivate large enough farms to supplement feeding that will lower malnutrition in these pseudo concentration camps, instead of officials continually whining about lack of funds for basic needs?
Can we not use some of our energetic, brilliant army personnel to assist in building road infrastructure to propel an agricultural revolution and also help in bridging the budget deficits that appear to be bedeviling our developmental efforts?
With so many students in the free SSS scheme, don’t we have the right opportunity to engage these teeming youth on school farms, at least to feed themselves and simultaneously help to contain the scarce subventions school authorities wait for endlessly?
Just like inter-colleges sports festivals which excite students so much, can we not invent some competition in college agriculture to whip up the same enthusiasm among the students, while supplementing their food needs simultaneously?
I sincerely believe that a true agricultural revolution holds the key to decongesting our cities with the myriad of sanitation challenges that tend to sap our scarce revenues without adding to real economic growth. The spate of unplanned urbanization would be curbed if we can consciously create incentives for people to voluntarily relocate to the hinterlands for the equitable development of this potentially great nation.
Our problem is not lack of resources. It is just the discipline to prioritise our needs. That requires resolute, visionary leadership that will give real meaning to our independence.
The laudable school feeding programme for basic schools can be accelerated without it costing us arms and legs if we promote agriculture with all our hearts and minds. After all, nutritious food does not necessarily have to be expensive; thanks to Professor Akosa for that enlightenment.
There is no excuse for this programme to have even five percent of imported inputs. We have what it takes to provide good nutrition for these future leaders right here if we knit the right linkages from production to marketing in the agricultural sphere.
We need stronger state intervention through subsidies and marketing opportunities to end this stop-go inclination of peasant farmers who make losses in bumper seasons and therefore reduce production in subsequent years.
Considering the current costs of production inherent in all sectors of agriculture, if we continue to pay lip service to agricultural growth and leave market forces alone to determine the allocation of scarce resources, our quest to tame inflationary pressures and deal with the high unemployment situation, would continue to be a mirage.
I hope my fears about the restless youth without direction is only some schizophrenic feeling. What if it becomes a real-time bomb?
The writer is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Bankers, an adjunct lecturer at the National Banking College, a farmer and also author of “Risk Management in Banking” textbook.
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