Agriculture as catalyst for sustainable growth
The World Bank has repeatedly admonished developing countries to place more emphasis on developing agriculture for their economic growth, instead of depending on exhaustible resources like oil. Our leaders are not oblivious to the fact that our comparative advantage sits in the agricultural sector and is doubtlessly the catalyst for any sustained industrialization drive.
Yet, all we see and hear is a cacophony of intent to expand the agricultural base but still groping in the subsistence lane when we still have large swathes of arable land to plunge into large scale commercial agriculture.
With over 60 percent of the population supposedly engaged in agriculture but producing barely enough for even local consumption,one needs not be a nuclear scientist to understand that accelerating productivity in the agricultural sector would yield better rippling effects on other sectors of the economy.
Responding to my view that successive governments have paid lip service to making agriculture the engine of growth in the country, a friend repeated the over flogged issue of land acquisition and the fact that most lands are held by a myriad of stools and families.
My quick answer was that where there is a will, there is a way. The construction of Akosombo and Bui dams respectively clearly demonstrates the power of the state to acquire lands, subject to appropriate compensation. Successive constitutions have upheld this state power in the national interest.
I recall how the now KNUST acquired part of Kwamo lands when I was a teenager, with grandma powerless about losing our farmlands and grudgingly accepting what may now be considered as pittance by way of compensation. University of Ghana and other institutions were similarly built under compulsory state acquisition. New Bortianor lands in Accra used to be state farms, I am told. Availability of land should therefore be the least problem to be confronted by a visionary government.
Christmas is around the corner and unsurprisingly, we are being told of low poultry output due to high input costs, especially that of maize. Blaming the changed weather pattern is a lame excuse. If we cannot change the weather, it is within our control to change how the weather affects us.
Importers will capitalize on shortages to flood the market with poor quality chicken and other products, with concomitant weakening of foreign exchange rates.
Among the greatest lessons covid 19 has taught nations is the need for food self sufficiency in the wake of supply chain constraints. It is not only vaccines for the disease which are being weaponized but the conservation of food and related items in the march towards an inward -looking political and economic philosophy, even if nations would not admit this openly.
The global prices of cereals have shot up significantly from reduced output due to lockdowns. This was compounded by unexpected shipping and other inflationary tendencies and logistical constraints. The price of staple foods like bread has shot up locally with the usual complaints. What lessons have we learnt from these developments?
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. What at all does it take to feed this small country that we cannot fix permanently?
Whenever I hear about the continuous mass deaths recorded of African immigrants in the Mediterranean seas, and the perilous journeys some Ghanaians continue to undertake through the Sahara Desert to seek greener pastures in Europe, I feel so much let down by our leaders, when these same souls could be gainfully employed through agricultural pursuits.
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 promote rural-urban migration can and must be reversed through an agricultural revolution.
The last population census clearly warns of the unsustainable rural urban migration and the haphazard developments in the cities, the effect on farm lands, and the massive stress on utilities, sanitation and security concerns. The spate of unplanned urbanization would be curbed if we can consciously create incentives for people to voluntarily relocate to the hinterlands for agricultural pursuits.
The otherwise laudable free SHS policy is churning out thousands of graduates who have not been equipped to stand on their own feet but being admonished to enter entrepreneurship for which they have been ill prepared.
Where is the leadership to galvanise the youth and sensitise them to really believe that agriculture is not for “the never do well”? Attitudinal changes geared towards accepting agriculture in all its forms must be prioritized right from the basic school level.
That industrialization is the engine of growth for this country will remain just a cliché if such industrialization does not recognize and exploit our extremely high comparative advantages in agriculture.
The unfortunate idea that agriculture is for illiterates or disappointed people must be tackled with seriousness. We must purge the citizenry of their scornful attitude to agriculture, by sensitizing the youth especially about how agricultural growth could be tied to their future well- being.
If we continue to despise agriculture and its players, we shall continue to shout ourselves hoarse and import $500 million worth of rice annually and unashamedly import common onions from a Sahelian/desert country and still wonder why our cedi continues to depreciate.
One of the first things a traveler overseas notices is the relatively cheap food prices, especially in the advanced countries. Elsewhere, just about 20% of the population is engaged in agriculture to feed the rest of the population and they still have surplus for exports with value addition. The Israelis are busy engaged in agriculture- their unfavourable vegetation, notwithstanding. In Botswana, it is so refreshing to find that most of the elite own cattle farms and love to spend week-ends away from the cities.
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 which is almost becoming a security concern?
We have ACFTA opening opportunities to feed less endowed countries from our untapped agricultural potentials but there must be a really determined effort, spearheaded by government with direct and indirect incentives like financing and targeted subsidies. Demonizing agricultural subsidies is a hoax if one researches into how even capitalist United States directly and indirectly subsidizes players in their agricultural chain.
I can’t claim to have all the answers to questions posed 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.
Ghana is noted for generating ideas that are easily perfected in other African countries…. Talk about democratic elections, local government machinery, free SHS, the parliamentary and legal systems and the military. But I daresay that ideas are not enough if they cannot be coupled with effective implementation, while we continue to sit with a highly restive unemployed youth.
With so many students in the free SHS scheme, don’t we have the right opportunity to engage this teeming youth on school farms, at least to feed themselves and simultaneously help to contain the scarce subventions school authorities wait for endlessly in each academic year?
For schools in the cities which may not have abundant land to cultivate various food items, what does it take to build simple, inexpensive cages or fences to raise poultry, rabbits, guinea pigs etc on the school compound? Idle school security men and labourers would be put to effective use. Students will obviously gain practical insights into agricultural science rather than the current fixation on examinations. 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 potential markets with the massive student intake?
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 Badu 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 chain.
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?
How about the prisons cultivating 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? The perennial budget deficits that appear to be bedeviling our developmental efforts could earn some deserving respite.
Non-custodial sentencing in courts.
Friends and church members who have visited some of Ghana’s prisons as part of evangelism tell of harrowing stories of grave discomfort among persons who have found themselves on the wrong side of the law and have been incarcerated in the prisons, some for very minor offences.
Somewhere in Europe, we are told about efforts to close down some prisons because there are few inmates and convicts who must be held in these places are becoming fewer in number. This could be attributed in part, to the effectiveness of non-custodial sentencing regime. Not so, with the Ghanaian situation where we are frantically finding resources to expand the prison network to decongest them and make these places less dehumanizing.
That leads apparently naïve persons like me to wonder what the real difficulties are in enacting or amending existing laws regarding non- custodial sentencing or simply charging minor offenders to engage in community service. We have been discussing this issue since I was a young man. Why can we not deal with this issue with the same alacrity as we deal with emoluments of Article 71 officers?
Perhaps the justice ministry, parliament, the executive and some of the loquacious human rights activists will be magnanimous enough to tell some of us less educated tax- payers what is stalling the passage of this law or whatever amendments are deemed necessary.
The current cliché in town is “Operation Clean Your Frontage”. Laudable as the initiative is, I wonder why we are not considering the enabling factors that will make this scheme achieve its objectives, including using convicts serving time for minor offences to undertake some of these exercises. We can simply spare some offenders the ignominy of staying in the dehumanizing prison cells while engaging them in cost saving community service.
If your residence, shop, school, or other facility is situated in a low-lying area in your neighbourhood where flood waters converge, you can appreciate the enormous difficulty imposed on you to clean the gutters and frontage all by yourself.
What prevents us from using some prisoners serving terms for minor offences (and there are thousands of them) to assist in the sanitation drive? Surely, there will be huge cost savings to the national kitty in terms of wages and other costs paid to private sanitation contractors; a cost centre that is so difficult to audit! Or does that difficulty open veritable windows of opportunity for corruption riddled invoices that inure to the pockets of some officials?
Whenever I see the medians on major streets in our cities appearing so unkempt, gutters choked with silt and refuse, I am beside myself with amazement and anger. I cannot help making comparisons to the clean and manicured facilities that I have observed in other countries, even right here in Africa.
Some of us are waiting anxiously for some legal brains, criminologists and psychologists to explain to us the nuances involved in putting convicts into community service. The spending on the prison machinery and the dire living conditions of inmates due to over- crowding defy comprehension. We must resolve to get this law off the ground towards speedy and efficient implementation to decongest the prisons.
The writer is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Bankers and an adjunct lecturer at the National Banking College, a farmer and also author of “Risk Management in Banking” textbook.
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