Gardja Writes to the President -elect

Dear Mr. President-Elect
First of all, congratulations on your election as fifth president of the fourth republic of Ghana.

You have earned the admiration of many by attaining an enviable, privileged position in the annals of Ghanaian politics and cemented your name in the history books in thick, indelible ink, never to be forgotten.
Expectations are high across our land in anticipation of the difference that an Akufo-Addo government will make in the lives of ordinary Ghanaians. Expectations which are clearly commensurate with the bold promises you made to the people of this country ahead of the polls.

It’s been gratifying hearing you repeatedly tell the people of Ghana since winning the election that you stand by and will fulfill all the promises you made during the campaign. We all can’t wait to witness those big ideas brought into fruition in the years ahead.
Mr. President-Elect, we (members of the Ghana Agriculture and Rural Development Journalists Association, an association of about 100 journalists and communicators working to increase media focus on agriculture and related sectors and affiliated to the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists) are writing this letter to remind you that you are walking into the highest office of the land at a time when the agricultural sector – the backbone of Ghana’s economy – is experiencing some very turbulent times as you rightly acknowledged when you crisscrossed this country campaigning. And to discuss possible solutions.
Admittedly, the agric sector has been facing challenges since the government of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah but clearly, issues of climate change, bursting population, rapid urbanisation, and most importantly, gross mismanagement of the sector has exacerbated the existing challenges over the last few years.
The agric sector’s share of the country’s Gross Domestic Products (GDP) fell from 21.5 percent in 2014 to 19 percent in 2015. The annual growth of the agric sector declined from 4.6 percent in 2014 to 0.04 in 2015.  The crop production sub sector recorded a negative growth of -1.7 percent in 2015. The cocoa sector produced 22 percent less output between the 2013/2014 season and the 2014/2015 season. These figures on their own don’t mean much, but bear in mind that more than 55 percent of Ghana’s working population – majority of who live in poverty ridden, under-developed communities – are farmers. What this means is that a decline in the fortunes of the sector directly affects their daily bread.
The challenges responsible for the decline, just as the possible solutions are too many to discuss in this letter. But the single idea we will offer you to deal with it is; boost funding to the sector. For far too long, successive governments have only paid lip-service to the agric sector in a way that fundamentally defeats the rhetoric that we consider agric a priority.
For example, in 2015, government approved a budget of GH¢411.82 million for the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA). Out of that amount, only GH¢262.89 million (a little over half) was released to the ministry for the implementation of programmes. This happened at a time that other agencies like the office of the president was receiving allocations of more than 500 percent of what was budgeted for it.

You don’t treat a sector you consider priority like that. Money is needed to keep the offices of MOFA across the country with electricity supply all year round unlike has been the case this year with several of them being disconnected from the national grid because of nonpayment of bills. Money is needed for research so fresh innovations aimed at improving agric productivity can be done. And money is needed to finance the transportation and logistical needs of extension officers so they can get these innovations to the farmers.

The problems with Ghana’s agric sector are well elucidated in our basic school text books and you don’t have to set up a committee to investigate that. They include poor rainfall patterns, lack of market, inaccessibility of farming communities, high interest rates on loans, among others.

Some of the challenges are more inherent and require medium to long term solutions. Our annual food import bill recently hit an unprecedented 2 billion US Dollars. What is even more frightening is that majority of the foods we import are foods we grow or have the capacity to grow locally. Including rice. We imported 527,058 metric tonnes of rice into the country this year, representing 54 percent of the total amount of rice we consumed. Why should this be so? And the story is same with the poultry industry as we continue to heavily import chicken for consumption at the expense of the local industry which is struggling to stay afloat.

In your party’s manifesto, you promised that “the NPP will expedite the full implementation of an active Commodity Exchange using its purchasing power to create demand for locally-produced food items…” We expect you to fulfill this pledge to the fullest. It’s a free market society but we expect government to roll out policies that will aim at aggressively encouraging the local consumption of locally produced food if you are serious about developing the agric sector.

As flagbearer of the Progressive People’s Party Dr. Paa Kwesi Nduom has repeatedly trumpeted, it’s about time that government used its vast purchasing power in the interest of the Ghanaian farmer over the Chinese or American producer. So, we want to see a directive from your office once you assume the reins of power which will read: “Government funds must only be used to buy foodstuff from local producers unless the capacity to produce is non-existent.” Let’s start this from the government Senior High Schools and the School Feeding Programme. That alone will make a lot of difference.

We heard you rightly announce and champion your ‘one village, one dam policy.’ We believe it is a laudable move because it’s shameful that about 40 years after the establishment of the Ghana Irrigation Development Authority with the mandate to help construct irrigational facilities for farmers, more than 90 percent of farms in 21st Century Ghana remain solely dependent on rainfall.

But we believe you really need to take a critical look at this policy proposal and be clear in your mind on what the end game will look like before you roll it out. Because we have seen irrigation schemes like the Aveyime Irrigation Project collapse again after it was revived recently because of high costs of electricity to move water from the dam to the farms.

These are little challenges we tend to overlook in project planning stages and we hope such problems don’t end up bedeviling your initiative. Questions about where the source of water to fill these dams still remain unanswered, further casting doubt on the feasibility of the initiative hence the need for you to take a second look at it.

We read also from your manifesto the talk about increasing subsidies on fertilizers, seeds and agro chemicals; implementing block farming, setting up schemes to attract youth into farming, increasing the number of agric extension agents and so on.

These policies may have good intentions, just as all the plan to build industries in all districts and construct more roads to link farming communities and other areas. We expect you to work towards achieving all these promises. But above all, this is what we expect your administration to do as a matter of priority. Draw and implement a clear cut policy that will fix the broken link between production on the farms, and the available market for consumption of such food. Our team of agric experts will be available to lend our expertise in the drafting and implementation of such a policy if your government needs a helping hand.

The reality is that the biggest challenge farmers face in Ghana today above all others remain getting their produce to the market at competitive prices which they can raise a family on. We are sure you heard that concern on the campaign trail about how a lot of farmers in rural areas are forced to sell their produce at hugely discounted prices, or lose them entirely as they go rotten because of the absence of market, whilst we import food from other countries to feed the urban population. In fact, this country losses more than 400 million US Dollars annually through post harvest losses, mostly at the farm gates, so you can imagine how many farmers are suffering because of the absence of market for their produce. This problem has to be fixed one way or the other.

Fixing this problem requires more than just constructing additional roads and building processing factories and establishing storage facilities. These constitute scratches on the surface of the problem, not fixing it. What is needed is a well thought through, government initiated, private sector led policy that would encourage the springing up of well established produce marketing companies that will buy foodstuff from farmers at fair prices and either sell them to urban residents, processing companies or export them. That’s all you need to do.

Once the farmer starts getting good money for his labour, you don’t have to give him fertilizer subsidy, he will buy it himself. You don’t have to import tractors for him, he will have enough money to rent or buy one. The youth will go into farming on their own because it’s lucrative. Rural farming communities will get richer and thus put our country on the path of uprooting poverty from our land forever. Do this and you will be glad you did at the end of your four year mandate.

We wish you well every step of the way and we look forward to working with you to create a Ghana that provides opportunities for all, including the poor farmer.
God bless you and may God bless our homeland Ghana.

Signed:
Richmond Frimpong
President, Ghana Agriculture and Rural Development Journalists Association (GARDJA)
0268909020

Joseph Opoku Gakpo

Policy Director, Ghana Agriculture and Rural Development Journalists Association (GARDJA)

0247714498

Ernest Kofi Adu
Secretary General, Ghana Agriculture and Rural Development Journalists Association (GARDJA)

0243165584

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