10.04.2003 Feature Article

Keep The Grasscutter I'll Have The Beef Instead

Keep The Grasscutter I'll Have The Beef Instead
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I must confess my sometimes peculiar taste for the Ghanaian delicacy known under the rubric "Bush Meat". This refers to meat from animals hunted and killed in the wild, to differentiate that from meat obtained by livestock rearing. Among Ghanaians, one of the more popular 'bush meat' is the 'grasscutter' which gets the name from its prowess in cutting (and eating) grass as cleanly as if it were mowed down by a lawn mower! In my youth, I saw some locals rear grass cutters or "Akrantie" as it is also known locally. The efforts were largely unsuccessful in the long run, though; for obvious reasons!!!.
Now, in an effort to increase the meat consumption and well-being of Ghanaians, the Ghana government wants to encourage the rearing of grasscutters. To help in this effort, the government has embarked on this initiative and enlisted the support of an outfit known as the Grasscutter Co-operative Farmers Society Limited. It comes under a program called Grasscutter Production for Climate Change and Poverty Reduction Project. It is supported by Heifer International, an NGO based in the United States (Little Rock, Arkansas) with a branch in Ghana. A visit to Heifer's website taught me that, Heifer aims to, "to offer hungry families around the world a way to feed themselves and become self-reliant".
Heifer has a rather humble beginning from the 1930s. As "a civil war raged in Spain, Dan West, a Midwestern (that is to say someone who lives in that area of the USA) farmer and Church of the Brethren youth worker, ladled out cups of milk to hungry children on both sides of the conflict. It struck him that what these families needed was "not a cup, but a cow." He asked his friends back home to donate heifers, a young cow that has not borne a calf, so hungry families could feed themselves. In return, they could help another family become self-reliant bypassing on to them one of their gift animal's female calves."
To set the ball rolling, the Minister of Food and Agriculture, Major (rtd) Courage Quashiga, has launched a grasscutter rearing project at Pokuase in the Ga District, and as part of the launch, 30 cages and animals were handed over to the members of the Grasscutter Co-operative Farmers Society. The three-year project, which will cost ¢640 million, is to be implemented in the Greater Accra, Central and Volta regions by 120 families, according the Ghana government.
As someone with a lifelong business interest in livestock, in this case Cattle and Sheep rearing, the grass cutter program raised some interesting questions.
Last November, I took a trip to Tamale in the Northern Region of Ghana. I traveled with my mother, a niece, and a friend. As we drove past Nkoransa in the Brong Ahafo Region, the vegetation gradually changed from wooded forest to beautiful grassland. Large expanse of grassland laid bare as far as the eye could see. We crossed the White (and Black) Volta River. As we drove along, my mind was thrown to the grassland of the USA which becomes evident as one drives from the state of Kansas all the way to California. Specifically, the northern Ghana landscape reminded me of the landscape of the state of Wyoming in the USA.
Out of the 23 counties that make up the state of Wyoming, I have traveled through nearly all of them: From the state capital Cheyenne, through to Casper, up north to Cody, down through the great Yellowstone National Park, further down through Jackson Hole, peering through the Idaho and Utah borders along the highway to Rock Spring and on to Laramie. The state of Wyoming has some of the largest and profitable Cattle ranches in the USA. In the US, cattle ranchers do not let their cattle roam highways and towns in search of food. The cattle are largely fed hay which is obtained from grass, alfafa or clove. The ranchers grow the grass from which hay is obtained. I still remember one of my elementary school teachers advising us to "make hay while the sun shines"! I didn't have the foggiest idea what hay was, then. Well, in Wyoming it snows heavily from late September to about late May. The cattle ranchers have a few months of sunshine to make hay!!! But they do, successfully.
In Ghana, where the sun shines all the time, and hardly any hay is made; cattle owners ride their cattle from distant places across towns and villages, farms and settlements where most of the inhabitants have never seen a live cow before. These cattle traverse on farms and other property; foul the air with their refuse; and introduce germs peculiar to animals. Above all, this illegal drive of cows which cause damage to property, has resulted in past and ongoing strife and death among cow herders and property owners. When I was a child, I heard stories that at night, some of these cow herders, actually turned into cows in order to escape the hazards that came with night fall! We always wondered where the cow herders slept during the night!!
On my trip to Tamale I reminisced my youthful thoughts of cattle herders whipping their cattle to encourage the animals to move along. Then, I wondered why the wandering cattle herders could not do as the ranchers of Wyoming did! Why couldn't the Ghana government implement laws that forbid the driving of cattle through towns and villages in Ghana, in this the 21st century of our Lord. Why haven't our agricultural policy makers encouraged a ranching policy whereby cattle will be raised in enclosures in the North where the vegetation is amenable. The huge White Volta could be developed to serve as a channel to provide needed water for the ranchers. It is all about development. I am sure such a program has been considered in Ghana. I told my traveling companions that if we had such a policy in Ghana that assisted ranchers both technically and financially, Ghana would meet her milk and meat consumption and export the rest. In fact, cattle ranching is Big Business, elsewhere. Ask the ranchers in Wyoming; Oklahoma; and Texas.
Another aspect of the landscape near Tamale caught my eye. There were huge patches of burnt grassland that destroyed the vegetation. When I arrived at Tamale, my interest in ranching had jumped a few notches higher. I asked a local why the grassland was burnt. The elderly man explained that every year, they burn the grassland in order to hunt squirrel-like rodents which is a delicacy among the locals. Again, my mind was thrown back to the days my father bought some land upon his retirement from teaching, to grow cocoa in some part of Ghana. When we traveled to our new location to start the farm, we realized along the way that some of the locals cut down virgin forest in order to grow rice! A total and ignominious waste of human potential and natural resource!
I totally enjoyed my trip to Tamale, a city that is devoid of the over-crowding and noise that one finds in Accra and Kumasi. I enjoyed every bit of it, except of course, the curfew at 10pm which rudely brought to an end the enjoyment of cold beer and a chat with some Burkinabe (Burkina Faso citizens) at a local watering hole, regarding cattle ranching up there. I wondered if the locals realized what economic blow the curfew is dealing to them, the same way artificial burning of grassland does.
Upon my return from Tamale, I put some of my views regarding ranching in the north to some of my Dagomba friends. Rather than the north remaining as a backwater of 'poverty' and 'under-development', cattle ranching is a business waiting to be developed in a more businesslike manner. I thought the North had potential to become the bread basket of Ghana in the production of some of our staple food crops. Cattle ranching has an even bigger potential.
Which brings me to this matter of grasscutter rearing. I hope our affable and indefatigable Minister of Agriculture, Major (rtd) Courage Quashiga and the Grasscutter Co-operative Farmers Society Limited succeed in breeding grasscutters. However, in my candid opinion, cattle ranching is the real deal; and as an advert in the USA advises: "Beef is the real meat"!
I encourage minister Courage Quarshiga to look into a policy that encourages, and indeed provides loans for cattle ranching as a matter of national agricultural policy. That will square with Heifer's original idea.

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