The United Nations Food and Agricultural report in 1960 describes indigenous fisher folks in Ghana as one of the most knowledgeable fishing communities in the world. According to the UN report, “the indigenous fishers are among the most rudimentary fishers ever known, even though literacy is practically unknown but the people are intelligent in a way that makes one to believe that much of their fishing activities are controlled by fetishes and taboos.” The UN's recognition of a sacred and well-cultivated knowledge does not only show what Ghana can contribute to fisheries management education but also a validation of indigenous knowledge and its contribution to national development programs.
After 44 years of the UN report, the country laments on the collapse of its fishery sector, which was once hailed as worthy of emulating. How can the fishery industry, the most important food production system and a major source of healthy nutritional needs in the fight against hunger and poverty be led to such a catastrophic end? Fish food has also acted as a hedge between the maintenance of the traditional food system and the dominance of foreign food imports. In addition to preserving our cultural and national heritage, fish resource provides over 60 percent of protein needs to dinner tables in the country and saves millions of children and adults from malnourishment.
A look at the history of food and agricultural development in the country indicates that indigenous knowledge and fishery management programs have successfully sustained fishery exploitation in the past as well as to provide the country food security. It is sad to note that food and agriculture policymakers over the years have consistently and intentionally marginalized native knowledge that is inherently Ghanaian. The failure to adjoin traditional knowledge with scientific education in environmental and resource management as well as food production programs has produced socio-economic delinquencies that are not helpful to a developing economy.
Current events in the fisheries sector have also proven that science and technology are not the only schools of knowledge to progressively, proactively and successfully manage the fisheries sector. For the sector to be proficient and effective in development, its management program should collaborate with indigenous knowledge and experiences resident in traditional communities. The search for practical solutions to end hunger and poverty in the country cannot succeed in isolation but in collaboration and cooperation with other knowledge systems. The proliferation of technologies in our marine waters and the degrading impact on fish production necessitate a multi-perspective approach in food production.
In the last 50 years, the penetration of intensive capitalism into Ghana's traditional fishery sector has disrupted indigenous ecological initiatives and in the process, exposed local food and agricultural programs to external cultural influences. The open access fish policy of 1963/64-1969/70 introduced by Nkrumah's regime undermined indigenous control of the fisheries sector because decision making among many things were removed from the native community and put under foreign authority. The policy allows both domestic and foreign fishers to exploit local fish resources without subjecting fishers to quotas or assessing the quantity of fish stock. This policy is responsible for the influx of factory ships in the country's coastal region between 1965 and 2002. The factory ships often engage in pause fishing, which is, selecting a location at sea and scooping up every fish available. The ships have on board fish processing and packaging plants that enable the caught fish to be processed, packaged and sold back to the host country or exported elsewhere at exorbitant prices. Pause fishing also causes serious ecological degradation to fish habitat and the overall marine ecosystem.
In addition to the failures of the current fishery policy, there is evidence of declining fish stocks and a high cost of food prices in the country. These problems have once again raised the question of how long food and agricultural policymakers are willing to separate decision-making from traditional knowledge. The rampant hunger and poverty in the country shows that those entrusted with the paramount responsibility of improving the social enigma of our indigent communities have failed the people terribly. A good example is the increasing list of marine species extinction in the country's waters, which has degraded the food security system and raised food prices. Hunger and poverty cannot be addressed while the agents responsible for this social and economic exploitation continue to operate in our communities. It is for this reason that I ask the government to diverge from the current food and agriculture strategy and seek a new lore with native fisher folks to come up with a working plan that addresses hunger and poverty in our communities.
Developing a holistic and a cohesive policy is to work collaboratively and cooperatively with the local community and to focus on domestic needs instead of foreign demands and rewards. The evidence is this: Before the open access policy in 1963, fish landings were based on domestic needs. In 1963 for example, the country produced 57 metric tons of fish with focus on sustainability because fish availability was important to the traditions, customs and survival of the native community. But after the policy was enacted in 1963, fish production as well as prices systematically increased. In 1992, fish landings were recorded at 427,000 metric tones but local consumption was below 80,000 metric tones. Between 1963 and 1992, the cost of a pound of red snapper increased about 300 percent, from 80 pesewas (75 cents US) to 12,000 cedis ($2.25 US).
The increasing prices of fish products undermine sustainable marine based livelihoods and makes efforts to achieve food security in the country difficult. The achievement of food security is a tedious process when food and agricultural production is focused on feeding the growing consumerism in advanced economies at the expense of sustainable resource management program at home. The ecological exploitation menace hovering around Ghana makes the task of developing a sustainable society in harmony with its environment and natural resource system difficult to achieve. For the country to develop naturally as well as to promote its political and economic autonomy, the indigenous community should be made active participants in decision-making such that sustainable food and agricultural management programs could be developed to provide available and affordable food to feed the hungry.
Ghana is blessed with knowledge and the political will to lead and positively impact others. Our history in Africa and beyond speaks for itself. Whether the task is to help liberate oppressed countries or to resolve conflicts in neighboring countries, the country has never wavered. Our role in the world has been to develop and export our knowledge, belief systems and in turn, reject cultures that are adverse to our own. The culture of technology is not neutral knowledge or value free because it has an inherent bias that benefits the user and not in the environment applied. Policy makers should not allow cultures that are destructive to mislead us and to always remember that indigenous knowledge is never lost. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.