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Opinion | Jan 28, 2006

Historical Odyssey of our Agricultural Policies


History is an equitable taskmaster. They say history rewards those who pay attention to it and punishes those who don't by making them repeat their mistakes over and over again, for as long as they refuse to learn. How have we fared as a nation in formulating and executing agricultural policies over the years?

When the Colonialist took control of the Gold Coast, their agricultural policy was to turn the colony into producer of raw ! material for export and the importer of manufactured goods for our consumption. From the 1890's, the Colonialists adhered to an agricultural policy aimed at encouraging, educating and advising farmers to produce crops for export, without much support for small-scale farmers to produce food for the local market. The Colonial Department of Agriculture concentrated on the rapid growth in production of export crops to meet the demands of colonial authorities and expatriate merchants. Non-export crops were ignored and relegated to the background with no effort to enhance production. Small scale farmers and peasants abandoned non-export crops in favor of export crops particularly Cocoa, which in 1920's, that is, within 30 years of its introduction in the late 1890's, was accounting for over 80% of exports. Expatriate Merchants imported manufactured food. Gold Coast was to be a crop export nation and an import dep! endent economy.

After 50 years of a policy tailored towards dependency on production for export crops, no incentive for non-export crop, the Blackman took control over government machinery in an era of Self-Government in 1951. Suffice it to say, that the Whiteman was then still directing policies in substantive or advisory role within the Department of Agriculture. It could be argued that this position was in defiance of the conclusions of the Watts Commission on the riots in 1948 that took the lives of Sergeant Adjetey, Corporal Attipoe and one other. The Watts report deplored “the greater interest displayed in export crops at the expense of the crops grown for home consumption”. The Report further noted that the food supply was the lifeline of the colony and that 'work on food crops should take precedence over any further developm! ent in export crops'.

So with the Blackman in control of Government, was the colonial agricultural policy tweaked or jettisoned for a new impetus into non-export crops? Sadly, that was not to be.

At the time the reins of government passed to the Blackman, political considerations set in to influence decisions regarding agricultural policies. Independent farmers in the rural areas tended to support the opposition to the new rulers, who drew their support in turn from largely urban unemployed youngsters and market queens. The new rulers did not rush to change colonial policy that would benefit their political opponents. Additionally, the new government imbibed the modernization and industrialization craze as the gateway to economic development. Thus small-scale rural farmers continued to suffer the same fate under their fellow compatriots just as they did when ! the colonial authorities were at the helm. They might even have fared worse under the new black regime. Whereas the old colonial authorities had introduced poll tax, which forced many rural small-scale farmers to abandon their farms in search of wage earning jobs or veer into cocoa crops for export to earn money to pay their tax, the new self- governing regime set in motion strategy to avoid any dependence on small-scale farmers and further imposed more taxes to finance a rapid import based industrialization.

S.K. Dapaah presenting a report at an Agricultural Transformation Workshop in Abidjan September 26-29 1995 noted that the First Five Year Development Plan, 1951 to 1956, dealt a crushing blow to small-scale farmers. The thrust of that plan encouraged large scale farming under public control in a mechanized setting. Small-scale farming recei! ved a vote of no confidence since to the planners they “could not be modernized and adapted to the needs of the expanding economy”. An Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC) was established to oversee the plan and promote agricultural development. The Second Five Year Development Plan 1959 to 1964 actually expanded the role of ADC to help establish large scale Estate Agriculture to lead the modernization of Agriculture. By 1962, the ADC had accumulated a large deficit and was liquidated. This did not have an effect on the planners who went on to shift focus to State and Cooperative Agriculture in which the Workers Brigade featured prominently to the detriment of small-scale farming. Was it not strange that though much less than 1% of the nation's local food requirement was produced by these Cooperative Farms, greater part of the Agriculture Budget was allocated to them, perhaps because they offered urban employment to the strongest supporters of the government? R! ural poverty was therefore not addressed and was all but ignored.

An opportunity was therefore missed to harness the promising returns on industrialization based on local raw materials that small scale farmers offered simply because private independent farmers' political philosophy was at variance with the ruling party. Is that the whole story? No. During that critical period, modernization development theories had taken root worldwide. Urban development was the 'staple' of policy makers and it was no wonder small-scale rural farming was pushed away from consideration

The next 6 regimes that took power successively in Ghana, namely Ankrah/Afrifa's NLC, Kofi Busia's PP, Acheampong's NRC/SMC 1, Fred Akuffo's SMC 2, Rawlings' AFRC, Limman's PNP, all tendered to favor large scale capital intensive production over small scale production with no s! erious consideration on how to deal with agricultural surpluses, and raw materials. The only exception of the lot here is Acheampong's NRC that propounded 'Operation Feed Yourself' Strategy to promote local small scale production even though the very small scale farmers were denied access to subsidized farming credit and inputs.

Both SMC2 and AFRC were short-lived regimes which, in fairness, could not have done much with the political cauldron they were confronted with. The difference between the other 4 regimes was simply whether socialism or capitalism was the motivating force behind their agricultural policies.

Caveat: 1) The immediate past regime and current regime have not been featured in this discussion. 2) It should also not be misconstrued that agriculture is merely about crop farming: it is not. Agriculture is extensive! and beyond crop farming covering livestock etc.

Several Countries have faced the same issues as Ghana's and several strategies have been adopted to leverage agriculture as the prime stimulus for economic development. Prime Minister Nehru of India had complained in the 1950's that policy makers have relegated agriculture as “'bargain basement' and proposal for urban solutions to essentially rural problems.” When the reins of government was handed to the Blackman in 1951, the Gold Coast faced a fundamental choice, quite apart from other political considerations alluded to in this piece, with people who have run or have been made to run a set of policies as the alpha and omega of development wa! tching.

That fundamental choice was between a strategy aimed at rapid modernization of the entire agricultural sector later to be widely known as UNIMODAL Strategy, and an accelerated modernization strategy that concentrates resources in “a highly commercialized sub sector which results in a development pattern on a dualistic size structure of farm units” also to be widely known later as BIMODAL strategy. These two concepts have been discussed thoroughly by Bruce Johnston and Peter Kirby in their essay “'Unimodal' and 'Bimodal' strategies of Agrarian Change” in their book 'Agriculture and Structural Transformation'. Johnston and Kirby point to Japan and Taiwan as examples of unimodal strategy approach and to Mexico's and Colombia's bimodal strategy approach.

Johnston and Kirby point to the post-war land reforms in Japan and Taiwan as two examples of the initiation of Unimodal strategies of agrarian change that redistributed land on a more egalitarian basis, but within a private property framework.

Without straying further from the subject matter at hand, it may be of help to look at what Johnston and Kirby found:

They determined that bimodal strategies had disadvantages in these areas: “they fail to empower poorer farmers directly, with the result tha! t an artificial land scarcity ensues; they fail to maximize crop outputs on a per acre basis because large farm units are often managed extensively; they fail to induce the backward and forward linkages that create off-farm employment in surrounding rural and urban locations”.

Could it not be the case that after Japan had lost the 2nd World War, they really did not have much say and had to submit to the victor's reconstruction plans? Would it be far fetched therefore to expect the successive Blackman's government to the Colonialists in 1951 to have adopted the unimodal all-encompassing strategy for agricultural reform?

What would have been the outcome if successive Ghanaian governments had blazed the path towards making Ghana self-sufficient in those basic food crops that are a staple in many local diets? If the unimodal approach to agricultural reform had been adopted, might not Ghana have been able to produce crops like rice, cocoyam, wheat and other basic commodities that are used so often, and which she now has to import from other countries, simply to feed herself? The answer is that it is highly likely that adopting a holistic approach to the agricultural sector would have empowered small-scale farmers and enabled them to adopt new farming and marketing techniques that would have placed them at the forefront of Ghana's own economic rejuvenation.

In Ghana, the greatest impediment to agricultural transformation remains the failure of our leaders to undertake Land Tenure Reform. Our Historical Odyssey led us right back to the failure of our leaders to deal with Land Tenure Reform though it is the bane of our economy.

Mojo Odyssey on the prowl for Ghana's Historical Agricultural Odyssey. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Ebby Koney
Ebby Koney, © 2006

This author has authored 22 publications on Modern Ghana.
Author column: EbbyKoney

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