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14.02.2006 Feature Article

Historical Odyssey 3: In Search Of Innovative Agricultural Policies

Historical Odyssey 3:  In Search Of Innovative Agricultural Policies
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Jonathan Swift, waxing prophetic wrote: “Whoever could make two ears of corn or two blades of grass to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before would deserve better of mankind and do more essential service to his country than the whole race of politicians put together”. See Gulliver's Travels.

Perhaps in line with this thinking, Thomas Jefferson also commends anyone who introduces new species of plant to his country. So, all kudos to Ghana's Tetteh Quarshie.

In 1876, the famous Tetteh Quarshie returned from Fernando Po (now Bioko in today's Equatorial Guinea) and brought along with him, some ! cocoa beans, a crop of which he had no way of knowing at the time would bring huge transformation to the Ghanaian economy.Tetteh Quarshie was born in 1842 to a farmer from Teshie known as Mlekuboi. His mother was known as Ashong-Fio from Labadi, both hailing from the Ga-Dangme ethnic group.

It all started in 1870 when Tetteh set off to modern day Equatorial Guinea and worked for several years on Spanish plantations there. On his return, about 6 years later, he wasn't empty handed. Secreted in his belongings, at great personal risk because the Spanish jealously guarded the secret of cocoa, were some cocoa seeds.

He planted them on his farm in Mampong in the Ashanti region and eventually managed to grow several seedlings. His friends and relatives soon got in on the act too, followed closely by farmers from across the region. This was the start of something quite revolutionary for Ghana, th! e very beginning of its cocoa industry. Ghana was on the brink of one of its most successful periods in history.

Tetteh Quarshie's small visionary action had a multiplier effect on the Ghanaian economy; it produced a radical transformation, which is the driving force in today's economy, more than ever. Without the introduction of this species (cocoa), that was new to the country at the time, how would Ghana have fared? Why can't similar actions be taken today by any of our agriculturally-minded and investment-focused Diasporeans? All it cost Tetteh Quarshie was his time and effort. In previous Historical Odysseys on Agricultural Policies of Ghana, it has been demonstrated that Ghana needs a radical transformation in this area because we do not grow enough food to feed our people. Taken literally, Swift and Jefferson would be seen as presenting simple p! anacea to our simple yet seemingly complicated agricultural problems. A radical Unimodal approach as previously outlined would expose Swift and Jefferson's beneficial truism for Ghana.

Arguably, Jonathan Swift and Thomas Jefferson died ages ago and never had Ghana in mind when they made those profound statements that some argue are relevant to a Case Study of Ghana's Agricultural Policies.

So we turn to modern times and to Canadian living legend Lyle Vanclief, born 1943. He served as Canadian Agriculture Minister from June 11, 1997 to December 11, 2003. He was committed to working toward an agreement through negotiation at the World Trade Organization that would level the inte! rnational playing field upon which Canadian agriculture sector competes. He said:

"Consider a farmer in Ghana who used to be able to make a living growing rice. Several years ago, Ghana was able to feed its people and export their surplus. Now, it imports rice. From where? Developed countries. Why? Because it's cheaper. Even if it costs the rice producer in the developed world much more to produce the rice, he doesn't have to make a profit from his crop. The government pays him to grow it, so he can sell it more cheaply to Ghana than the farmer in Ghana can. And that farmer in Ghana? He can't feed his family anymore."

It has been noted by others that when rich countries subsidize domestic production, excess output is often given to the developing world as foreign aid. This process eliminates the domestic market for agricultural products in the developing world, because the products can be obtained for free from western aid agencies. In developing nations where these effects are most severe, small farmers could no longer afford basic inputs and are forced to sell their land.

Is it not surprising therefore that regardless of Vanclief's work, World Trade Organization (WTO) has gotten the Philippines government's commitment t! o lower import barriers to half their present levels over a span of six years, and allowing in drastically increased competition from the industrialized and heavily subsidized farming systems of North America and Europe. A recent Oxfam report estimated that average household incomes of maize farmers will be reduced by as much as 30% over the six years as cheap imports from the US drive down prices in the local markets. The report estimates that in the absence of trade restrictions, US subsidized maize could be marketed at less than half the price of maize grown on the Philippine island of Mindanao; and that the livelihoods of up to half a million Filipino maize farmers (out of the total 1.2 million) are under immediate threat. Are we in Ghana learning lessons from our fellow developing nation, Philippines, albeit, in our case both rice and maize?

Dear Reader, I humbly implore you to reflect deeply on the words of Lyle Vanclief, Jonathan Swift and Thomas Jefferson, whilst searching for analogous famous agricultural enhancement statements from Ghanaians who are not politicians. Let's encourage more Tetteh Quarshies.

The US Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy says corn, soybeans, cotton, wheat and rice are sold below the cost of production, or dumped. Dumping rates are approximately forty percent for wheat, between twenty-five and thirty percent for corn (maize), approximately thirty percent for soybeans, fifty-seven percent for cotton, and approximately twenty percent for rice. For example,! wheat is sold for forty percent below cost.

According to Oxfam, "If developed nations eliminated subsidy programs, the export value of agriculture in lesser developed nations would increase by 24 %, plus a further 5.5 % from tariff equilibrium. ... Exporters can offer US surpluses for sale at prices around half the cost of production; destroying local agriculture and creating a captive market in the process."

Ghana is part of the global market, but unfortunately finds itself in the lower rungs of production of food as one of the least Developed Nations. Yet, it cannot be safely argued that agriculture has received enough attention to feed ourselves. In recent times, local producers of food crops and livestock, Rice and Poultry, have had cause to worry about Ghana's agricultural policies and where we are headed. Customs levies on Rice and Poultry Imports were drastically reduced leading to the flooding of the market with such imports and the strangling of local producers of these items.

Governments have several tools to boost production of local agricultural items quite apart from subsidies. Erection of Trade Barriers to limit imported goods or enactment of tariffs to raise domestic price of imported goods are ways to support and give preference to domestic products. In our case, our local producers are not receiving these impetuses.

What this implies is that should there be disruption in foreign supply, there would be insufficient domestic production with the capability to meet domestic need! s. Is this in the national interest? Dependence on foreign food producers makes Ghana strategically vulnerable in the event of a September 11-like shock or war. Certainly, adequate domestic capability allows for food self-sufficiency that lessens the risk of supply shocks due to geopolitical events. Agricultural policies may be used to support domestic producers as they gain domestic and international market share. This may be a short term way of encouraging an industry until it is large enough to thrive without aid. Or it may be an ongoing subsidy designed to allow a product to compete with or undercut foreign competition. This may produce a net gain for Ghana despite the cost of interventions because it allows the country to build up an export industry or reduce imports.

! The politician in Ghana makes headline news when he presents a few cutlasses and insecticides to farmers whose votes he desperately needs. This need not be so. Agriculture should not be a 'show and tell' kind of side show! Government can proceed in earnest with purposeful agricultural policies. As shown in Historical Odyssey Chapter two, uncultivated acres of arable land in Ghana are about twice of that under cultivation. Unemployment in rural areas has been on the rise with lack of population control. Why is Government finding it tough to come up with a policy to take advantage of uncultivated arable land and unemployed labour? Farmland, with the right policies can retain a large rural population growing food for their own use.

The Minister of Fisheries attended an Aquaculture event in! Ghana within the past few days. Gladys Asmah, The Minister, spoke about the efficacy of aquaculture as a supplement to regular fishing. Then her Chief Director took the floor to identify drawbacks to such policies, with the usual excuse: Lack of Funds! Are we so bereft of vision? A concerted national approach to funding of agriculture in its entirety should surely find precedence in our national budget allocation.

It has been noted that many countries including Ghana don't grow enough food to feed their own populations. Ghana could use new improved farming methods to grow more food, with the ultimate goal of feeding herself without need for outside help. New greenhouse methods, hydroponics, aqu! aculture, R/O Water Processors, hybrid crops, fast-growing hybrid trees for quick shade, interior temperature control, greenhouse or tent insulation, sun lamps and other cheap tech can be used to grow crops even on previously unarable land, such as rocky, mountainous areas of Ghana. More food can be grown, using these in a Unimodal Structure, reducing dependency on other countries for food.

Replacement crops can also make nations agriculturally independent. Sugar, for example, comes from sugar cane. Ghana can make sugar from sugar beets or sweetener from plants such as these that Accra People call "Nokotso"and “Taami”. Herbs with potent medicinal value grown locally can replace many imported medicines.

Ghanaian farmers must be educated to think outside the box and vary their techniques and products. For instance, some of the country's re! gions have climates that are conducive to growing temperate crops like apples and grapes, which could be turned into fruit juices, wines, and other products. You ask, where can this place in Ghana be? Look no further than the Afadjato Mountains in the Volta Region, or even the top of the Akwapim Range. These areas are all in prime locations that could house greenhouses and other implements of high-tech agriculture at a relatively low cost, and for relatively high profits. If Israel could turn desert land into arable land, why can't we emulate them?

The concept of rewarding the best farmer on National Farmers day ought to be broadened so that the award do not merely go to the largest income earner, but also to those who have introduced new crops with great economic potential. That would give better meaning to Thomas Jefferson words stated above that the best thing one can do for one's country is to grow a new crop species. Alternates of cash cro! ps, like sugar and medicinal replacements, allow the farmer to make more money on the real market, reducing the farmer's dependency on subsidies.

Government must ensure that farmers who produce primarily for export are not exploited and placed at a disadvantage since most produce in developed nations originate from industrial corporations. Lowering of tariffs for imported produce should not be encouraged.

Are there not many more farmers in Ghanafitting Jonathan Swift's description who are more deserving of our gratitude than our politicians? Is one farmer not worth a thousand politicans? What say you, Mr. Politician? Why are you not creating the right incentives for Ghana's entrepeneurs to realize their visions of an agriculturally self-sufficient Ghana? Ghana's farmers are ready and willing to do the hard work. All that they need is leadership.

This Historical Odyssey is on the prowl looking for agricultural policies that are visionary with the potential of uplifting the economy, just like Tetteh Quarshie unwittingly did for Ghana. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

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