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21.02.2006 Feature Article

Historical Agricultural Odyssey 4

Historical Agricultural Odyssey 4
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GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD AGRICULTURAL POLICIES MUST PLUG INTO ECOSYSTEMS The theme of Historical Odyssey on Agricultural Policies is that succeeding policy makers have steadfastly followed colonial agricultural policy of a Ghana as producer of cash crops for exports and doing little for enhancing domestic crop production for local consumption. The pre-independence Watson Commission made note of this, but their call fell on deaf ears.

The world's premier ecologist intoned long before Jesus Christ was born that “all flesh is grass”. Neither science nor nature has proven him wrong to this d! ay. In the Book of Isaiah, the prophet wrote "all flesh is grass". Modern day Ecologists fondly refer to Prophet Isaiah as the first World Ecologist. Isaiah spoke without any formal classroom training. He clearly articulated that all energy available to organisms originates in plants. Therefore where there is arable land such as there is in Ghana, people must not go hungry. So why is Ghana still unable to feed itself?

Walt Whitman, the famous American Poet (1819-1892), best known for penning “Leaves of Grass”(featured in Joe Pesci's Hollywood movie WITHOUT HONOR) having described himself as 'symbolic representative of common people', said: "I bequeath (e) myself to th! e dirt, to grow from the grass I love; if you want me again, look for me under your boot-soles." He was right on target on the message of Ecologists, however gross it is to imagine that the food we eat, whether vegetarian or carnivorous, is fertilized by dead tissues in a recycling atmosphere.

In the premier edition of Historical Odyssey on Agricultural Policies, India 's late Premier Nehru was quoted as saying in 1950 that policy planners have reduced agriculture into 'bargain basement', proposing urban solutions to rural problems. More than 50 years later, Nehru's words still holds true.

In a February 15, 2006 Editorial of Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Sankoh-Conteh writes: “Africa had stood so still, and with no stint of intellectual display, watched in full glare other continents developed and progressed rapidly. We are now classified as theoretical species displaying raw knowledge in the realm of public debates and conversations. We feed on theories and teach theories to children, youths and adults. Theoretical frameworks in politics, economics and sadly agriculture (Africa's main occupation) have characterized our sociological make up…..Our precious time is spent on rigorous theoretical educational programmes which lack the fundamental imperatives for Africa's survival elements. The continent is still enmeshed in implementing colonial programmes left behind as legacies.”

What did an unschooled prophet, a humble poet, a heralded Prime Minister and an astute Journalist know ! that 'theory-propounding-lacking-practicality-spewing' policy makers don't? Let's see.

Ghana's Agricultural Policy makers apparent disconnect to the potential of energy (basically sunshine), plants and organisms impacts negatively on Agricultural and Economic Growth. A comprehensive Agricultural Policy focusing on Ecosystems and encouraging people to take advantage of natural resources and their environment can easily be incorporated in a Unimodal structure as alluded to in previous Historical Odysseys. Sunshine is free and in abundance year round in Tropical Ghana. So is fresh water from Ghana's inland rivers that flow wastefully into the Atlantic Ocean. No need to go begging for Sunshine from Foreign Donors. Since Cocoa arrived on our shores, the rural farmer has effectively used sunshine to dry it. So it is with pepper and cassava. Agricultural policy makers are yet to teach rural farmers something new about sunshine.

Do our policy makers make effort to push for solar energy in everyday use on farms? One thing God has given us is the hot shinning sun 365/12. Where is the evidence that our policy makers from before Independence have made it their patriotic duty to use our natural and free source of energy, the sun, to enhance agriculture?

Ecosystems have gained high marks from the world's top planners as capable of generating wealth for people living in severe poverty. What better ally there is than nature as a daily li! feline, an asset for those with few other material means? The rural poor in Ghana far outnumber the affluent urban dwellers. Produce from forests, fisheries, and farm fields are a primary source of rural income. However, programs to reduce poverty often fail to account for the important link between environment and the livelihoods of the rural poor. So the full potential of ecosystems as an environmental income earner or wealth-creating asset for the poor has yet to be effectively realized.

Scholars define an ecosystem as consisting of the biological community that occurs in some locale, and the physical and chemical factors that make up its non-living or abiotic environment. Examples of ecosystems are a pond, a forest, an estuary, grassland. The boundaries are not fixed in any objective way, although som! etimes they seem obvious, as with the shoreline of a small pond.

Rather than making good use of ponds or an estuary for example, chemical waste or dirty oil are thrown in. A population of manatees along the Volta estuary has become almost extinct, with no serious effort on the part of policy makers to save them. Clean ponds that could breed palatable fish become garbage dumps fouling up the water. Aquaculture becomes a high sounding project with no serious effort to get people to understand that the tilapia from Japan they buy at Blue Gate, Osu with Banku and Shito could easily be grown domestically in commercial quantities.

We have been blessed with so many natural resources, yet we fail to apprecia! te their interconnectivity. It is no wonder that a subject matter ecosystem is alien to the farmer even though he generally unknowingly benefit there from, without maximizing the yield.

The poor need to harness ecosystem in order to reap its rewards. That means avoiding pollution and other bio-hazards that negatively affect ecosystems. Researchers have noted that without well laid policies and education, the poor tend to fare not too well in taking care of natural resources. World Resources Institutes' 2005 report say: “An array of governance failures typically intervenes: lack of legal ownership and access to ecosystems, political marginalization, and exclusion from the decisions that affect how these ecosystems are managed. Without addressing these failures, there is little chance of using the economic potential of ecosystems to reduce rural poverty.”

World Resources 2005 report on c! ase studies of villages far away from Ghana, could easily be speaking to any Ghanaian village experience. The relevancy of the World Resource 2005 Report to this discussion, justifies a lengthy quotation here:

'“Traditional assumptions about addressing poverty treat the environment almost as an afterthought," said Jonathan Lash, president, World Resources Institute (WRI). "This report addresses the stark reality of the poor: three-fourths of them live in rural areas; their environment is all they can depend on. Environmental resources are absolutely essential, rather than incidental, if we are to have any hope of meeting our goals of poverty reduction."

The report finds that environmental organizations have not addressed poverty and development groups have not considered the environment e! nough in the past. The model presented in the report details how natural resources -- soils, forests, water, fisheries - managed at the local level are frequently the most effective means for the world's rural poor people to create wealth for themselves.

Dozens of case studies detailed within World Resources 2005 demonstrate how local stewardship of nature can be a powerful means of fighting poverty. Control over restoring 700,000 local acres of denuded forests and grazing lands was given by the Tanzanian government to the Sukuma people and they now have higher household incomes, better diets, as well as increased populations of tree, bird and mammal species. Ucunivanua villagers in Fiji were given control by the government of clam beds and coastal waters, and because of local restrictions placed on fishing, mangrove lobster and harvestable clam populations have increased dramatically. In India, community control over the watershed has led to a nearly six-fold increase in the cash value of crops grown in Darewadi Village.

"There are encouraging examples of ecosystems being managed for the long-term to create wealth for poor communities, but there is still a huge job to do," said Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). "Natural resources can be properly used to greatly reduce poverty. The time has come to reverse the course of worsening diseases, depleted natural resources, political instability, inequality, and the social corrosion of angry generations that have no means to rise out of poverty."

While globalization has resulted in greater we! alth for many people in urban areas throughout the developing world - such as parts of China and India - these gains have often bypassed rural areas, except in the rare exceptions detailed in the report. Nearly half of the world's six-billion people live on less than $2 per day. Three-quarters of those poor people live in rural areas. These rural households depend overwhelmingly on natural resources for their income. If these ecosystems become degraded, as many have over the past 50 years, they will never provide the fuel for economic development that will boost the rural poor beyond subsistence and into the mainstream of national economies.

"We need to stop thinking of the environment as a passive element. It is a fundamental part of community-based decision making," said Ian Johnson, vice president of sustainab! le development, The World Bank. "Unfortunately, the poor often lack legal rights to ecosystems and are excluded from decisions about ecosystem management. Without addressing these failures through changes in governance, there is little chance of using the economic potential of ecosystems to reduce rural poverty."

"Community stewardship of local resources should be a critical element of any poverty-reduction model," said Olav Kjørven, director, Energy and Environment Group, Bureau for Development Policy, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). "With greater income from the environment -- call it 'environmental income' -- poor families experience better nutrition and health, and begin to accumulate wealth. In other words, they begin the journey out of poverty." '

The above quotation clearly explains benefits an ecosystem shower on those who nurture the environment and protect it from ab! use. Rather than it being 'theorization' as usual for the Ghanaian Policy Maker, an effective practical Ecosystem has the potential of transforming the nation.

On a related matter, policy makers have failed to take a hard look at local food crop production and therefore have not been able to get farmers to focus on large or medium scale production of those everyday food items which are harvested as an afterthought to the main cash crop Cocoa.

Plantain, Cocoyam, Banana amongst others as grown in Ghana, are not generally in large organized plantations like Oil Palm or Cocoa. These food crops basically grow anywhere. Even in urban areas, it is common t! o see Plantain or cocoyam growing in the backyard, usually near open bath-houses. Cocoyam also grows near Cocoa farms. The leaves of Cocoyam, locally called Kontomire (Green Leaf Spinach) feature prominently in soups and stews. Cocoyam roots provide the needed carbohydrates. The locals pick up mushrooms and snail and bush-meat and together with Kontomire eat from day to day. These ingredients are organically grown and thus are healthy. By eating healthy, the local poor preserves their Health and obviate the need to visit Medical Hospitals, which generally are not anywhere near their vicinity. So why is there no political direction of encouraging the unemployed in an organized way to till and grow these food items on those arable lands lying fallow? Why spend millions of dollars to import Rice? Why not pursue an aggressive policy to grow them domestically?

The ensuing seemingly controversial segment calls for sober reflection. It is not the view of the writer that development in housing expansion should not be undertaken. Rather, conservation of farm lands seems never to have been featured with the issuance of ad-hoc building permits by authorities in unplanned areas that used to be farmlands. Cement buildings are encroaching fast on the 5,809,000 hectares of cultivated arable lands! Yes. With apparent lack of urban planning supervision, arable farm lands are being eaten up at an alarming rate by cement and concrete in a most destructive manner. Is this a self created catch 22 moment for Ghana?

Koforidua, Kumasi, Accra, Cape Coast, Ho, Sunyani, Tamale, Bolgatanga, Sekondi-Takoradi are but a few of Metropolis suffering from the devastation described above. There were times in the past where land between Kumasi City Hotel and Opoku Ware Secondary School boast of a training Park for Asante Kotoko and Danyame Bungalows. Rows of green farms took up the rest of the land. In and around Atekyem in Koforidua lush green farms used to provide a beautiful landscape between The Residency and Bungalows along the train lines.

The people of La, Teshie, Nungua, Tema and G! a-Mashie also have something to say. The La Trade Fair Land and beyond had lush watermelon, okro, pepper, tomatoes farms. The beachfront land on which now stands Hotels at La Bortor had Coconut Plantation and a robust fishing industry. The people of Teshie, Nungua, and La had farmlands reaching up to Spintex Road and beyond the Accra-Tema Motorway, in settler villages like Okponglo (East Legon), Mpeasem etc. These are generally no more. It is arguable whether the Town and Planning Officials made judicious use of these farm lands, perhaps with the exception of the Trade Fair and the La Beach Hotels. The farmlands are gone and majority of the people have not gained any new High Tech Computer Skills. In comes the ugly head of Poverty.

The point canvassed in the pre! ceding two paragraphs is to drive home the “crime” of politicians in their reckless handling of Ghana's natural resources and their inability to put the welfare of the masses first. If the 'unemployed' majority doing subsistence farming is having their means of livelihood taken away from them by predators without politicians looking out for them, poverty becomes endemic. The correlation here is that, if Ghana were to be led by conscientious and patriotic politicians, the weak in society will follow clear roadmap to prosperity which translates to a truly independent nation.

Stories about Agriculture in Africa and in Ghana in particular ! tell that over 70% of the populations are farmers scrapping by on subsistence agriculture. Many are indeed poor and reside in rural areas. To continually bemoan the lack of visionary actions on the part of politicians is to invite questioning as to why politicians exist, which in turn, begets the universal answer: Politicians gratify their self interest at the expense of the poor, whose periodic vote is all they desire.

So, in addition to suggestions in this piece, what are some of the practical ways by which we can change course and pursue policies and programmes that will see real benefits for our people in the field of agriculture? This present writer has two proposals for now and trust you will add your own new proposals.

Proposal One: Ghana's Policy Makers must begin by defining what Agriculture means. They must put Agriculture on the highest national priority. It must be placed on a strategic level. It must be one of the top four Ministries (heck, Football in Ghana has a top four league) with the topmost political appointee. This writer did a random 'Jeopardy-like' test on a Ghanaian focus group recently in Boston. Not a single person could name who the Minister of Agriculture is. It must quickly be said that this is not a knock on the fine gentleman Ernest Debrah, but simply an attestation of the fact our national priorities are skewed. It is not gainsaying to say that the most trusted persons to Ghana's leader are his bro! ther, brother in law and nephews who are holding portfolios deemed to be strategically important; none manning Agriculture!

Proposal Two: The myriad of Ministries on different aspects of Agriculture with different Substantive Ministers must be dissolved and merged into one and Agriculture placed on WAR FOOTING since IT IS the commanding height of the economy (apologies to Kutu).As noted, 70% of Ghanaians are farmers and approximately that same number are poor. There must be a Minister (with serious clout, meaning one of those alluded to in Proposal One) to act like Field Marshall on a 365/12, 24/7 shift. This Field Marshall of Agriculture must have Generals heading all identifiable sectors reporting to him. The Field Marshall of Agriculture must be 'numero uno' in cutting through all bureaucratic impediments to feeding the nation through domestic farming, Ecosystems, Unimodal Strategy! .

One can also provide a further explanation to proposal two, in anticipation of the counter argument, that the several ministries devoted to agriculture are a testament to its high importance in the national list of priorities. The counter argument is that, after all, in the politics of bureaucracy, the larger the department, and the larger the budget, the more important is that department's strategic value. Thus, the several ministries devoted to different branches of agriculture are evidence of its importance in Ghana's priorities. To this argument, it is proposed that size should not be the criteria for evaluating results, but rather, the efficiency by which a department focuses and delivers desired outcomes. By this criterion, the various ministries would be more efficient were they to be consolidated under one person, the Fi! eld Marshall, who should have the leader's ear.

Historical Odyssey ON THE PROWL. Where are patriotic policy makers to guide farmers to use natural resources as a means of generating wealth? Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

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