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25.02.2006 Feature Article

Historical Odyssey #5: Agric. Policies Short Changing Ghana

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Historical Odyssey #5: Agric. Policies Short Changing Ghana


Let the new Tetteh Quarshie of Ghana who introduced the new plant Jetropa Curcas to Ghana stand up to be recognized in the spirit of Historical Odyssey 3.Having pushed that out of the way, here are the concerns.!

Why is the Government of Ghana sitting idle whilst fertile arable Afram Plains is handed over to a British Company for cultivation of a Jetropa Curcas Shrub that can be grown on wastelands? The country is divided into three vegetation zones; the Southern Savanna, the forest zone of the middle belt and the northern savanna. So there is enough wasteland for the planting of Jetropa Curcas,if the Afram Plains is not misused. Afram plains must be the bread basket of Ghana. The composition of the soils of Ghana's Afram Plains is very similar to those found in the plains of the Southeastern U.S.A. According to the US–Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), "Although there is some uncertainty in the numbers, it has been estimated that 50 to 65 percent of the soils in the Afram Plains are suitable for mechanized agriculture.This is comparable to the Middle Coastal Plain in the Southeastern USA,! an area with soils similar to those in the Afram Plains, and in which mechanized agriculture is well developed. The soil resources of the Afram Plains have the potential to support the production of maize under mechanized agriculture" Most of the soil in the Afram Plains is fine sandy loam, clay loam or silty clay, which is found in the middle part of the area. Sandy loam covers about two-thirds of the plains, and, being very fertile, present extensive possibilities for varied crop production. Therefore, the development of significant irrigation infrastructure, which is currently non-existent in the Afram Plains, would be a great investment in the area's agricultural potential, and would bring development to an area considered highly suitable for the cultivation of certain high-value crops. Jetropa Curcas is a shrub that does not grow high asother plants.Its seed has been found to possess oil. Jet! ropa Curcas shrub can control desertification and improve livelihood of the rural population in Sub-Saharan Countries through the promotion of the use and application of vegetable oil (Jetropa) as prime source of energy. Gujarat University's experiment with Jetropa Curcas is on wasteland.India is planting Jetropa Curcas along both sides of its Railway lines. Sri-Lanka plants it as fences around fields. So why parcel out Ghana's most fertile arable land for cultivation of Jetropa Curcas? Hello, Ghana Universities and Research Institutes!Wake up! Department of Tropical Hygiene and Public Health, University of Heidelberg, Germany reports that toxic activities of the plant Jetropa controls snails and reduces infectivity in mice (and rats). Should lovers of snail and okusie worry? Would the continued availability of their delicacy be in serious jeopardy when Jetropa takes hold? Oh, Ghana Universit! es and Institutes: Why the silence on any research done locally on Jetropa Curcas? If no research has been done, shame and public ridicule must be your lot. You would be proving the following Sankoh-Conteh observation true: "….behind your academic accolades is the unfortunate non-productive capacity……. In Africa, a scientist with PhD degrees can hardly manufacture a pin, but can eloquently tell you how to assemble a plane." Take notice of the rhetoric of the Ghanaian mechanical engineer cited in the report below. Also take notice of the moves of DaimlerChrysler (manufacturers of top luxury car Mercedes ) and Ghana's CSIR's collaboration with Orissa and Gujarat, States in India boasting of Orissa University of Agriculture and Technology and Gujarat Ayurved University on Jetropa. As far back as February 20, 2001,it was reported that DaimlerCrysler had joined Ghana's CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) to use Jetropa oil for bio-diesel production in Orissa and Gujarat. The objective of the project is to demonstrate the feasibility of the "Jetropa bio-diesel" as fuel in modern vehicles.

A number of organizations and individuals have shown interest in the Jetropa plant, which has several uses and could be used as fuel for domestic use. Mr. Robert Woode, a mechanical engineer and Managing Director of Fateco Ltd., threw more light on how the Jetropa plant can produce oil for Ghana's domestic needs. By developing the plant Woode said the country could reduce her dependence on petroleum products and save the huge foreign exchange used for importation of crude oil. Yes, Jetropa can also be used to make Soap, Lamp and Cooker Oil and have been used to run locomotives in India. No, Ghana's entrepreneurs have not moved to establish factories or plants, neither has academia brought any sense of urgency to introduce 'red-hot' research findings for the benefit of our nation. On January 19, 2006 A British firm, D-One Oil Company, was reported to be acquiring about 5,000 to 10,000 hectares of land in the Afram Plains to cultivate Jetropa Curcas seeds for the production of bio-diesel.

THE COMPANY INTENDS TO EXPORT THE SEEDS AND PROVIDE PLANTING MATERIALS TO INTERESTED FARMERS IN THE CULTIVATION OF THE SEEDS. However, the Ministry of Agriculture said lamely that it was requesting the company to establish a factory in Ghana to process some of the seeds into bio-diesel. If this is a predatory company with no expertise in manufacturing, how can they be made to establish a factory in Ghana?Leading political parties in Ghana have recognized the need to turn the Afram and Accra Plains into green farm lands. NDC had two terms totaling 8 years in office. NPP is in the 6th year of its two terms, also to total 8 years. Yet comprehensive irrigation of the plains with abundant water flowing through into the Atlantic Ocean untapped. Could this be a reflection of lack of reform of the Land Tenure system, short sightedness, or political indecision?

The ruling NPP has the opportunity to irrigate the plains before its term is up. So we turn to look at its Manifesto, titled, "Development in Freedom, and Agenda for Change". Among the objectives and promises that the NPP issued in its manifesto was the following statement: "On assuming office the NPP will launch a major agriculture development initiative - the Food for the Nation and People Plan (FNPP). This will aim to double food and livestock output in Ghana in fiveyears….The Afram Plains in the Eastern Region and the three regions in the North and Brong-Ahafo will be designated the food and grain baskets of Ghana and receive special program attention under the FNPP".

The NPP's Manifesto went on to add, "A major objective of FNPP is to reduce the hazardous dependence of Ghanaian agriculture on climatic conditions and ensure agricultural production under controlled and predictable conditions. Hence we will implement an accelerated irrigation program. This will include the development of mini dams to tap and conserve water from streams during the rainy season for irrigation purposes. Rivers with irrigable potentials will be tapped. In this connection the NPP will spare no effort to bring to fruition the project for the irrigation of the Accra plains".This brings us to the question of why the Afram Plains, aswell as similar regions like the Accra Plains, is so important, and why the NPP, even when it was in opposition felt it necessary to propose a major initiative that would develop its inherent opportunities.

Why then has Afram and Accra Plains not yet the bread basket of the nation? Should we sit unconcern for continuation of the colonial policy of growing crops for export in preference of domestic cash crops for local consumption and export of the excess produce? Let's look at established research on how well endowed Afram and Accra Plains are: "The Afram Plains and Afram River are located on the north side of the Kwawu Escarpment or southeast corner of the Volta. The Afram River was called "Afrau" in Akan and "Aflao" in Ewe.

The Afram River was the biggest subsidiary of the Volta River. The word "Afram" is a condensation of "Afrau mu," literary meaning 'mixed together' or"In the Volta".The Afram Plains covers a geographical area of some 5,040 square kilometers. The terrain of the Afram Plains is generally low-lying, averaging 60 to 150 meters in elevation. The Donkorkrom Plateau provides the only high ground. The Plains are drained by the Afram River in the west, Volta River in the east, and the Obosom River in the north. On average, the Plains receive between 1,370 and 1,650 millimeters of rainfall per year. Because of the low-lying nature of the plains, near the Afram River, much of the surrounding countryside becomes flooded or swampy during the rainy seasons. The terrain of the Afram Plains is primarily savannah, which consists of vast areas of grassland dotted with a few trees. Grasses of various heights form the predominant vegetation type, usually mixed with herbs and shrubs, with wildly spaced short, deciduous fire-resistant trees scattered individually. There are a few riverside forests that occur along the major rivers and stream of the Afram Plains.

The Accra Plains are a flat and featureless expanse of coastal scrub and grassland, with relatively few and scattered small trees, and that comprises part of the Coastal Savannah region, an area of land that occupies some 20, 000 square kilometers. The hills and slopes of the Accra Plains are the favored lands for cultivation. Shifting cultivation is the usual agricultural practice because of the swampy nature of the very low-lying areas during the rainy seasons and the periodic blocking of the rivers at the coast by sandbars that form lagoons.

The Accra Plains is anomalous for a coastal area because it receives a low annual total rainfall of between 700 and 800 millimeters. Nonetheless, the area is where much of the vegetables that feed Accra are produced. As a result, the potential of the Accra Plains to become an area of intensive mechanized agriculture that greatly enhances Ghana's agricultural capacity is very high. The establishment of commercial farms and the enhancement of small farm operations in the Accra Plains will enable Ghana to increase its economic growth through increased production and export of agricultural commodity.

"As stated from the beginning, the Afram Plains have similar soil to that found in the bread basket of America, the Southeast of USA. Rows of mechanized farms abound in that area. Food sufficiency was attained in America after irrigation of this vast area. Along with food sufficiency came a strong nation attracting the best intellect in the whole world that led to rapid development. The Irish Potato famine led to an unprecedented exodus and the near collapse of that country.Food insufficiency led a large number of Ghanaians to trek to Nigeria when Ghana almost collapsed as a result of Acheampong's Yentua Policy which led to a crunch of foreign credit with the concomitant Kalabule corruption. Any use of the Afram and Accra Plains other than production of food crops to feed the nation must be considered a crime against unborn Ghanaians.

Other nations where Jetropa plants have been introduced have been on wastelands and along railway lines, not on fertile lands. The Ministry of Agriculture or some related Ministry must set parameters for factories to handle processing of Jetropa seeds. They must offer entrepreneurs impetus to build factories in Ghana. Anything short of this is the perpetuation of colonial legacy bequeathed to our policy makers of using Ghana just for production of export crop. As shown above,this paper does not oppose the introduction ofJetropa Curcas shrub into Ghana, which, it is believed must be encouraged because of its promise. The uneasiness merely relates to why this plant is earmarked for arable land that can be used better for cultivation of domestic crops for local consumption, mechanized or otherwise and our plentiful wastelands have not been targeted. Evidence of misplaced priority? So it appears.

The following are published reports on the promises or success of Jetropa elsewhere: Countries experimenting with this shrub include Egypt, Tanzania, South Africa and Fiji.In the case of Gambia, it was reported that an American company, Global Bio-Energy Inc., planned to kick off a bio-diesel project in the country in March 2003 as its contribution towards the country's poverty alleviation efforts. The company hopes to set up a plant that will convert groundnut oil into diesel fuel, which can be used in any diesel engine without modification and without any adverse effect on engine performance or life. It can also be mixed with regular (petroleum) diesel or used in a pure form. Note groundnut is the mainstay of Gambia. While the cultivation of Jetropa Curcas is important to Ghana's bottom-line, even more important is the necessity for Ghana to transform itself from a nation dependent on food imports to feed its population, to become one that is not only self--sufficient in grain production, but also has a substantial surplus which it can then export. Rather than using valuable, scarce arable land for growing Jetropa Curcas, which can be grown in much less fertile conditions, the Afram and Accra Plains, as well as other similar expanses of land could be used to jumpstart Ghana's agricultural production by bringing additional area under cultivation, and the extension of irrigation facilities, the use of improved high yielding variety of seeds, better techniques evolved through agricultural research, water management, and plant protection through judicious use of fertilizers, pesticides and cropping practices. The best productivity per dollar would be achieved by using the aforementioned techniques which will go a long way towards enhancing the long term growth prospects for the country, as opposed to the short term benefits in employment and a marginal increase in GDP.The Government of India is in the middle of a big national effort for Jetropa plantation. The plan is that Indian Railways (owned by Government of India) will do plantation on waste land available with Railways and along the track. (Hundreds of kilometers) Indian Oil Corporation will setup facility for Fuel Oil extraction and supply back to Railways with 10% blending with regular Diesel Oil.

The project supports a manufacturer in the development of a press and the project underwrites part of the costs of training people to make soap. Jetropa is one of the oils used but coconut and various tree nuts are also used. Both caustic soda and lye water are used. The manufacturer has the incentive to encourage oil processing activities as he then sells more presses. Initial training and demonstrations have resulted in his first orders. The soap has a ready m! arket and it is believed to cure "white spot" which is a fungal growth on the skin and common in PNG (a killer skin disease). It also is hailed as laundry soap. To date production is limited due to an assessment of the market.The first successful trial run of a passenger train was conducted on December 31, 2002 when the Delhi-Amritsar- Shatabdi Express used 5% bio-diesel as fuel. Bio-diesel will enable Indian Railways to save on its rising fuel bill while controlling pollution levels. Sulphur and lead emissions were reduced significantly when bio-diesel was used, according to the Railways. Ultimately, the percentage of bio-diesel would go up to 15% in unison with the accepted global norms. The new green fuel is extracted from the seeds of the Jetropa plant and Indian Oil is now engaged in laboratory tests of bio-diesel. The plant can easily be grown on either side of railway tracks as it adopts itself well to arid and semiarid conditions, demanding low fertility and moisture. The other advantages are the fuel's contribution to the national energy pool and the potential of creation of jobs in rural sector. Mr. Politician: So let Jetropa Curcas shrub be planted in abundance in Ghana. Plant them along Railway lines and the Savanna areas. Irrigate Afram and Accra Plains and turn them into the breadbasket of Ghana. Historical Odyssey ON THE PROWL. It is high time politicians and policy makers turned their theoretical words into practical action by ensuring that the Afram and Accra Plains are irrigated and cultivated NOW for domestic foods! Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Ebby Koney
Ebby Koney, © 2006

The author has 22 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: EbbyKoney

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