Ghana has earned a $50 million birthday package with the release of the first tranche of the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) by the United States of America (USA).
The money, which is available for immediate use, was released last Wednesday, a day after the climax of events marking the country's Golden Jubilee.
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), Mr John Danilovich, a member of the delegation which represented the US President, Mr George Bush, at the anniversary, announced at a press conference in Accra that the $50 million had been deposited in the account of the Millennium Development Authority (MiDA), the authority which oversees the implementation of the project in Ghana.
This initial disbursement will go into preliminary construction activities, such as irrigation, and the computerisation of rural banks in all the three zones listed under the development scheme.
The MCA intervention districts within the three zones include Savelugu Nanton, Tolon Kumbungu, Tamale, West Mamprusi and Karaga, for the Northern Agricultural Area.
Others are Ejura Sekyedumasi, Kwahu South, Fanteakwa, Afram Plains, Sekyere East and Sekyere West for the Afram Basin.
The rest are Gomoa East, Awutu-Efutu-Senya, Akuapim South, Manya Krobo, Dangme West, Yilo Krobo, North Dayi, Hohoe, Ketu, Keta, South Tongu and Akatsi, for the Southern Horticulture Area.
More tangibly, part of the money will be used to construct a Pack House at the Kotoka International Airport to be equipped with refrigerators for the storage of fresh horticultural products.
This is one way of solving the supply side constraints of the Ghanaian farmer and increasing the value of his produce.
He said the $50 million, out of the total $547 million grant, would go into preliminary compact activities and that the funds would be disbursed in tranches on a quarterly basis, over the five-year period, based on performance benchmarks.
Mr Danilovich said since the signing of the compact last August, both MiDA and MCC teams had worked diligently to finalise a number of supplementary agreements for a successful take off.
He said the disbursements would increase in the years ahead as the project activities also move into higher gear.
“The MCC is proud to stand with Ghanaians to implement this ambitious, result-oriented, anti-poverty programme which seeks to improve the lives of the rural poor by raising farmer incomes through private sector-led agri-business development,” he stated.
The MDA compact will support agricultural development, transportation and rural development in an integrated fashion.
It is expected that the funding will directly reach some 230,000 poor Ghanaians in extreme poverty and benefit more than one million people in total.
It will enable Ghanaians in the agricultural value chain to build their capacities to access and participate more fully in the global marketplace.
Mr Danilovich said as the Ghanaian economy set out for increased growth, the programme would help the rural poor to participate in and contribute further to the country's growth.
He said the MCC had satisfied itself with all the requirements for Ghana to access the funds, saying, “We both want timely disbursements.”
He debunked allegations that the compact had strings attached, such as a categorical directive that the country should not use the funds for poultry and rice production.
Mr Danilovich also made it clear that the USA had not asked Ghana or any other country in West Africa to build a military base.
He commended President J.A. Kufuor and the people of Ghana for their hard work and achievements.
The United States Ambassador, Ms Pamela Bridgewater, said the programme was home-grown and Ghana-made and would benefit all Ghanaians, irrespective of their political, ethnic or religious affiliations.
“It is Ghana which has created MiDA and is working diligently to implement this ambitious and far-reaching compact and it is Ghanaians who will benefit from the results,” Ms Bridgewater said.
She said the gains the country had made and would make through the successful implementation of the programme would make it a role model for the rest of the African continent.
The Chairman of the Board of MiDA, Dr Paa Kwesi Nduom, said the project was a truly integrated one, since it had brought on board all needed ingredients for competitive agribusiness to the same place at the same time.
He said areas to be sorted out with the first tranche included all forms of rural financial services, large-scale farmers in the eligible zones, outgrowers and other infrastructural construction.
The MCA was set up by President Bush to help some developing countries to increase their income status and reduce poverty.
Ghana qualified to access the fund and presented a proposal on integrated agriculture, costing $547 million, which was approved last August as the single largest disbursement under the MCA.
The fine details of the compact indicate that the sum of $547 million will be used to modernise agriculture, provide transportation and deliver rural development services and facilities.
It is expected that the various community services focused on education, water and sanitation will improve the quality of life of women, who make up 70 per cent of agricultural workers.
The youth, who make up the majority of the Ghanaian society, will also benefit from education and agribusiness development to improve job opportunities for them.
The MCA fund will also be channelled into 950 km of feeder roads and 240 km of trunk roads to link farms to markets and the improvement of the National Highway, the Tetteh Quarshie Interchange to Mallam Road, to link farms to the ports.
Two new ferries with safety facilities and education to improve transportation in the Afram Basin will also be provided, while infrastructure, such as pack houses, storage and cooling facilities to reduce post harvest losses and improve incomes, have been incorporated.