The Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of Development Studies (UDS), Tamale, Professor David Millar, has bemoaned government's attempts in the last century to address the poverty situation in the northern regions, saying all the interventions lacked a holistic approach.
According to him, a century ago when one was confronted with extreme poverty situations in the north, the solution was handouts and aid, while fifty years ago, under the then Convention People's Party (CPP), “the choice solution was relocations and resettlements to take advantage of richer farm areas with government subsidies.” This, he called extensive farming and the plantation-type agriculture for the north.
He said the last thirty years saw the era of the Green Revolution that aimed at salvaging northern poverty through high yielding varieties, fertilisers, and pesticides, as well as a high degree of tractorisation and the use of large scale irrigation schemes, referring to this as “high external input and technology driven agriculture.”
In his view, the last decade had “witnessed a rather confused picture of a return to the green revolution, with small farmer level production systems using their indigenous knowledge at the periphery,” hence green revolution with a bias for markets, both local and external, and agri-business.
These measures, he pointed out, had chalked little success, because they partially addressed the real poverty issues, thus rather widening the poverty gap, especially between the north and the south.
Professor Millar was addressing members of a Northern Think Tank at a workshop in Tamale last week. The forum was organised by the Tamale Ecclesiastical Province Pastoral Conference (TEPPCON), and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS), as a formal meeting for the Think Tank to develop an action plan for the three northern regions towards poverty alleviation.
The group comprises development-oriented individuals with diverse skills, to help meet the diverse development needs of the people.
The professor stated that the poverty positions of the north was such that the natural resource situation and the geo-climatic location of the area predisposes it to poverty, while there was also limited alternative income sources, and income substitution ventures that restrict the scope of poverty alleviation possibilities.
He added that the single cropping, and rainy season methods used in the area, was debilitating for agriculture, while the absence of well-developed cash crops also limited the scope of the north for alternative income sources.
“The undervaluing and underutilisation of the indigenous knowledge of our local people, limits sustainability of the traditional systems,” he stressed.
He expressed regret that in spite of the government's good will to the north, the people remained undeniably the poorest and most marginalised in the country, saying, “the north has a right to make claims on the national resources, due to the fact that the north variously and severally contributes to the total development of the national economy.”
Furthermore, he stated that part of the problem also stemmed from the fact that activities of stakeholders were not coordinated from a point to ensure social monitoring and evaluation, while at the national level, “the voices are not loud enough as advocates for the north.”
“Although the Churches have contributed immensely to developments in northern Ghana, they have not made the same effort to national advocacy for the north,” he indicated.
He also blamed the situation on the natives of the area, who were in the Diaspora and have failed to identify their roots, and make meaningful contributions to their region.
To vigorously address these issues, he proposed the evolvement of a social ethics policy for the north, as a code of conduct. This, he noted, would regulate what is ethically right to expect by the people and to do by the developing agents who want to engage at various levels of poverty reduction.
As such, the document must inform policy formulation, programming and implementation of various development activities of the Government of Ghana, donors and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and also provide a framework for private investors and non-members of the region, who are critical to the development of the area, among others.
In the area of agriculture, he pointed out there was the need to give prominence to indigenous knowledge, systems, organisations, leadership and indigenous technologies, as a starting point for improvement and development of indigenous agro industries.
There is also the need for agro-processing of, especially, vegetables and fruits, diversification for dry season production, maximum use of water bodies, creation of markets for agricultural produce, and development of the Shea and Dawadawa industries.
Education must also be given a serious approach, such as an 'affirmative action' to help bridge the gap between the north and south, incentives for teachers in deprived areas, up-grading of selected second cycle institutions, as per government programme, and initiating local schemes for needy, but brilliant students.
He also called for a careful redress of certain social and cultural factors that inhibit holistic poverty reduction in the north, stressing, “A quick inventory should include conflict, funerals, alcohol, gender relations and marriage.”
The Resident Representative of KAS, Mr. Klaus Loetzer, asked the members of the Think Tank to consider how to maintain good relationships between them and existing state machinery of development planning, such as the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC).
He said institutions such as the University of Development Studies and its affiliate institutions, the Church and NGOs working to reduce poverty in the regions, were key stakeholders who they must work with to achieve results.
He urged them to review previous studies of imbalances of various sectors of the economy, between the North and Southern Ghana, to avoid reinventing the wheel, emphasising, “it is my expectation that you will not work in isolation, and develop idealistic programmes emanated from various fora and workshops to achieve results.”
He, however, pointed out that the imbalances, which have existed for centuries, could not be bridged within a short time, hence they would require the deliberate and conscious efforts of various stakeholders in the process.
Though government may be required to make input, individual citizens and private sector players also have a great responsibility towards achieving required goals, he mentioned.
Another area of great importance he alluded to, was the manifestation of conflicts in the region, saying, “it will be hypocrisy to assume that there will be no conflict in the region, or peace will forever grow in the entire parts of the region where different ethnic groups, with diverse socio-economic and political interests, pursue their agenda.”
He, therefore, warned that if this was not carefully managed, development stakeholders would only run in circles, and also waste scarce resources in the name of poverty alleviation.
To avoid this, he appealed to the Think Tank members to be candid and dispassionate in the issues they would be addressing to meet the needs and aspirations of the people.