The days, weeks and months following December 31, 1981 were not good for this country. It is almost 30 years ago and the human brain has been designed in such a way that it can dull even the most painful of experiences so that they do not eat up the body.
It will, therefore, not be surprising if many of those who were alive at the time and are still alive today fail to remember many of the hardships of those days or at best are only able to recollect faint memories of one of the darkest periods in our country’s history.
There are others who wish that the brain worked like the mobile phones of today. If it were so, they could have just removed the chips of that era and forget everything.
On December 31, 1981, a few hours before the country was ushered into a new year, the government of Dr Hilla Limann was brought to an abrupt end. The end came when the President of the Republic was enjoying the Christmas/New Year with soldiers at the Burma Camp.
Events following that day could best be described by individuals, each according to how he/she perceived that political exercise and how he/she fared under the system. But as a country, there was a general agreement — things were hard and different interpretations were given by way of explanation. However, one thing was common on the lips of many — the gods were annoyed for the blood of the innocent which was shed to desecrate the land.
First, as if the water gates in Heaven were locked, there was no rain for almost the whole part of the year and the land became dry and patchy. Then, as if ignited by a huge spark, a large part of the dry land went up in flames.
The country suffered a serious drought which members of that generation had nothing to compare with. The land was ravaged by bush fires, stripping it of the remaining vegetation. The cocoa farms were gone, so were food crops.
By the end of 1983, two years after the launch of the 31st December Revolution, the Mother of all Revolutions, there was unprecedented famine in the land. There was very little to go round in terms of food and those were the days when hungry people dipped their hands into frying pans to remove half-cooked cassava from boiling oil.
As if we had not suffered enough to atone for our sins, President Shehu Shagari of Nigeria offloaded hundreds of thousands of Ghanaians then seeking economic refuge in that country on Ghana after giving them a one-month ultimatum to return home.
The exodus of the returnees (as they were called) back to the homeland was managed in a way which gave a government struggling locally and internationally for recognition some respectability. And that was how the country began its march towards normalcy.
The heavens opened and the rains came. The bowels of the earth generously received the seeds planted by our farmers and in that year — 1984 — there was a good harvest which called for celebration. That was how, in December 1984, what could be described as a farmers’ rally was held at Osino in the Eastern Region and on that occasion some farmers were given token gifts, not necessarily prizes, for their determination, hard work and for reviving the country’s agriculture.
That modest Osino meeting, at which Captain Kojo Tsikata (retd), a member of the then Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC), was the special guest became the first National Farmers Day when the government decided to set aside a day to celebrate farmers in the country.
The National Farmers Day has since undergone a lot of transformation and has become a huge platform for many corporate institutions to market themselves, while the award winners have become better off with the enhancement of the prizes.
Twenty-six years on, many Ghanaians are getting alarmed that if care is not taken, the Farmers’ Day, will remain an occasion for making speeches and throwing a few goodies at farmers without elevating agriculture from its present subsistence level to a major business capable of generating wealth and employment and playing its role as a major backbone of the economy.
Agriculture, or food production for that matter, is still essentially at the subsistence level because we have, over the years, failed to modernise the sector through irrigation and mechanised farming, while at the same time denying entrepreneurs who are determined to go into massive commercial farming the needed funding.
It is unfortunate that Ghana, for its size and land resources, should continue to expend a lot of money on food imports. President John Evans Atta Mills himself announced in Somanya at the weekend during the National Farmers Day that the country committed, on an annual basis, US$1 billion for the importation of food that could be produced locally, with rice imports alone taking 50 per cent of that amount.
This does not speak well of a country that has been celebrating the achievement of farmers with such fanfare and glamour for almost three decades.
It is time we go beyond the fanfare and the speeches and raised the stakes to higher level. By now we should realise that a few parcels here and there to selected farmers will not raise agricultural production beyond the subsistence level if pragmatic steps are not taken to change the face of agriculture in the country.
We have enough water resources that flow wastefully into the sea that could support irrigation farming all-year round. We must move from the machete and hoe to serious mechanised farming on a large-scale. We need to enhance rural infrastructure such as roads, energy and water supply to have a profound improvement on farming in the country.
Apart from capital injection, we need to invest in storage and processing facilities to reduce post-harvest losses, while adding value to farm produce and enhancing their market value.
A few weeks ago, it was very pathetic to see baskets of tomatoes literally abandoned along the highways because there were no markets for them. Other crops suffer the same fate during the harvest season.
Most important, we need to discourage the excessive importation of basic food items that could be produced locally. The tendency among top government officials, including ministers of state who should be leading the crusade for local food production themselves becoming net importers of rice and other commodities should be effectively discouraged.
The National Farmers Day can remain on the national calendar but the best form of reward to farmers and for that matter all those who play significant roles in the production chain will be the creation of an environment that will make farming a very rewarding and dignifying business.