THE UNDERGROUND TRUTH ABOUT NATIONAL SERVICE FARM PROJECTS
A speech ascribed to Mr. Vincent Senam Kuanbenu, the Executive Director of the National Service states that: “We are told that agriculture fetches 35% of our GDP and it employs over 50% of our people. Yet we are not able to produce to feed ourselves and export even though we have favorable lands and all the facilities. So why is so? Every year an average of a little over 2000 graduates graduate from our faculty of agriculture and colleagues of agriculture and are deployed into the system. But not 1% of them get into real agriculture production and we are all aware of challenge we face with regards to age of our farming population. The average the last I checked was around 51 to 60 years. But we are also told that the success of every nation relies on the youth and what we hold for the country. These are the basic objectives driving the national service agriculture project”.
In line with the above statements, government over the years have pledged support to ensure that the very objective of the project is achieved, which is; inculcating in the young graduate the spirit of “MODERN” agriculturalism.
Branam farm which happens to be one of the farms of the national service scheme was instituted barely a year ago with the cultivation of 160 acres of yellow and white maize using national service personnel in the 22 districts of the Brong Ahafo region and some volunteers from the Wenchi municipality.
The 160 acres plot of maize has completely been harvested “MANUALLY” using these same service personnel and the volunteers, where currently, packaging, baling and stocking are taking place.
However, the project is threatened to collapse owing to appalling conditions prevailing at the farms. Some of these conditions are clearly stated as follows:
1. Poor transportation system: about 20 national service personnel have been officially posted to work on the farm for a period of 10 months together with about 20 volunteers from the municipality. These personnel and volunteers are transported to the farm at 6:00am every morning by sitting in the basket of the two cars of the farm (Dyna truck and 4X4 Hilux pick-up). A journey from Wenchi to Branam takes between 30- 40 minutes. With numerous speed rams on the road to Branam farms there is 100% probability of falling off the basket of the track if the unthinkable should happen. Personnel whose names have been withheld have reported to the regional NASPA that there has been an instance where they were nearly thrown out of the basket of the truck as a result of the driver speedily crossing of speed rams. Notwithstanding this menace, the personnel are also overloaded in the truck where female personnel in some instances have to sit on the laps of their male counterparts as they voluntarily prepare to serve their nation. Owing to this practice (of females sitting on laps of males) majority of the females have vowed never to go to the farm again, even if it means forfeiting their monthly allowances, because they feel their male counterparts are taking due advantage of them, by 'romancing' them in the process. When the regional NASPA visited J. A. Quarry, a private user agency, in the same municipality, it was revealed that personnel who were posted there were being transported to work in a Yutong air-conditioned bus every day. Now the issue is, if the secretariat is treating its own personnel like 'slaves' what can it do to other user agencies who do not pay attention to the welfare of the service personnel. However, huge sums of Ghana cedis have been budgeted for adequate means of transporting personnel to and from the farm so that they can be introduced to agriculture. Now the question is what the national farm manager does with the money approved for transportation. No one dares to question him. The last time the regional NASPA president made an attempt to enquire he (the regional NASPA president) was answered in a proverb that: a child who washes his hands well dines with the elders, and how dare him (the regional NASPA president) asks a question like that in the presence of the executive director (Mr. Vincent Senam Kuabenu) and the general secretary of the ruling New Democratic Congress (NDC) party, Mr. Johnson Asiedu Nketiah who visited the farm to film a documentary on the achievements of the ruling government with respect to improving agriculture in the country. This documentary will certainly be edited to picture that the personnel are happily working on the farm, because the 'illiterates' among the volunteers were intentionally selected for interview during the filming.
The executive director addressed the transportation problem by citing that: “the national service is actually not a place of comfort and those who think they can do national service in offices are not doing national service”. He added: “This is the first time I am hearing complaints that I should not hear on this farm. In the days we used to have boys' colt, they walked kilometres. Endurance is what they learnt and that is what you learn at national service. So if you see the regional director using a brand new car, he was using a pick up that sometimes broke down but because he must reach you. There are some who use motor bikes. Now what we do is to liaise with secondary schools because we supply them with service personnel. The buses that are given to secondary schools are given to us to transport personnel to the farm, so regional director let me know which school will refuse you the bus and we will take it up. Please those facilities are social services, they must be provided for this kind of work. And sometimes in Ejura more than 14 buses. In Komenda there are more than 50 buses”. “As for you NASPA president, you should have an ingenious way of helping your colleagues to come here. Okay! As for complaints I would like to get complaints that we can solve out, so if you have problem discuss with your regional director, okay? These are small small problems because we rely on you for this project. But the hard fact must be told”: he added.
2. Poor nutrition. The personnel and volunteers at the farm are served lunch every day. No one can say the personnel and volunteers are fed for their good work because surprisingly that the farm do not have a diet menu. The hungry volunteers and personnel after waiting anxiously for hours of delays for their lunch have no option than to eat their usual recipe of rice and stew with one egg. The usual reason given for serving the personnel with this same diet has been that other recipes are difficult to prepare and that they are lucky to be the only personnel who are given lunch as they serve the nation. Now what happens to money after the 'beautiful' menu is approved by the national secretariat. It was astonishing when the personnel and volunteers were given a bottle of Álvaro and a plate of fried rice with chicken, last Thursday 9th February, 2012, when the executive director, the NDC general secretary, the ten regional directors and the entire national management team visited the farm for their documentary. Could this be one of the diets in their menu? No one knows the answer because there no representative of personnel and volunteers on the farm management committee.
3. Lack of protective boots and clothes. The farm management team is made up of expertise with field knowledge in risks involved in agriculture, however, the personnel in attempts to ensure food security in the country end up sustaining wounds and cuts which could have been prevented. When the executive director's attention was drawn by a personnel to the need to providing wellington boots, over all coats, rain coats, goggles and nose masks to the personnel and volunteers to ensure their safety, he (the executive director) openly said: “National service will never be a place of comfort, if you think your coming to this farm is not good enough for you, you can check out. And I am saying this because I have to tell you the hard truth”. “It is never a place of comfort”: he reiterated.
We are therefore calling on the NDC government to pay attention to these issues before the project collapse. It is usually said the blowing of wind indicates that it is going to rain. The wind is blowing and the rain can fall at any time.
With respect to issues of increasing the national service allowance by 20% the executive directed responded by saying: “In national service we don't promise what we cannot deliver but I can tell you the government has increased salary across board 20%. We are working with the ministry of finance to get the 20% that is due you paid to you. Three years ago it happened the same way and people took the arrears the same way. I want to promise that within the shortest possible time your money that are due you will be paid to you. Consider it a savings so that when it comes you will be ale to do whatever that you want to do with it. I hope am clear. So endurance okay?”.
HON. OBED OFORI BANGDOME
THE REGIONAL NASPA PRESIDENT
THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR ADDRESSING THE PERSONNEL AND VOLUNTEERS AT THE FARM
MR. JOHNSON ASIEDU NKETIAH AND SOME REGIONAL DIRECTORS WHO TOURED THE FARMS FOR THE DOCUMENTARY
COMPARISON BETWEEN THE FRIED RICE AND CHICKEN AND THE PERSONNEL AND VOLUNTEERS WERE SERVED AND WHAT THEY USUALLY EAT
BALING AND PACKAGING OF THE MAIZE AT THE FARM
SOME PERSONNEL AND VOLUNTEERS DRESSED IN THEIR OWN CLOTHING WAITING FOR THEIR COLLEAGUES TO JOIN THEM FOR A TAKEOFF TO THE FARM
SOME PERSONNEL AND VOLUNTEERS BEING TRANSPORTED TO THE FARM