Ho, Nov. 5, GNA - The Government has introduced a "Champion of Champions" contest to commemorate the 20th anniversary of National Farmers' Day celebration.
The contest is a way of evaluating the continued performance of previous award winners and selecting the first among equals. President John Agyekum Kufuor announced this at this year's National Farmers' Day held at Ho in the Volta Region.
Sixty individuals, institutions as well as 10 Best Agricultural Extension Agents were honoured for their hard work in the production of cash and food crops, vegetable, cereals, fisheries and livestock.
The theme for the celebration is: "Food Safety and Improved Nutrition for a Healthy and Active Nation."
The winner of the champion of champions was Mr Thomas Fosuhene Asare, the 1998 National Best Farmer.
The first runner-up was Mr John Kwame Mensah, the 1999 National Best Farmer.
President Kufuor said with the Government's commitment to the agricultural sector, Ghanaian farmers must begin to move from subsistence farming with its traditional orientation to modern commercial farming.
"This is what will propel the nation towards self-sufficiency in agricultural production and food security", he said.
He expressed the Government's determination to boost, diversify and add value to agricultural production.
President Kufuor said the Government's vision in the agricultural sector was to try and move the agricultural growth rate to over 15 per cent on a sustained basis within 10 years.
He said this was to form the main driving force to propel the economy forward to the eight per cent Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate which would lift the nation rapidly into a middle level economy which was the centre piece of the Government's economic vision.
He said it was in line with this that for the past four years the Government had been supporting the farmers with micro-credits, high-yielding disease-resistant seeds and other inputs.
President Kufuor said farming was a business and, therefore, urged Ghanaian farmers to adopt best practices that assured success in modern enterprises.
He said where cultivating small parcels of land had proved uneconomical farmers must pragmatically form co-operatives. President Kufuor said they must in addition ensure proper bookkeeping and also open bank accounts.
"This should not be difficult because with the proliferation of rural banks, many farmers are within close proximity of one bank or the other.
"By taking some of these steps, farmers will be positioning themselves well to qualify for credit for their business", he said.
Major Courage Quashigah (rtd), Minister of Food and Agriculture, said with the support of Research Scientists, Development Partners, Financial Institutions and farmers and fishermen, there had been improvement in the agriculture sector.
He said the Sector had recorded a growth of four per cent in 2001 from 2.8 per cent in 2000, 4.4 per cent in 2002 and 6.1 per cent in 2003. Major Quashigah stressed the need for Ghana to research into local food items to unearth the rich health values in them for the benefit of Ghanaians.
He said to initiate action to deal with food safety issues afflicting the country the Ministry had inaugurated the first regional food safety committee in the Greater Accra Region.
The committee is to take a serious look at food safety issues resulting from poor handling of food through the application of agro chemicals, haulage, storage, preservation, processing, packaging and preparation for consumption.
Major Quashigah said the committee would pay particular attention to the unsanitary nature of market places and locations where food was prepared and sold for human consumption.
He said the introduction of the "Champion of Champions" award was to reward past award winners whose farming operations continued to make positive impact on their operational areas.
The Minister announced that there would also be a special award for one of the very active District Chief Executives, who had brought a lot of improvement into agriculture and agro-processing in his/her district.
Mr Philip Abayori, President of the National Farmers and Fishermen Award Winners Association, announced that the Association had instituted an export market scheme through which members would jointly market and export their produce to Europe and the rest of the world.
Mr Abayori, therefore, appealed to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and President's Special Initiative to assist the Association to acquire the requisite knowledge and information for meeting the quality standards set by the European Union (EU).
He said the ability of the Association to enter the EU market was vital to the country's ability to generate enough foreign exchange and also create jobs in the country.
"We call for support to make the scheme a reality", he said.