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General News | Nov 8, 2004

Editorial: Rice Farmers Turn Stone Chippers

GYE NYAME CONCORD

THE NEWS FROM Dawhenya is disheartening. Rice farmers, whose output is urgently required in a campaign to substantially cut the over $100 million annual rice import bill, have reportedly abandoned their farms. Instead, and regrettably for Ghana but good for themselves, the farmers have found succour in nearby stone quarries where they are quarrying as a means of survival.

Though the quarrying may be lucrative for them, the rice farmers did not go into it of their own free will. They were forced by the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) which cut off their supply of power and sued them to court for the non-payment of electricity bills totalling a whopping ยข477 million, accumulated over a period of about nine years from 1996.

What may be termed an action for survival by the ECG made the work of the farmers untenable, as they use electricity to pump water to irrigate their farms.

The Gyaasetse of Prampram, Nene Gyebi II, who disclosed the bad news to an Accra FM station, said that the farmers have been sued by the ECG at the Tema Circuit Court for their inability to pay the suffocating electricity bill.

He noted that ever since the ECG cut-off power supply to the farmers, their grains on the fields were left to scorch, making them harvest nothing, stressing that the farmers need power to pump water to irrigate their fields, to enable them cultivate the grains.

He therefore called on the government and NGOs to go to their aid by providing an alternative power supply, preferably windmills, to save the farmers from going into abject poverty.

This is a pathetic story and one which, once again, clearly demonstrates the lack of vision which often attends the execution of public projects. So long as government officials are able to collect their kickbacks they do not care what happens to the project thereafter.

How, in the Holy name of Jesus, would anyone plan an irrigation system for a place like Dawhenya and make electricity the only source of power for pumping water.

From the way Nene Gyebi II puts it, Dawhenya may be a windy area. If so, why were windmills not considered as the obvious, logical and the cost effective way of pumping water for the rice farms? Was it because electricity was cheap then? That possibility again raises the question of foresight: did nobody realise that possibly in the future the cost of electricity would go up, as it has now?

Even if windmills are appropriate for the area, are they the most cost effective? Could the sort of hand pumps being used for rural water supply in the country not have served the purpose in Dawhenya? All the talk about transfer of appropriate technology, is it mere noise?

In the larger scheme, the rice farmers in Dawhenya are not the only rural dwellers using electricity to earn a living. In order that what has happened at Dawhenya does not recur in several other places in the country, there is a need to take a second look at the pricing of electricity for urban and rural use.

Though the GYE NYAME CONCORD does not approve of the apparent heedless drive for full cost recovery in the energy sector, we are all for the introduction of differential pricing for electricity and other utilities so that urban and semi-urbanites would pay more than rural dwellers.

This is the logical way to go if we are serious about halting the rural-urban drift. Though Nene Gyebi did not mention it, only the elderly among the displaced rice farmers would be content with chipping stones for survival. The young men would have advised themselves that their viable future lay in Accra and other regional capitals. Beyond the Dawhenya rice farmers, cheaper electricity in the country side would encourage industrialists to set up small and medium scale industries there and keep the young men in their local areas, and even ultimately decongest the cities where industries are closing down over their inability to pay crippling electricity bills.

GYE NYAME CONCORD, therefore, calls on the Energy Commission to look into the issue today and advise the Government accordingly.

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