The theme: “Eat What We Grow,” is significant for a number of reasons. It highlights the need to support local food production which is consistent with Ghana’s Medium-Term Agriculture Sector Investment Plan (METASIP) that seeks to ensure food security. In addition, the African Union (AU) declared 2014 as the “Year of Agriculture and Food Security” in line with the 10th anniversary of its Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) which aims to cut hunger by half by 2015 (MDG #1). CAADP calls on member countries to allocate at least 10 per cent of public spending to agriculture on irrigation for instance in order to achieve six per cent annual growth.
Food security is high on the agenda of the AU because though Africa currently accounts for about 25 per cent of the world’s fertile lands and 50 per cent of the world’s unused fertile lands, 300 million people suffer from hunger in sub-Saharan Africa. The AU considers the role of the youth who constitute about 60 per cent of the unemployed population as critical to changing the situation and ensuring agriculture-led growth.
While it was very refreshing to hear from President John Mahama that Ghana had achieved food sufficiency in maize, yam, cassava and plantain, the question is whether it is because majority of Ghanaians eat imported rice which partly accounted for the $ 1.5 billion worth of agricultural products imported in 2014.
Thirty years after instituting the Farmers Day Celebration, ten years after adopting CAADP, according to the 2015 Budget Statement, the crops sub-sector in particular has been experiencing a declining growth, recording 3.6 per cent in 2014 below CAADP expectation of six per cent , and down from 5.9 per cent in 2013. Food crop farmers, who have the highest incidence of poverty among the agricultural households, grapple with lack of access to markets, high cost of inputs and limited irrigation infrastructure, and variability of agricultural outputs and incomes. As a result, there is low participation of the youth in the sector because they perceive it as providing low income and therefore meant for the rural poor, the uneducated and unskilled persons.
The call by the President on Ghanaians to consume locally produced agricultural products to accelerate economic development and create sustainable jobs, particularly for the youth, is very critical because according to the 2010 Population & Housing Census, 45.8 per cent of all households in Ghana are into agriculture. The realisation of the lofty objective of the 2015 Budget Statement and Economic Policy of “…securing the Bright Medium-Term Prospects of the Economy” and the Ghana Shared Growth and Development Agenda (GSGDA II), 2014-2017 document which gives a pride of place to the agriculture, would depend on the youth. But why has the sector failed to attract the youth?
Attracting the youth
The answer is not farfetched. The youth do not see agriculture as a profitable business venture and are oblivious of the advantages of its subsets such as agrochemicals, animal breeding, crop production, distribution, farm machinery, processing, seed supply, marketing and retail sales, among others. These have not received the needed attention over the years.
Farmers blame the lack of government support for their lack of competitiveness. Successive governments have not focused on attracting the increasingly educated youth to the sector by deploying technology and innovation systems that would generate and disseminate the knowledge required to make the sector attractive. The assurance by the President that $94 million worth of mechanised equipment for farmers would soon arrive from Brazil would certainly attract a lot of youth into the sector even though not every farmer can afford this service. In addition, there are other innovative methods that the government could adopt.
India has SMS portal which transmits relevant messages to farmers. Mobile telephony has pervasive outreach in Ghana. The Ministry of Agriculture can, through telcos, develop SMS Portal as a one-stop shop for farmers with critical information on crop production, market prices, farm-mechanisation and micro-irrigation in local languages to give farmers better bargaining power and make them better placed to take decisions about the sale of produce and the best know-how available to them.
Moreover, there is the need for the mobilisation of farmers into existing platforms such as the Institute for Democratic Governance’s Governance Issues Forum Networks (GIFNets), whose membership includes professional groups in the districts used for mobilising citizens to participate in the local governance process. Participation of farmers in these advocacy platforms can enhance their voice on pertinent challenges for the attention of district authorities and the central government.
When this is done, the agriculture sector in Ghana would have been taken a notch higher.
By: Cosmos Kwame Akorli
E-mail: [email protected]