Not even the designation of a day out of deference and in recognition for the hard work of our farmers is enough gratitude.
Their backbreaking labour is responsible for food on our dining tables, protein and carbohydrates, including the oxygen for all-important export trade.
The recognition did not start with the isolation of a day on our national calendar. The show of appreciation has come in various forms over the years, the holiday which is being enjoyed today, being a novelty from the state.
Looked down upon as countryside citizens in the past, today farming is becoming attractive to the highly-educated who understand the derivable dividends from tilling the soil.
Colonial Day Farmers
From the early days of colonialism, the European colonizers identified the richness of the tropical rainforest in terms of fertility and encouraged the natives to take up the cultivation of cash crops to boost the export trade.
The heavy annual rains and the fertile soil in the 1920s at a time when climate change had not been triggered by unwholesome human activities provided a great impetus for cocoa and other crop production. Cocoa had been introduced to the Gold Coast as early as 1890 and the prevailing soil conditions were just right for its cultivation.
Rich Cocoa Farmers
The cultivation of cocoa at the time provided for forest dwellers who ventured into it added to the burgeoning cash economy of the colonial days.
The Gold Coast was inadvertently building a class of rich cocoa farmers who were recognized by the colonial authorities and later indigenous intelligentsia who regarded them as important allies in the fight against colonialism.
Farmers were into the cultivation of oil palm and the harvesting of wild rubber and kola, all of which had export value which the colonial authorities locked their attention on.
The cocoa farmers were visible when they came to towns such as Kumasi sporting their expensive wax print cover cloth in the Akan mode. They also invested in massive storey buildings in Kumasi and adjoining cocoa cultivating areas of the forest belt.
The history of the nationalistic struggle in the country is replete with the role of farmers. No wonder Kwame Nkrumah, one of the fighters for our independence, upon the attainment of independence created a Farmers’ Council housing it in a plush building in the general area of the Greater Accra Regional Coordinating Council and the Ministry of Information in Accra.
Over the years, assortment of interventions have been introduced to recognize our farmers, the most prominent being the Cocoa Marketing Board Scholarship Schemes for the children of especially cocoa farmers.
Although a lot can be done to improve this arrangement, it nonetheless serves the needs of both the children of farmers and others.
Cocoa In Legislative Assembly
In 1956 at a time when a certain level of autonomy had been accorded Gold Coasters as in the operation of the legislative assemblies, the issue of cocoa was discussed during one of the sessions because of the swollen shoot disease and the need to cut down cocoa trees. It is worth at this time as we celebrate our farmers to turn to this date in our annals to catch a glimpse of some dark spots in our agricultural journey.
Farmers were opposed to the cutting approach which scientifically was the only option open to managing the outbreak of the disease. Convincing the cocoa farmer was a challenge, but decisions in the interest of the public must be taken regardless of the resistance put up by victims of the action. The Daily Graphic at the time had the following on one of its pages.
‘Agriculture was the topic of the day in the Legislative Assembly and as befits the crop that gives the Gold Coast all its surplus money, cocoa came in for a great deal of attention.
Alongside the Assembly debates it is interesting to read the report of last September’s London cocoa conference which has just been released.
Some of the representatives at that conference suggested that the quality of cocoa was falling.
The conference estimated that the Gold Coast was losing between 50,000 to 120,000 tonnes of cocoa a year through swollen shoot.
And like members in the Legislative Assembly, they were interested in the progress of cutting out and the controversial subject of systemic insecticides.
Certainly, the situation leaves no room for complacency. There should be an even more vigorous cutting out campaign at the earliest opportunity. And the next Assembly should not be afraid to re-introduce different prices for the various grades of cocoa in order to improve quality.’
Successive governments have showed their commitments to farming in various forms, successes of which remain a matter of public opinion.
In his book, By Nkrumah’s Side, Tawia Adamafio made references to how Kwame Nkrumah and his Convention People’s Party (CPP) courted the friendship of farmers, in their political ventures, comradeship which he was to use to his advantage.
‘Both the National Liberation Movement (NLM) and the Convention People’s Party (CPP) dealt with the farmers on different levels and at varying pitches.
Kwame and his party were to learn later that there was a lot to garner from associating with the farmers.
The swollen shoot disease which afflicted cocoa became a political issue, especially as farmers were opposed to the cutting approach. For a politician to win the hearts of the farmers, they could only support them even knowing full well that there was no alternative to the cutting approach,’ he recalled.
Tawiah Adamafio writes, ‘All along, we had paid keen attention to organizing the workers, taking the farmers for granted, as far as a conscious and positive effort to mobilize them was concerned.
‘They knew that they had the sympathy of the Party, for we had supported their opposition to the cutting-out diseased cocoa trees as not the only way to save the cocoa industry and that it was a ruinous policy deliberately fostered by the colonialists to destroy the industry before we could ever come into independence.
‘The party had subsequently come into power or semi-power and had skillfully shifted ground in its propaganda regarding ‘cutting-out’ and we were now saying that although scientists were doing their best to find a solution to the cocoa problem only ‘cutting-out’ was a tested process and could be relied on to save the cocoa industry. The farmers had yielded and their farms were treated to their advantage. We were thought that we were on the ground,’ he said.
Adamafio recalled how the party discarded the CPP’s careless attitude which characterized, as he put it, ‘our approach to farmers’ problems. A definite policy of organization was adopted, and a most radical effort to win the farmers and strengthen our bonds of comradeship with that community was launched out.’
The ‘farmer power’, he said, was harnessed by Martin Appiah Danquah with the support of other staunch members ‘into the new relationship, building such tremendous support for the party that it is true to say that the farmers had become a dependable backbone of our Party’, adding that many farmers were members of their village branches and which were built into a monolithic group.
Financial relief was organized, he recalled, on a large scale for all farmers and loans granted for those in need to rehabilitate their farms ‘or redemption of their farms from usurers who had possessed these farmers for a considerable number of years for some small scale loans granted to farmers, and for which these farms had been given out as securities.’
Tawiah Adamafio observed that ‘this conscious attempt to organize the farmers into a dynamic group of national awareness is certainly one of the most remarkable success stories of the CPP.’
‘In later years, the United Ghana Farmers’ Council was an uncontroverted national asset and it even became the sole agent of the Cocoa Marketing Board (CMB) for purchasing cocoa for the Board in 1961, ousting the numerous scrambling capitalist operators and gathering all the profits into the coffers of the nation,’ he wrote.
Farmers in the country, he noted, ‘made an invaluable contribution to the struggle for independence and it is to their eternal glory and honour that they stood firmly by the Party to the end.’
Under President Kwame Nkrumah, agriculture came under the spotlight of government. The state farms concept which he imported from his interactions with his newfound friends in the then communist world soon became a feature of the newly birthed Ghana.
The State Farms Corporation was a serious state farming activity spread across the country. To support the distribution of the produce from these large scale farming activities a food distribution corporation was also set up.
Kwame Nkrumah ? even in those early days when the population of the country was a little over six million ? appreciated the importance of large scale agriculture as an appropriate food security mechanism.
Many years after his overthrow and in the face of new interventions in the area of food production, some observers were of the view that had there been consistency in food policy, we would not have had to reinvent the wheel as it were.
In the early days of our post-independence, Ghana hosted the first Chinese exhibition during which Ghanaians witnessed an array of modern agricultural production.
The Accra Community Centre adjacent to the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum, the venue of the event, was a beehive of activities as Ghanaians turned up in their numbers to witness the rare opportunity of an exhibition of modern agriculture.
There has never been a shortage of recognitions for Ghanaian farmers. At the University of Ghana, Legon, the premier tertiary institution in the country, the Akuafo Hall represents one of such indelible mementos.
What has been missing in our collective recognition is the effective impetus to take farming to a greater height. With modern agriculture, we should be able to, with its introduction, free many farmers from the land for other productive work. Policy deficiency and commitment robbed us of the deserving dividends from farming.
It is still worrying that after groping in the dark for many years since independence dotted with soon-to-be-dropped agricultural initiatives we appear to still be in the quicksand of policy deficiency.
Operation Feed Yourself
Under the military regime of General Kutu Acheampong, he embraced his response to food production; something which he noted required a revolutionary approach.
The ‘Operation Feed Yourself’ which became a national mantra saw many Ghanaians making use of all available land for planting of an assortment of food crops and vegetables.
As a matter of policy, schools were encouraged to produce their maize requirements from their school farms. Tractors were provided to schools across the country, a feature which changed the focus on food production.
The vicissitudes of the world market informed the decision to look up to diversifying the contents of our export basket.
Non-traditional cash crop production was given an impetus as evidenced in the production of cashew whose international market value was appreciable.
Various efforts have also been introduced to encourage the local production of rice with the eventual objective of stopping or reducing to the barest minimum our dependence on the import of the staple from Asia.
The Volta and Northern regions were encouraged to use suitable land for the venture. Combined harvesters, the Massey Ferguson, John Deere, Zetor and Ford brands of tractor became features of farming in the regions in the north.
Aquaculture and Poultry Farming
Over the years, poultry farming and aquaculture have become features of agriculture in the country.
Most of our poultry needs are today provided by local farmers engaged in this enterprise as well as imported ones.
Local poultry farmers recently complained about the non-competitiveness of their products in the face of imported ones which enjoy subsidies in their producing countries.
They are reeling under challenges posed by the lower prices of imported poultry products, which for them, are imposing a strain on their survivability.
Aquaculture is another feature of food production in the country. Fish produced in the backyard fish farms are now competing those harvested from the wild.
The demand for tilapia especially has driven upwards the supply of the product, as many more are turning to its production.
Delicacies such as snail production are no longer confined to the wild but produced at home. Research materials from the Forestry Research Institute have assisted many in this new venture of snail farming, the most preferred being the achatinaachatina species or angwa pa in Akan.
Planting For Food & Jobs
One of the flagships of President Akufo-Addo is the ‘Planting For Food & Jobs’ programme, which according to its meaning, is intended to ensure food and job security for Ghanaians.
Related programmes are the provision of dams in every district to boost agricultural production and depart from rain-fed farming whose attendant unreliability has not been positive.
The 2020 Budget Statement as presented by the Finance Minister says it all about these programmes and what government seeks to achieve through them.
‘Mr. Speaker, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture continued to roll out activities in the National Agricultural Investment Plan-Investing for Food and Jobs (IFJ) 2018-2021).
‘The key initiatives being implemented under the plan are: Planting For Food and Jobs (PFJ); Rearing for Food and Jobs (RFJ); Planting For Export and Rural Development (PERD); Greenhouse Villages and Agricultural Mechanisation.’
Pwalugu Dam Project
The $993m Pwalugu Multipurpose Dam project, the largest in the country, erases all lingering doubts about the President’s commitment to pushing the agricultural agenda beyond what the country has ever witnessed in her annals.
By: A.R. Gomda