Amidst concerns about Ghana’s over dependence on annual multi-million dollar food and general agricultural goods imports, while Ghana abounds in 17.5 million acres arable land, forested area excluded, the Presidents Atta Mills and John Dramani Mahama-led NDC governments launched the Savannah Accelerated Development Programmes in 2010 and the Ghana Commercial Agriculture Project (GCAP) in 2013 respectively.
Within the context of GCAP, the mandate of Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA) is to promote agriculture and other economic sectorial development in the Northern Savannah Eco-logical Zone (NSEZ).
The NSEZ which accounts for 54.4 percent of Ghana’s total land mass, covers the Northern parts of the Volta and Brong Ahafo regions including the Northern, Upper East and Upper West regions of the country. The last three regions are said to account for the highest poverty rates in the whole country.
With 8 million acres of total arable land, the NSEZ forms part of the African continent-wide Savannah ecological zone which of 600 million acres arable land.
The immense potential of the NSEZ.
All of Ghana’s major river basins namely, the White, Red and Black Voltas including the Oti, does not only take their source from the NSEZ, but its 8 million acres arable land potential puts it in the position to produce enough food through rain-fed and irrigation-fed production throughout the year to feed the entire country and the surplus for export.
Against this background, Mr. Charles Abugre, SADA’s CEO lamented in 2014 during a SADA round Table conference in Accra that this current import dependence also account for the persistent macroeconomic turbulence that we experience as a country.
Speaking on the side lines during the event in an interview with African Development Magazine (ADM), Charles Abugre, SADA chief Executive Officer said: “We are in another unique moment in which there is strong regional (African) and international consensus that Africa can only successfully transform in a meaningful way on the back of agriculture.
“With the attention increasingly shifting in support of the transformation of agriculture in the Savannah, the conditions are clearly coming together for a re-launch of a new version of “operation feed yourself” that focuses not only on feeding ourselves but in industrializing the Savannah through agriculture and agro-business.
“To bring this about, government needs to prioritise irrigation infrastructure to support a mix of commercial farming and out-grower schemes, and it needs to put policies in place to incentivize agro-processing and harness the vast hydro-potentials which spread across the Savannah zone to provide cheap power. “These all require financing and explain why SADA is proposing the creation of a development financing for the Savannah.” Dr.Abugri intimated.
On strategic approach adopted by SADA to attract investment in commercial agriculture in the SADA region within the context of the ongoing Ghana Commercial Agriculture Project (GCAP) Mr Abugre said, “attracting commercial agriculture combined with out-grower schemes is crucial if were to industrialize the zone, increase jobs, cultivate the new generation of farmers and eradicate extreme poverty”.
In the early days of its operation, SADA no doubt faced a number of challenges underpinned by lack of appropriate governance structures. As a young institution with so much expected of it, SADA no doubt had its shortcomings some of which were however also constantly hyped and over exaggerated even till today just to suit partisan and vile opposition political propaganda interest in collaboration with some sections of the local media.
Mr. Abugre taking over from his predecessor, in 2014 has since brought his rich expertise and innovational skills as a reputable technocrat of international standing to bear on some gains already made, before his entry and SADA is now on a forward march to excellence.
To buttress his point, that he came to meet some gains, much to the dislike of mischief mongers, he once had cause to remark, “When I walked into SADA, I found that the saying that SADA was a complete failure was a little bit over exaggerated”.
On achievements of SADA, Mr. Abugre notes, “The first achievement is the successful establishment of the Authority. It has a small, but growing and competent professional team operating out of its headquarters in Tamale and Accra.
“The Authority has also opened regional offices in Kintampo (for the Brong Ahafo region), Dembai (for the Volta region) Bolgatanga (Upper East Region), Wa Upper West Region and Tamale (Northern). “The second is a number of successful pilots both in agriculture and in PPPs in energy and irrigation. In agriculture, SADA piloted an agriculture input support programme with intermediary organizations (Technical Service Providers) through whom support is extended to small farmers with mechanization, improved seeds and fertilizer.
SADA gets a booster
The call by Mr. Abugre during SADA Round Table Conference in 2014 for government commitment and support towards development through agriculture was met with a positive response. This was demonstrated in the hosting of the SADA Agriculture Investment Workshop in Accra in June 2014.
The event was held on the instance of President Mahama whose earlier call on the Presidents of the World Bank and the African Development Bank to support SADA host the event had been granted.
Other development partners such as USAID, IFAD among others, including local stakeholders like the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, Water Resources Commission among others fully participated.
President Mahama recognised what he saw as the “new dynamism” in SADA while also recounting and pointing out that lack of adequate governance structure was partly to blame for the challenges it had to encounter in the initial stages.
Speaking on the side lines to a Graphic Business reporter, during the event, disclosed to the paper that, the government had given SADA the nod through the Finance Ministry for the establishment of the proposed Savannah Development and Investment Bank expected to open shop by 2017-2018.
The pre-feasibility of the project he further disclosed, was to be funded by the African Development Bank (AfDB).
A transformed and vibrant NSEZ will serve not only the people who live in the NSEZ but Ghanaians generally in that will boost national economic growth and provide opportunities for all Ghanaians to live, work, profit, and serve. So far, SADA’s under its current chief Executive is doing all it can to live up to the Act that established SADA.
Mohammed Abu is a development journalist working for Africa Development Magazine.