I need not remind readers that Agriculture is the backbone of the Ghanaian economy. It has spearheaded and dictated our economy path since pre-colonial, colonial and post colonial era. Even upon the discovery of commercial quantities of oil along our shores, the contribution of the Agriculture sector still maintains a "supremo". It still employs more than 60% of the active labour force in the country. Currently, the contribution of agriculture to the Gross Domestic Product stands at 8.5%. Apart from the industry sector which is currently contributing relatively higher; there is no sector comparable to our traditional sector which is agriculture.
Many including I have intimated that if we had done a careful restructuring of our agriculture sector for the past years, we could have been the economic giant of Africa.
This is so because our production in cash crops and other cereals have opportunities for economies of scale in the world market but it is apparent that every effort aims at a careful restructure always end up as a political platitude. There are still a myriad of predicaments that are thwarting the healthy growth of that sector. Many farmers still depend of traditional methods of farming, we have failed woefully in training more extension experts that can provide services to all farmers, and application of technology in the sector still remains a lofty dream. Again, we have less storage facilities to store produce, contributing to post harvest losses, there is no streamlined marketing chain in the system and this compelled farmers to sell at a throw away price.
The few produce that we export are exported in raw forms without any value addition making us lose realistic price value in the international market.
I am not an expert in agriculture but I must state emphatically that we have been implementing our agricultural policies without setting the fundamentals right and the results have always been same. If we really want to encourage farmers to expand their farms sizes to produce beyond hand to mouth, then we must find ways of linking government industrialization policy to the sector. Agriculture is the mother of industries because it produces virtually all that is needed to feed industries that are viable so far as the African situation is concerned. No industry can be viable if it does not have a reliable source of raw materials considering our economic situation. People become attracted to farming if they can get reliable income and sure of getting ready market to maximize profit.
A cursory look at the Kenya's situation gives a clue that if we adopt and integrate their strategic tea farming policies, we can achieve better results. Kenya did not just become a giant in tea production through mere rhetoric. They have attained their current position through a careful strategic long term policy and the results is absolutely overwhelming and this reflects in the lives of farmers and today as we speak, the teeming youth in Kenya, investors and business tycoons see agriculture as a haven sector for massive investment.
One may ask to know the nature of the Kenya's secret in the area of farming. They have considered tea as a major staple and hence prioritized in its production and today as we speak, Kenya has occupied a niche in the area of tea production. For more insight, permit me you succinctly take you through how they got to where they are today. I am sure it will help us to take certain decisions that can guide government policy of planting for food and jobs and particularly helps the country of intertwining the agriculture sector to government industrialization policies which is far becoming a mirage, rather sad to put it.
Tea is a major cash crop that is grown in Kenya. Kenyan tea has been the leading major foreign exchange earner for the country. Most tea produced in Kenya is black tea, with green tea, yellow tea, and white tea produced on order by major tea producers. Tea was first introduced in Kenya in 1903 by GWL Caine and was planted in present-day Limuru.
Commercialization of tea started in 1924 by Malcolm Fyers Bell, who was sent out by Brooke Bonds to start the first commercial estates. Since then the nation has become a major producer of black tea. Currently Kenya is ranked first before China and India in tea production. Kenyan tea is also one of the top foreign exchange earners, alongside tourism, horticulture, and Kenyan coffee.
According to R.M Gesimba et al (2005), the success story of tea is a product of three main developments.
Firstly, the government policy after independence to integrate small scale growers into the mainstream of tea growing. Currently the small scale growers under the umbrella of Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) account for sixty percent of the total tea production while the multinational sector and large scale growers account for the remaining forty percent. The establishment of an efficient estate sector under the British tea companies has also introduced revolutionary improvements in the estate and factory management with a resulting five-fold increase in output. The selection of high yielding varieties mainly by the Tea Research Foundation of Kenya (TRFK) and the selective application of herbicides and improved planting and cultivation methods, have had a dramatic effect on yield .
Studying the structure and the organized nature of the industry, one would not doubt that it is easier for investor to have confidence in the sector. This is because the state has become an umbrella marketing agent for farmers. Government through the Kenya Tea Development Agency facilitate the marketing of the produce first by purchasing it, adding value in the local industries set up for that purpose and then exporting them to the global market. The burden of farmers being a haste to sell at a throw away price during bumper harvest is taken away by this simple but effective structure set up by the state.
Tea farming and industrialization
It is also imperative to reveal that there is a direct linkage of tea farming to Kenya's industrialization policy.
Currently the KTDA has 66 tea factories serving over 500,000 small-scale farmers cultivating over 100,000 ha. Of all tea produced in Kenya, KTDA members produce over 60% while the rest is produced by large-scale producers.
One can imagine the number of jobs being provided by these local industries and how the two linked sectors contribute to the economic fortunes of Kenya. Again, the factories are fed locally and do not have to import any raw materials from any country to facilitate the final production of tea.
Incentives for farmers
According to Kobir, Cardine Chepkoech (2012), the motivation of tea farmers in Kenya is largely the reason why many engage in tea farming. The researcher asserts that if government increases the wages of farmers, it would as well, increase tea farming in the country and that would go a long way to propel rapid economic transformation.
Let me hasten to state emphatically that this is in sharp contrast to the Ghanaian situation. We have many of our farmers who are not recognized or registered. It makes the sector unstructured. Farmers in the country do not enjoy any monthly wages and hence the sector becomes a survival situation.
Apart from the monthly stipends enjoyed by farmers in Kenya, they have access to loans that can help them expand their farms. Access to capital by the youth to invest into tea farming is readily available.
In Ghana, we cannot develop the industrial sector and the agricultural sector in seclusion. The two must be harmonized within an aggressive medium to long term plan. If we really are interested in modernizing and mechanizing agriculture, then we must look into the structure of the sector and see how we can provide institutional structures that can help farmers right from the farms to marketing avenues. When we are able to produce abundantly, we can feed our local industries, export our produce with additional value, which can catapult our foreign exchange hence bring prosperity to the nation. There is no avenue that can produce jobs for the youth than the agriculture sector. It has the potential of employing more people and expanding other sectors of the economy. Our approach to restructure the sector must be integrative. It is time we integrate the Kenya's strategy and move beyond the cyclical platitude by politicians who give lofty promises of mechanizing the sector without first setting up the structures. Let's think again, agriculture can salvage us from the shackles of abject poverty.
Shall be back by the grace of God