Ghana to offer arable lands to PUNJABI farmers?

Mon, 4 Aug 2014 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Friday, Aug. 1, 2014

Folks, how many of you know what Punjab is or where it is located in the world? What will come to your mind when “Punjab” or “Punjabi” is mentioned? I don’t know, but I am more than angry at news reports about what the Ghanaian government wants to do to bring Punjab on board.

For the records, the term “Punjab” comprises two words: “punj”, meaning “five”, and “ab”, meaning “water”; thus, “the land of five rivers.” Punjab is the only state in India with a majority Sikh population.

You may wonder why I should be bothering you with the name “Punjab”. A very simple response. I have been scouting around to find something interesting to comment on as part of my yeoman’s job to feed public discourse on our country’s development challenges. It didn’t take me long to stumble upon this news report carried by the Hindustan Times Chandigarh news medium on July 31, 2014, that Ghana will offer (or has offered) lands to Punjabi farmers. I immediately got scared by the report.

Read it here for yourselves: http://www.hindustantimes.com/punjab/chandigarh/ghana-offers-land-to-punjabi-farmers/article1-1246835.aspx

Here are the most troubling aspects of the report:

• “Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal on Thursday acceded to a proposal by a delegation from Ghana led by deputy minister for energy and petroleum Benjamin Dagadu to settle progressive farmers in Ghana and assured that a high level delegation from Punjab would visit the African country soon to lay the groundwork for this settlement scheme”.

The Deputy Chief Minister’s statement followed interactions with a visiting Ghanaian delegation to Punjab, led by the Deputy Minister of Energy, Dagadu.

• “The visiting minister from Ghana, who called on the deputy chief minister at his residence on Wednesday night, said Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama wanted to promote agriculture as a tool of progress and that Ghana would welcome Punjabi expertise in this regard. He said the government of Ghana was also ready to allocate fertile agriculture land on long lease to Punjabi farmers.”

• “He said Punjab could export finished goods to Ghana and that Punjabi entrepreneurs were also welcome to start manufacturing facilities in Ghana to take advantage of its natural resources, including various minerals, oil, cocoa, palm oil, timber, fish and cotton.

• Dagadu also proposed that the biscuit industry in Punjab could be exempted from all custom duties at the point of entry in Ghana.

• Leading Sikh businessman from Ghana, Amardeep Singh Hari, who accompanied the Ghanaian delegation, said Ghana would welcome help from Punjab to establish educational institutions, including engineering colleges, there.

Even before the government comes out to comment on this news report, I will be quick to condemn Mr. Dagadu for making the offer of lands to the Punjabi farmers as if Ghana doesn’t have farmers to do the job of providing cash crops and food crops for consumption in the country and for export.

Don’t get me wrong; there is nothing wrong with Ghana’s desire to collaborate with Punjab for mutual benefits; but the route chosen for this cooperation is wrong. I recognize Punjab’s massive accomplishments and wonder why Ghana can’t do same but want to physically transplant Punjabi farmers on Ghanaian soil before getting them to produce what will help Ghana solve its problems.

Clearly, agriculture is the largest industry in Punjab; it is the largest single producer of wheat in India. Other major industries include the manufacturing of scientific instruments, agricultural goods, electrical goods, financial services, machine tools, textiles, sewing machines, sports goods, starch, tourism, fertilisers, bicycles, garments, and the processing of pine oil and sugar. Punjab also has the largest number of steel rolling mill plants in India, which are located in Steel Town Mandi Gobindgarh, District Fatehgarh Sahib (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punjab,_India).

So what is the attraction for Ghana? According to the news report, agriculture (giving Ghanaian lands to Punjabi farmers so they can produce crops in Ghana). Aaabaaaa!!!

The painful truth is that Ghana abounds in hardworking and forward-looking farmers who have all these years shouldered the responsibility of producing cash crops for export earnings to boost the national coffers and food crops to feed Ghanaians. They have done all in their power to remain productive despite harsh conditions caused by total neglect by the government, which has forced them to rely on the hoe-and-cutlass method instead of mechanized farming or the slash-and-burn method that promotes shifting cultivation and deforestation. Environmental degradation results, even as food crop production suffers and the government itself encourages the importation of food items such as rice, yam, plantains, fish and many others (including chicken “spare parts”). It is a disgrace.

The government’s policy on agriculture is impotent, which is why there seems to be problems in the agricultural sector. It is not because Ghana lacks farmers or arable land. It is because the government (and its predecessors) has failed to support the agricultural sector. What, then, will be the significance of the annual “Farmers Day” celebrations? To turn round to offer lands in Ghana to Punjabi farmers caps it all that the government is becoming misguided all the more.

Many issues arise from this particular land offer alone (and we are even not considering the other issues raised during that “Wednesday night’s interaction between Dagadu and the Punjabi politicians):

Where is the land that the government has earmarked for release to farmers from Punjab? How will any agreement on the land-grant (lease) be initiated and concluded to ensure that the beneficiaries are indeed being legally integrated into the Ghanaian system as tenant farmers or owners of land in Ghana? What exactly will be the framework for any transaction of this sort to ensure that the laws of Ghana are not fouled by the government itself, let alone the Punjabi farmers? Why come to Ghana and nowhere else?

What will the Punjabi farmers be producing in Ghana that the local Ghanaian farmers cannot? Is it rice, millet, sorghum, soya beans, maize, or what? Cotton? Alfalfa? Aloevera? What at all is it that the Punjabi farmers can do that our Ghanaian farmers cannot? And is it bringing in these Punjabi farmers that will motivate our local farmers to enter into competitive farming?

Who bears the cost of bringing in and equipping these Punjabi farmers? Is it really necessary to bring in these foreigners?

In a country where the activities of foreigners (be they the Chinese undesirables or the Fulani cattle breeders, the Lebanese and Syrian business hacks, the Indian and Malaysian entrepreneurs) have come to notice as not adjusting properly into our system, bringing in others to possess land is more than troubling.

Ghana has clear laws on land ownership and a land tenure system that the government’s intended move won’t fit into. Which traditional area in Ghana is the government eyeing for this deal? We know that there are state lands; but is that what the government can do with those lands to create the impression that it is collaborating with farmers from outside to sustain the agricultural sector?

What has the government earmarked for the farmers of Ghana producing cocoa, coffee, food crops, and many others in commercial quantities? The problem in Ghana is not about over-abundance of farmland but the government’s own shortsightedness in not knowing how to help farmers (fishermen too) use the fertile lands for increased food production.

We have the Accra and Afram Plains to talk about, not forgetting the entire northern parts of Ghana that have often been described as the “bread basket” of Ghana but neglected to the farmers’ chagrin and consumers’ woe.

What is the government capable of doing at this stage? It’s not offering lands to Punjabi farmers that will address the imbalance in the agricultural sector. The government has to re-think whatever it may have up its sleeves that Dagadu has blurted out to annoy us. We need help from outside, not this kind of help. Let’s pay attention to our own farmers first; then, we can link them up with places and people who can help boost their efforts. We shouldn’t do things to dislodge them and bring in foreigners who will not take long to face the very ills that the government’s negative attitude to the agricultural sector causes.

Is this government not on a wild goose chase in this dealing with the Punjabi Establishment? I think so.

No official statement has come from the government in reaction to this publication, which is why I have put it out here to draw attention to it so someone can come out to clear the air. Don't blame me for rushing to post it without waiting for official comments. Sometimes, such official comments need to be provoked, which is what I have used this post to do. Anybody out there to clear the air or confirm the publication?

I shall return…

• E-mail: mjbokor@yahoo.com

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Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.