Is rapidly growing population menace or ...

Thu, 25 Jul 2013 Source: Sakyi, Kwesi Atta

.... blessing to Ghana? - Part 1

By Kwesi Atta Sakyi

The size of a population determines many factors such as its potential supply of cheap, skilled and unskilled labour, its market demand, its ability to consume and cause the increase in aggregate demand and the growth of GDP, its geopolitical importance, its tax revenue potential, among others. Also, a large population generates competition, efficiency and innovation. In the early 70s, I was involved in a lot of family planning seminars and workshops across Ghana during the late General Kutu Acheampong’s regime.

We were working under the auspices of the World Assembly of Youth (WAY), with its headquarters in Copenhagen, Denmark, and which was partially affiliated to UNICEF. We were told at seminars to encourage the youth to follow three steps, namely first to delay marriage, second delay birth of first child, and third to space birth of children. Indeed, today in Ghana, people need not be told the necessity of planning their families as the economic situation is informing enough.

The 70s were the days of aggressive civic education under the Centre for Civic Education, previously established under Dr Kofi Abrefa Busia's tenure as Prime Minister of Ghana. We virtually became ambassadors for promoting the gospel of family planning, nuclear families, use of contraceptive devices to protect one's self against many sexual hazards, among others.

China has one child policy while India has a two child policy. Men are encouraged to be monogamous and girls to stay longer in school so as to avoid having early marriages and potential to have many children. In those days, countries were told to seek the optimum population size or the size of population which when combined with existing resources, yielded the highest per capita income (PCI). The spectre of Malthusian doomsday was said to be stalking and haunting humanity.

If a country has spare capacity to grow on its Production Possibility Curve (PPC), how will that optimum be determined? The issue of family planning and population control was relevant then as it is now, in the face of current global warming, dwindling natural resources, inflation, high youth unemployment levels, food insecurity and social moral decay.

However, the saying goes that for every new child that arrives, we have an additional pair of hands to feed not only one mouth but many. Besides, there is the African social insurance of extended family to lean on in case your fecundity, promiscuity and proclivity meant you had threadbare budget to support your family. In those days, we lived in the era of freebies, state largesse and eleemosynary economics of subsidised medicare, education, transport, among others. With Ghana's population growing at 2.7% per annum, it is expected that our current population of 24 million will double in 26 years, whilst for an advanced country like UK with a near stationary population size of 62.4 million and growth rate of about 0.55% (2012 est), her population will double in 230 years. Germany has 0% growth rate.

In those years in the 70s, we were taught methods of family planning such as abstinence, vasectomy, intra-uterine devices, vagina gels, use of pills to prevent unwanted pregnancies, among others. There were no condoms then and HIV/AIDS pandemic was unknown. I even attended an African Regional Youth Seminar in Nairobi in 1973, at which we presented papers on the population situation in Ghana. Those were the days we heard so much about impending population explosion, especially when the threshold population and carrying capacity of the land were exceeded.

It was not until I went to the university did I come across the sigmoid curve or the Gompertz Curve, which shows how most growths have their upper ceiling. The sigmoid curve is given by An = A0 ert, where A0 is the previous population, 'e' is Euler's function which is the sum of the infinite series of the reciprocals of all the natural or counting numbers, An is the current population size, 'r' is the rate of population growth, which for most developing countries, stands at about 3% per annum, and 't' represents elapsed time since the last census. Alternatively, almost the same results can be obtained using the Compound Interest formula, Pn = P0 (1+r)n. We can also know the population by the simple equation of PN =P0+B-D+I-E, where to find the current population, we add the previous known population size to the number of births minus deaths plus immigration minus emigration. Demographic factors aside, the size of population is also influenced by political, economic, social, technological, legal, ethical and environmental factors.

These variables or population size determinants can be controlled or influenced by appropriately-crafted government economic policies, such as free education, free medical care, taxation, equitable distribution of the national cake, immigration control policies, political stability and good governance, among others.

For example, the excellent social welfare policies of Scandinavian countries and Canada attract a lot of immigrants. Also the centripetal and centrifugal push and pull factors are at play in each country. For example, in a developing country like Ghana, high levels of corruption, inflation, wide income disparities, tribalism, political disquiet, and mismanagement of scarce national resources can accelerate massive brain drain of our skilled professionals, as well as frustrated young school leavers.

What do we see now in our globalised world? Instead of a large size population being a threat and a menace, it has rather transformed into a situation where countries have gained comparative and competitive advantage by having pools of highly skilled labour at cheaper cost. Hence, India and China are experiencing a lot of business through outsourcing, offshoring, and relocation to Asia of huge multinationals such as Airbus, Volkwagen, Toyota, and Microsoft, among others. Suddenly, countries with huge populations are assuming superpower status and geopolitical importance because of having critical human mass.

We can learn lessons from India and China that large populations not only provide cheap labour and provide large consumer markets, but also provide avenues for creativity, competition and efficiency, especially in a globalised world, where work can be done anywhere in the world through teleworking or telecommuting, forms of flexible working.

Need we encourage family planning in Ghana, or need we encourage more births to reach the critical mass that will attract investors? The essence is quality and not quantity at the individual family level, while nationally, it is the other way round. What a poser and paradox, that what is best for the individual need not necessarily become useful to the nation, and vice versa.

This backdrop informs us that development is a two-way process involving governments providing social interventions on the one hand, and individuals on the other hand maximizing their utilities and satisfaction through individually determined series of actions and decisions. In India up to today, education up to the university level is heavily subsidised by the state, while in China, the state used centralised planning to instil discipline and provide quality public infrastructure to add value to the quality of life and standard of living.

Being self- reliant and hardworking, food prices have remained low in China and India. Need we revive Acheampong's Operation Feed the Nation launched in the 70s? Busumbrum Kofi Annan has spoken at length on achieving food security in Africa, and I need not belabour the point.

It depends on having the facilities to train a lot of school leavers to acquire relevant agricultural skills. It will also depend on having proper pro-poor policies on the ground, such as subsidised health care, subsidised education, easy access to micro-finance or in short, heavy investments in human capital and intellectual property.

For a knowledge society in the quaternary sector, we need to build synergies by exploiting the potential of our fast growing populations. We need to transform perceived threats into strengths and opportunities by being creative and innovative. Having or not having children should be by choice as individuals, and perhaps by design or imposition of state policies which inform individuals what path to tread in familial matters.

With the increase in global connectivity through ICT, emigration and immigration have increased tremendously, with their effects cancelling each other out. We should try to develop the northern parts of Ghana and the rural areas in the south to stem the influx of people from the north to the south of Ghana in search of white-collar jobs, and we should encourage rural youth not to drift to the cities, which are already over-populated and having overstretched utilities such as water supply, power and health facilities, vehicular traffic congestion, among others. More importantly, we need a critical review of our current educational system to make it more job-market oriented and skills-based for self-employment and entrepreneurship.

We should lay emphasis on rural development to empower rural communities to increase the stay option. Rural development as our food basket holds the key to Ghana's future development as a self-reliant country in food production. That was Busia's legacy to us. We should see some good in all the national plans of our past leaders, and try to implement those which will benefit our suffering masses. Contact: kwesiattasakyi449@yahoo.com

Columnist: Sakyi, Kwesi Atta