By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
December 7, 2009
Until I read news reports concerning Chuck Kofi Wayo’s reaction to the National Farmers’ Day event, I had always considered him as a man whose wealth is superior to him. As a politician, Kofi Wayo (founder and leader of the United Renaissance Party) hasn’t impressed me. Yet, his comments on the National Farmers’ Day celebration have given me a different impression of him. For once, he has indicated that being a stormy petrel sometimes pays. Here is why.
Speaking on Citi FM’s Break Fast Show on Friday, Kofi Wayo expressed misgivings about the National Farmers’ Day celebration and urged the government to rather address the problems facing Ghanaian farmers. He said the government should rather invest more money in the education of the farmers so they can adopt and practise modern farming methods and record keeping.
Then, Wayo makes the most profound statement that must not be dismissed as the effusions of an embittered politician:
“Let’s go back and check the farmers who won the [National Best Farmer] award five years ago, let’s go and see their conditions now, do you have a data on it? The government doesn’t know,” he added (Reference: JoyFm Online, December 4, 2009).
Kofi Wayo has raised important issues that draw attention to what may be missing from the general scheme of this National Farmers Day. His observations also highlight the failures of our various governments in tackling the problems facing the agricultural sector. Wayo’s call for the education of our farmers for them to keep records and the establishment of a pension scheme for farmers is laudable. Indeed, he hit the nail right on the head and the sparks are clear for us all to see.
I don’t however, share Kofi Wayo’s effusions against the National Farmers’ Day as a communist ideology, which is of no importance to the Ghanaian farmer. There is nothing “communist” about that event. Instead, it provides an opportunity for the celebration of our famers and their trade. It serves as the culmination of the hard work that the farmers have been doing and must have its place in our national calendar of events. I wish Kofi Wayo were at any of the venues to see how the farmers and fishermen enthuse over the ceremony and to feel the happiness oozing from them. You must have a thick skin not to be affected by their joyous mood, even if transient.
What is wrong about the National Farmers’ Day event is its isolation from the main scheme of agricultural development. The governments that we’ve had ever since the institution of the event have done very little to justify its continued celebration with pomp and pageantry. Our agricultural sector has not seen any marked improvement nor can we say that it has any bright future if the trend doesn’t change for the better.
The institution of the National Farmers’ Day by the Jerry Rawlings PNDC government was hugely welcomed and appreciated by Ghanaians as a practical demonstration of the government’s gratitude to farmers (of all categories) and its commitment to motivate the country’s food producers. In fact, some of us who have directly witnessed or participated in some of the celebrations at the various levels (national, regional, and district) will hardly support Kofi Wayo’s condemnation of the event as a “communist” one, which shouldn’t have any place in a Western-democratic orientation of the kind that we’ve been practising since 1992. The farmers and fishermen themselves exude much self-confidence and gratitude to the government for being recognized and placed in the limelight. They revel in it. Why, then, should we deny them this chance to get together and celebrate their hard work?
But the delight stops there. Our farmers have done a lot to produce food for us but continue to live in misery all along because of the criminal apathy of the government toward their plight. They haven’t had the opportunity to be integrated into any national scheme for a secure future and live their lives at the fringes as outcasts. What is their crime to be so neglected and pushed into narrow circumstances?
It appears that the Ministry of Agriculture and the government itself don’t have any consistent programme to accommodate these farmers being celebrated on the occasion or the various previous award winners. No one has any record that will track their situation after the award ceremony. Does the government really know the status of these award winners as of now? Or why is it that none of them has so far returned to the limelight?
That’s not all. Kofi Wayo’s call for the institution of a pension scheme for the farmers is laudable. I remember when I was reporting for the Ghana News Agency in the 1980s and covered one of the Industry and Technology (Indutech) fairs at the Trade Fair Center in Accra and bumped into Joe Donkor, former Managing Director of the State Insurance Corporation (who later became an NPP MP) and had an interview with him. That must be in 1986. He disclosed that plans were far afoot by the SIC and other partners to institute a pension scheme for Cocoa and Coffee farmers. The media carried that news item and many people heaved huge sighs of relief at the prospects. Over 20 years now, that pension scheme has remained the figment of those people’s imagination.
The Ghana Federation of Agricultural Co-operatives (Ghafaco-ops) was active at the time just as the Cocoa, Coffee, and Sheanut Farmers’ Association was too. We’ve also had the Ghana National Fishermen Association (fishermen operating along the coast, led by Nii Abeo Kyerekuandah, former Greater-Accra Regional Secretary under the PNDC) and the Inland Canoe Fishermen’s Association (for fishermen operating on the lakes and rivers). These associations have worked hard to procure implements for their members at affordable prices even if accusations of corruption continue to threaten their viability.
I share Kofi Wayo’s concerns on the fate of the farmers and fishermen, and urge the government to take up his call for a pension scheme for them. Apart from being helped to improve their methods of farming through mechanization, the farmers need financial backing to expand yields as well as to support their lives when they retire from such physical exertions. Increasing yields means the availability of markets for their produce and the conservation/preservation of what is perishable. My heart bleeds whenever images of Dr. Nkrumah’s silos in Tema come to mind. Are we Ghanaians interested in making any progress in life at all? What are we doing in the midst of plenty to change our circumstances for the better?
In the interim, it is feasible for an insurance scheme for them as well. After all, monthly premiums could be calculated, based on any possible risk factor so that should any disaster strike them, they could be fairly supported. I am of the strong conviction that productivity will pick up and our food producers will hold the government in high esteem if they are given support from the authorities. There is too much declaration of intents!
It is pathetic to see these old and weak farmers still struggling to make ends meet as they strive to feed the nation, especially agile and able-bodied youths who choose to leave the farming communities for the urban areas to survive by doing all odds and ends in sight. Their plight becomes more noticeable when they become too old to till the land and repair to the inner recesses of life, waiting for death.
Rather disgustingly, these are the very people that our politicians go to for votes to be in power. Are our politicians so callous and unconscionable as not to sympathize with these poor rural dwellers who, by no fault of their own, live in the deprived areas of the country and invest all their energies in food production to support the idlers in the urban areas?
Denied the benefits of modern methods of farming, these poor farmers still till the land with cutlasses and hoes, depending on Nature to provide rainfall for their crops. And when the rains fail, there is famine, and the shameless government sends urgent appeals to the international community for food, including YELLOW CORN, which is meant for livestock! Helping our farmers modernize farming through mechanization and the introduction of high-yielding crop varieties is good; but who is willing to initiate that move?
The government’s own plan for improved agricultural production exists only in huge documents that are rotting away on shelves in officialdom. How many times haven’t we heard stories from government officials that the Afram Plains and the Accra Plains will be put under irrigation for farming purposes? What has happened? How many times haven’t we been told that the entire Northern belt is the country’s bread basket? Beyond that rhetoric, what practical action have our various governments taken to actualize such rhetoric? Nothing!!
As I write now, there is every indication that sheanuts are in high demand (even in the West African Sub-Region). Cashew nuts are also influential. What has the government put in place to help the farmers maximize productivity and to help diversify our economy? Nothing encouraging so far!
The government must demonstrate its commitment to improving agricultural production not only through high-sounding rhetorical manipulations and announcements of so-called packages for farmers. It must stop bothering us with its INTENTIONS (as is always the case at ceremonies, where the functionaries announce plans to import tractors and other input for farmers/fishermen but do nothing thereafter). We want PRACTICAL ACTION to confirm that for once, there is a genuine desire to make agriculture attractive. Our farmers and fishermen have suffered for far too long and this is the time to support them through long-lasting pension schemes and other support services.
Much criticism has been levelled against the youth for not venturing into agriculture but leaving the rural areas for the cities to look for non-existent jobs. Nobody wants to go beyond that criticism to find out why the trend persists. I daresay that the agricultural sector is unattractive because the youths don’t see any prospects in farming and fishing, especially knowing very well that this from-hand-to-mouth business cannot secure a bright future for them when they grow old and cannot take up their tools any more to fend for themselves. Thus, remaining in the farming communities after school will be the height of stupidity. The rural-urban drain thrives because there is no incentive in the rural areas to keep the youths there.
A good way to solve the problem is to ensure that enough support is provided for the farmers (and fishermen) to look to the future with hope. One expects the government to do better than what we’ve seen so far. If the government provides the safety net that our farmers (and fishermen) need, the situation will improve. The Agricultural Development Bank that was established solely for purposes of supporting famers/fishermen financially has been hijacked by the business friends of those in authority and turned into a financial monster to scare away the very people for whom it was established. Have we lost our sense of decency in national life?
I agree with Kofi Wayo that the government should do more than assembling the poor farmers at specific venues to use them as pawns in its political game. I have no qualms against the quantum of prizes given out but I am against this ad hoc approach to tackling national problems. The Planning Committees of the Farmers’ Day event should help government devise better ways to motivate our farmers and fishermen. This annual gathering to celebrate an occasion and then go to bed until the following year to re-invent that occasion is characteristic of a society that is not interested in progress. The whole world is running fast and if we want to catch up with it, we must run fast too. If we walk, it will run away and leave us behind. Unless the government proves me wrong, I will continue to insist that it wants Ghana to walk and be left behind by the whole world. What have we done wrong to have such self-seekers as our leaders?