The Food Crisis And Problem Solving: Cassava Bread??

Wed, 14 May 2008 Source: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

I was walking home through a pathway in the woods. I noticed something very interesting. Previously and mostly done by scofflaws, the pathway was littered with beer bottles and thrash. It worked for the bums because the wooded area enabled them to toss bottles and thrash into the undergrowth when no one is watching. The residents and property owners of the area noticed this growing problem and called on the authorities to remedy the situation. The solution was the following: clear the place, put notices in English and Spanish about the need to put thrash in a provided bin, put high powered lights in the area and then place thrash bins where the thrash in often left. So far, it is working very well. The authorities did this not because they are smarter than you and me. They did it because it works, it was their responsibility and makes sense. Everyone in this situation benefits from the solution. This is your classic win/win solution. Secondly, when taxpayers have a problem that falls in the lap of local government, the problem better be addressed or there will be hell to pay in the polls and also, at town hall meetings. Never mind the newspapers and other avenues used to embarrass the leaders if they fail to deliver. Of course, most of the leaders here have some sense of shame! Most will resign and have no chance of re-nomination if they should be hit with a serious scandal. We all do enjoy seeing our real estate equity spiral skyward. Welcome to problem solving 101.

According most experts, there is a looming global food crisis in the offering. Form all indications, Africa stands to suffer the most. We are the ones that have the most fertile land known to man but continue to beg for food and handouts. Given our culture, children will suffer most in the food blight yet to fully unfurl. In Ghana, the breadwinner eats the choicest part. In most cases, the breadwinner is the man. The women and kids stand to be hard hit if food should become a nagging headache. Most African mothers that I know will of course defer to their kids. Even so, the weak always die first in the midst of grave want. Do you know that every 5 seconds a kid dies of hunger related causes? Chronic malnutrition retards child development and significantly impacts a productive adult life in a negative way. For how long will our kid study under trees and with empty stomachs? According to Save the Children organization, 6.5 million kids die in a year from chronic malnutrition. Africa’s children will die not because Africans lacks the resources to grow food. They will die because among other considerations, we Africans are poor problem solvers. Instead of thinking our way through problems, we throw our hands in the air and start coining up inanities to address basic problems. We’ve outsourced most of our telling problems to the rest of the world yet we can’t understand why they dominate us in every sphere. My theory is this, so long as others have predetermined solutions to our problems, they will continue to dominate and dictate what you do. Look no further than Kenya and Zimbabwe! The culture that rules is the one with relatively superior solutions to problems and challenges. Kick and scream all you want, we will not come into our own until we are able to address our problems and rely on ourselves mostly.

I read with derision, the idea that Ghanaians will have to eat cassava bread as a way of mitigating the anticipated food crisis. If Cassava bread is our solution to the food crisis then we better think again. First, whose idea is this cassava bread? Here we have a looming food crisis and all the government can conjure up is cassava bread? Folks, the problem is not a diet crisis! It is a food crisis and that goes for most or all staples. A food crisis has much more broader implications than what bread or food we eat. For example, how are we going to make sure that food remains affordable? What about increased investment in Agric by the government? What about credit facilities for farmers? What about regulating farm inputs like fertilizers and fuel? What about making sure that the very poor are not priced out of the food market? The best way that I know we can solve this problem, short of starving ourselves, is to increase food output and manage carefully, distribution and sale of food. But to increase output means that we have to carefully manage post harvest success so as not to depress prices for our farmers in the midst of a glut in the short run. This means that food processing will be key to dealing with the surplus harvest. But to lay hands on the surplus harvest, we have to find ways to get into the hinterlands and bring the food out. The latter will help energize the rural areas by putting money into the pocket of our hard working farmers. How do we maximize our food production and management? Where are the factories to process the perishable food that we can’t store away in its natural form? How can the government provide the needed input on a timely basis? How is the government going to make food affordable for all Ghanaians, especially the kids?

To start with, we need a national plan, especially, since our form of agric depends on the vagaries of the weather. Instead of turning themselves into dieticians and dictators of what food people eat, our leaders should rather focus on defining what the problem is. Problem solving starts with problem definition. Coming up with inane solutions clearly shows that one does not understand or appreciate the problem. For example, a food crisis will obviously tote high prices. Therefore, does it make a difference whether Cassava bread or Corn bread is on the shelf, if I can’t afford it? A comprehensive definition of the problem will include much more serious elements that require comprehensive solutions in the short and long term. Indeed, and not fairly obvious, a good solution may not even include the mention of cassava bread, an idea that is not new to Ghanaians. What we need from our leaders is a clear definition of what a food crisis will look in Ghana. It is important to put a Ghanaian patina on our problem definitions. We have to look at this from a local perspective and subsequently think about how it fits into the global food puzzle. If we make food available, Ghanaians can decide whether they want cassava bread or Yam cakes! I think the latter is the easy part.

Once we properly define the problem, we can aggressively move to drawing a plan to solve the defined problem(s). How do we plan to solve or minimize this food problem? What will it take? For example, how do we get seeds to the farmers on time? How will we get the food out if we are able to grow more food? How will we process the food if we get it out? What will we do with the plantain and tomatoes that rots annually on the farms? Can we deploy our army and may be some kind of volunteer special forces to help? If we treat this as a crisis and take it seriously, I will not object using the army to graze out feeder roads that will help pull out the food. We can also help private transport owners by making them a part of this effort. I will also not object to visiting the shelves of our universities to bring out some of the food research that continue to gather dust. Some of what we can do has already been researched. All we have to do is actualize the research. If we can turn plantain, Yam, Cocoyam etc into powder, what have we to fear? If we can freeze fish and fresh produce, what have we to fear? Will our energy supply be consistent? What about teaching our folks to can or bottle vegetables for future use? Why can’t we raise more poultry to help with our food situation? Why can’t we build hatcheries in every region to supply day old chicks? If we can build presidential mansions and buy luxury cars, yet cannot insure our own food security, what does it say of our leaders and the people they lord over? If we can’t grow rice but will nurse a rice import regime that is alleged to benefit key members of the ruling party, what does it say about us? I am one who is convinced that we can produce 80% of the food we need. But to do the latter, we need a plan. We need a short and long term national plan carefully and comprehensively hatched.

Let’s assume that we have a well thought out comprehensive national food plan (Remember operation feed your self?). Now we have to move aggressively into implementation. How do we get it done? It is the day after and the ink is dry! Who cranks up the first engine aimed at actualizing the plan and how will it be done? Do we have the right people in place? Who is checking to make sure that all is working as planned? Who is bringing integrity and transparency to the plan? Who is making sure that all is at peace in the areas where the land has to be acquired, food grown and harvest extracted for processing? Do we need to sedate these chiefs to ensure peace while food production goes on unabated? Do we have the resources, logistics and manpower we need? Are we getting the resources on time to make sure that the plan is on track? Who will coordinate the effort nationally? Who will sponsor, lead and champion this effort? Who will rally the people and nation to this effort?

Finally, how do we evaluate this effort so that we can smooth out the kinks? How do we do post ops analysis to make sure we that, in going forward, we infuse our actions with lessons learned? What kind of in built mechanisms do we have in place to help us monitor progress? How serious will we take the evaluation results? Will we accept mistake or remain defensive? Will we hold people responsible?

Folks, problem solving is critical to our success. Its criticality is not just for food crisis, but everything we do. Unfortunately, our educational diet does not teach or emphasize this vital requirement for success. The result is that our leaders can wrap their minds around our problems or challenges. This pushes them to jump to inane solutions or not bothering at all in some instances. If leaders can’t attack and solve problems as they arise, they pile up. If problems pile up, the country becomes a zoo and life turns hellish. Yet the fat pay and perks for these leaders keeps going up and up. This is evidenced in the traffic snarls that besiege the cities, water crisis that thirst our people, energy crisis that cripples our economy, sanitation stench that overwork our sensitive noses and outdated curriculum that miseducates our people. Ask for a national or regional plan on any of the problems I have listed and all you get is a blank stare. Until we make problem solving a key staple of our educational diet, we will continue to be dominated by outside forces that are eager to impose any solution on us so long as it works for them and the interest they serve. And their local lackeys are not letting up either!

Until we ask our leaders to show us the grand plan when they start spouting inane and clueless solutions, we will get more of the same cow dung we don’t deserve. Until we make ourselves part of the solutions and work assiduously to ensure effective implementation and evaluation, we will continue to be fed with royal crap served on a gold platter. A leader is as good as the people he leads. We elect these leaders and pay their salaries and the least we can do is to ask them intelligent questions and demand intelligent solutions based on well thought out problem definition, solution plan, implementation and evaluation. And this happens to be the basics of problems solving. So why can’t we solve our problems? Yes, the food problem too! We cannot afford to witness the replicating of Ethiopia throughout Africa. It is time we get serious with solutions to the impending food crisis. Our political stability depends on it and so does the current and future generation of children. Our peace of mind also depends on it. This is not a laughing matter nor is it a puzzle left for simple minded political jesters. Even if the crisis does not materialize, we still stand to gain by growing more food and shedding the habit of begging for food. After 50 years, we should not be begging for food. God has given us enormous resources and our biggest gratitude will be to use it to serve our fellow human beings. Where is the food plan Mr. President? No the IMF or World Bank does not have it and they can’t explain away for you. Where is our Ghanaian plan to deal with the food crisis? What do we pay you for? Yes we can!!

Nii Lantey Okunka Bannerman ( Da Double Edge Sword)

“I don’t give them hell, I just tell the truth and they think it is hell.” Harry Truman

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka