Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Fight Against Fall Army Worm Infestation

The fall army worm was first detected around the Krobo area last year. It was initially thought of as stem borer by farmers and extension officers. Having failed in their attempt at controlling it with known stem borer pesticides, it dawned on them that there was more to it. By September of the same year, only the Western region was spared out of the ten regions of Ghana.

Unfortunately, the Western region has also given in to the Fall Army Worm attack by March this year. It must be said, however, that, these initial attacks were somewhat isolated regardless of the presence in all the regions. Government in its quest to curb the ravaging effects of worms has budgeted 16 million Ghana cedis for the purchase of pesticides and awareness creation.

Indeed, the Minister for Food and Agriculture at a news conference in May said eight million will be used for awareness creation while the other half will go into the purchase of pesticides. Several months after this intervention, the annihilating effect of the worms has however assumed catastrophic levels. Current figures suggest that more than 112 thousand hectares of farmlands have been infested while 14 thousand farms are in complete ruin.

As a result, the Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana, through its Programme Officer, Charles Nyaaba has asked that government to declare a state of emergency relative to the invasion. Information available suggests that farmers are resorting to crude and rudimentary ways of fighting the worms.

Reports are that, farmers in the Tumu area of the Upper West region for instance, are using washing powder mixed with pepper to deal with the canker. This, according to the farmers has led to the curtailment the havoc caused by the invading worms. While this may be effective in dealing with the problem, there are dire food safety consequences.

Detergents are known to contain heavy metals; Cadmium, Zinc and Copper. These metals are known carcinogens. The question that arises therefore is whether or not, we are not creating problems out of solving another? Ghana is not the first nor the only country to have witnessed the fall army worm invasion.

South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Nigeria, Malawi, Namibia, Uganda, Zambia and many others have not been spared the devastating effect of the worms. Since this menace has huge food security implications, governments in most of these countries are panicking, rightly so, and have embarked on aggressive control measures, particularly, distribution of pesticides.

These pesticides kill the larvae through contact or may penetrate the plant tissue and later poison the larvae that feed on it. Uganda and South Africa have particularly been singled out for their aggression in distributing pesticides to deal with the scourge.

In the specific case of South Africa, there has been an emergency registration of all agricultural chemicals to ensure that farmers only apply recommended pesticides.

Agricultural extension officers have also been trained to monitor the strict adherence to label instructions by farmers. Additionally, a Fall Army Worm action group made up of researchers, seed producers and distributors, industry players has been formed.

The group’s responsibility is to provide technically correct information to stakeholders and also evaluate progress. South Africa, in addition to all these, has also embarked on the importation of pheromone traps to determine the exact extent of spread and the specific strain of the worm that is being dealt with.

Although it is understandable that the fastest way of dealing with this debacle is the use of pesticides, one should be deeply concerned about the continued and unregulated application. If the credits of pesticides include enhanced economic potential in terms of increased production of food and fibre, and amelioration of vector-borne diseases, then their debits have resulted in serious health implications to human and the environment.

Studies are replete with the effects of pesticides on the environment and human health. These chemicals could be directly ingested by children through feasting on soil, they could also be taken up by plants and eventually eaten by humans. Pesticides may also pollute water bodies in addition to their recalcitrant nature in the soil.

According to the Center for Agricultural and Biosciences International, conservative estimates of the loss to be caused by the worm on maize fields in the coming years in Africa stands at three billion dolars.

For Ghana to effectively tackle the dreaded worm, in order to forestall any devastating economic hardship, particularly on smallholder farmers, there is the need to adopt a multi-prong approach that is quick and well-coordinated. There must be massive and far-reaching awareness campaign, stakeholder consultation and institutional collaborations.


Making National Service Scheme Hustle Free

The National Service Scheme is established in 1973, with the mandate of deploying a pool of skilled manpower drawn primarily from tertiary institutions to support development efforts of both the public and private sectors. It offers opportunities to the youth who were trained at the taxpayer’s expense to give back to society. This is also a way of inculcating the culture of volunteerism and patriotism in the youth.

In the last few years, the scheme had deployed an average of 70,000 national service personnel each year to various user agencies, with education being the greatest beneficiary. The Scheme as currently constituted provides newly qualified graduates the opportunity to have practical exposure on the job, both in the public and private sectors, as part of their civic responsibility to the State. It also provides user agencies the opportunity to meet their manpower needs and affords communities that would otherwise have difficulty in accessing mainstream development initiatives, such as improved social services through community service.

This year, the National Service Secretariat has deployed 91,871 personnel to serve in various institutions. This year, about 76,908 representing 85 percent of the service personnel deployed would serve in the public sector while the remaining 14,963, representing 15 percent have been posted to the private sector. About two thousand 170 personnel are to serve in agriculture related positions as part of government's ‘Planting for food and jobs’ program. It is however sad that in spite of assurances to put measures in place to ensure that this years’ service registration is without challenges, prospective Service personnel who have been posted to serve within Ledzokuku Krowor and La Dade-Kotopon Municipal Assemblies were struggling to go through the process of registration with long disorganised queues.

To make matters worse, the scene turned chaotic when soldiers who were brought in to maintain order, started using belts and sticks on them. It is unfortunate that these young graduates had to endure such a torture and high handedness from the military, simply because they wanted to fulfill one of their civic responsibilities. They can however take solace in the apology issued by the management of the national service secretariat and the assurances to put further measures in place to ease the congestion to make way for smooth registration process.

In this day and age, it is ridiculous that the scheme will want to insist on manual registration. There may be good reasons, such as preventing impersonation and double registration by wanting the prospective personnel to show their physical presence. There are far better reasons for doing it online, after all, there can be checks and balances to reduce if not eliminate the envisaged challenges and problems.

The decision to deploy some personnel to the agriculture sector this year to support the planting for food and jobs initiavtive is very laudable. This will go a long way to ensure the success of the program and change the negative perceptions about farming. Seeing university and polytechnic graduates in farms will certainly motivate a lot of youth to also take up farming. For instance, Barimayena is a farming community in the Atwima Mponua District of the Ashanti Region that has benefitted immensely from the National Service Scheme. It was in this remote community that a young volunteer initiated a journey that promised to leave footprints on the sands of the history of the community.

The concept of a national service is a good one. Its importance cannot be underestimated. It must remain national service and not national suffering as some people jokingly refer to it. It is therefore important for all stakeholders to play their part to ensure that service personnel do not go thorough pain trying to serve their country. It is also important for user agencies to ensure that they utilize service persons effectively and efficiently and not allow them to warm desks or run errands for their bosses and supervisors.

National service must also offer the personnel the opportunity to have some practical experience from the field. It is critical that, government and other beneficiaries do well to pay them their allowance promptly and regularly. It is an allowance and not a salary. This is to support them to carter for their basic needs such as transportation fare and rent. It puts a lot of pressure on them, when the payment is delayed.


2017 African Media Barometer Report

The 2017 African Media Barometer report, a handbook which analyses the media landscape on the continent makes interesting observation. The seventy eight paged manual which is an in-depth description of national media environments on the African continent serves as a practical tool to lobby for media reforms. According to the report, even though there was freedom of expression including independent media publications in Ghana which were effectively protected and promoted, there were no laws that allowed the public free access to information from official sources. The report noted that even though the media environment was open, free and vibrant, the sector faced challenges of ethics and professionalism.

It observed that the three basic principles of objectivity, cross checking of facts and separating comments from facts were compromised. In his remarks at the launch of the report in Accra, the Acting Resident Director of the Friedrich, Ebert Stiftung, a German foundation, Christopher Forest, commended Ghana for making space for people to express themselves without fear with some even going overboard. According to him, Ghana is the only country in Africa where people can insult the President and get away with it.

At his recent interaction with the media at the Flagstaff House, President Akufo-Addo praised the Ghanaian Media for holding his government accountable and publishing its policies. He noted that even though he has been one of the greatest victims of spewed calumnies, falsehood and outright fabrications, he does not regret his role in the repeal of the discredited criminal libel law. Society, they say begets the media it deserves.

The challenge of the media in Ghana is nothing but its ownership structure. This confers power on whoever owns the media to the extent that owners dictate content. The threat to press freedom today does not emanate from officialdom as it used to be. Now, owners dictate the pace even though some of them know next to nothing about the operation of the media. They therefore use the power of ownership to settle scores and intimidate, harass or dismiss their workers on flimsy excuses. Some do not give employment contract to their workers and would easily dismiss them at the least offense. Even if the media are enjoying much freedom, this is curtailed at the micro level by owners.

As a nation, we need to take a long and hard look at the implications of private media ownership. It is not enough to have a pluralistic media. We acknowledge pluralism has its advantages in the sense that it allows for all shades of opinions, however, the drawback of such freedom is the unrestricted power and dictatorial tendencies of media owners. The inability of government to ensure the passage to the right to information bill is equally worrying. It is said, he who cuts the path knows not where it is crooked. The bill when passed will embolden Ghanaians to hold public officials accountable. Access to data is a pre-requisite to an informed society and for that matter, development.

Efforts must be made at building the capacity and resource the media to enable them to live up to their responsibilities. Poor remuneration of media personnel is another area that is worth looking at. It is pathetic to see media personnel scrambling for handouts popularly called ‘soli’ at events and programmes. Despite the many journalism professionals, who are churned out by the training institutions, only a few are employed by the media houses. Taking into consideration the risks journalists go through in executing their jobs, there should be compressive risk mitigating systems such as insurance packages and protective gears. Unionisation is another option that needs to be explored to protect the right and sanctity of practitioners.

The African Media Barometer Report has come at an opportune time and must be looked at critically to enable us to reap the benefits thereof.


Monday, 24 July 2017

Performance of journalists during presidential media encounter

Yet again, the nation has witnessed an encounter with the President in a remarkable meet the press session. This staple of our political system, started by the Kufuor administration continues to enjoy the admiration of both the political class and the citizenry, deepening the country’s democratic credentials in the geopolitical space. There are some who are of the opinion that six months into the presidency is too short for this engagement. One can say without equivocation that, July 18 exercise was needed to understand the broad vision of the president on the direction of the State six months into his administration. This is because quite a lot of things have happened and were talked about within the last six months, some of which were clear to the people and others not so clear that the people needed clarity, and direction from the president.

To adapt the good old cliché, six months is quite a long time in politics. The question is how useful was the exercise? In answering this question, it is important to recap at least three critical issues that needed clarity from the president. The first had to do with the China money. A clarification as to what government means by saying “it is not a loan but a joint venture”? The Second issue is, is Atiwaa forest the subject of the Ghana-China agreement on the so called joint venture money and the bauxite? Last but not least is galamsey. A major issue that has engulfed this nation, and the fight of which has probably become the “poster boy” headlining the six month presidency of Nana Addo.

There is no doubt that it is the burning desire of most nationals to know from the president how many galamsey sites, in terms of land size has the nation been able to clear off the illegal miners? What is the extent of preparation, if any, towards reclamation of galamsey areas? Instead, what the country had was a mixed bag of about 40 percent quality, 20 percent not so fantastic and a final 40 percent of over the bar questioning. This is not to run down the media and our hardworking journalists.

Ghana, undoubtedly, has one of the finest and most liberal media environments in Sub–Saharan Africa. According to the literature, the media have had to adapt to several political changes and have now become more stable, plural and freer since the 1990s. This is because the 1992 constitution makes provisions for media freedom and plurality and also insulates the state owned media from any form of interference from any quarters. In fact, the renewal of the Ghanaian mass media culture, experts say, has become an integral and indispensable part of the process of democratisation. It is also general knowledge that the Ghanaian media have generally been influential in safeguarding the country's democratic principles by playing critical roles in both the historical and socio-political development of the political system.

However, there has been an emergence, in the last few years, of a problem in public sphere, co-produced and managed by the media, predominantly. In highlighting this problem, it is imperative to refer to Dr. James Abugre, an authority in political communication and the media space in Ghana, who notes that communication helps to explain reasons, methods and ideas of corporate administrators and political leaders to their audiences. Political communications seek to achieve the latter through the mass media, predominantly.

Unfortunately, this process, which is the function of the media, has largely been contaminated in many ways in Ghana, including uncritical, selective and propagandist observation and reporting. In the more recent years, experts, including Abugre, have noted, that greater part of the Ghanaian media have sought to support and project the voices of the political system, becoming opportune witnesses, playing mischief and propaganda rather than educating and informing the citizens and being critical of the political system through fair and neutral ways.

Consequently, the Ghanaian media have greatly succeeded in propping the political class. The issue is glaring to many, especially those who have the authority to talk about it and to correct it. Yet, many are those who would choose to remain silent. It is the hope of many that this trend is reversed. To a large extent, that should begin by sorting out media ownership.


Ensuring Public Safety In Ghana

It may appear that Ghana is not a safe place and it has been unsafe for some time now. There have been repeated episodes of political violence which have made names like Agbogbloshie, Akwatia, Baffoe, Kumbungu, Kulungugu, Lamagushie and others famous. Places like Yendi, Bawku and others remind many of bloodshed rather than the grandeur of chiefs. The recent murder of Major Adam Mahama and others have shaken our assumptions about who we are. To make matters worse, last week, two police officers were shot in broad daylight at Lapaz in Abeka, here in Accra. This should however not surprise us. We are part of Africa.

According to former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair's Africa Commission report, since 1980, violence has killed more people in Africa than on any other continent. These conflicts have displaced 13 million people and created 3.5 million refugees. Ghana may have a reputation as a peaceful and stable country, but the sad reality is many Ghanaians are living in fear. Our security at home is frequently violated by armed robbers and frequent stories of unsolved robberies and murders abound. Western nations routinely warn tourists of violence on our streets. One can attribute the growing levels of crime in the country to inadequate police personnel.

In 2014, there were 30,635 police personnel, giving a ratio of one policeman or woman to 784 citizens. That is not up to the U.N. standard of one police person to 500 citizens. The International Association of Police Chiefs believes this ratio varies from urban to rural areas and that urban areas should have about two point five police per thousand citizens. Apart from understaffing, one other critical challenge of the service has to do with equipment and training. Too often, police lack vehicles, communication equipment and other technology.

Perhaps, another contributory factor to the increasing spate of crime is the issue of corruption. The alleged widespread corruption in both the police service and the judiciary undermines public confidence in the law. This leads to people taking the law into their hands. One can also speak of the lack of documentation of people with small arms and the attitude of politicians.

When the work of the police and other security agencies are politicised, we all become less safe. The solutions are obvious. We must hire more police people. Adding 20,000 more to the police force will reduce unemployment and make us safer. We must reduce corruption with and body cams automation. If we double a corrupt police force, we get twice the corruption. We need a transparent and incorruptible judiciary.

Currently, if a man must choose between bribing the police or the judge, he will bribe the police to save time. Let the politicians leave the police alone. Let us begin by ending the practice of changing IGP's with every election. If the IGP can lose his job because of elections, no policeman can be apolitical. Let us make Ghana safe for all.


Monday, 17 July 2017

Factors Impeding Granting Of Loans To Small And Medium Scale Enterprises

Recent statistics released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) revealed that about 80% of businesses operating in economies across the globe fall within the category of small- and medium-scale enterprises (SMEs). Indeed, about 80% of business establishments in Ghana are SMEs. However, access to credit by (SMEs) from lending institutions is a major challenge for such businesses. Some finance experts believe several factors account for the banks’ reluctance to lend to SMEs. For instance, the Bank of Ghana reported non-performing loans of 4.2 billion cedis. This amount increased to 6.2 billion cedis in 2016, representing about 48 percent rise in non-performing loans over the period. The experts noted that the surge in non-performing loans and other extraneous factors account strongly for the banks’ decision to “relax” lending to SMEs.

It must be emphasized that the lending decisions of financial institutions depend on a set of principles, including liquidity, safety, diversity, stability, and profitability. Liquidity is an essential principle of lending in banking. Banks lend money which can be withdrawn at any time by depositors. To this end, they prefer to lend for a short period of time. For processed loans, banks would like to accept as security, assets that are readily marketable and convertible into cash within a short period of time, usually three months.

Debentures and shares of large companies can be easily marketed or converted into cash. However, it is quite challenging to market the debentures and shares of small firms without adjusting their price downward. An important principle underlying a bank’s investment decision is maximising profits and minimising losses. This makes it imperative for banks to invest in securities that would assure them of a fairly stable return on their investments. Factors such as tax, dividend, and interest rates determine the earning capacity of securities and stocks. Generally, government and municipal securities and shares of some new corporations are exempted from taxes. However, it is advisable for banks to invest more in government and municipal securities than in corporate securities because the former are safer than the latter.

Currently, in Ghana, municipal securities are not actively traded in the securities market, although the existing financial regulations allow Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) to access loans in the financial market, using the District Assembly Common Fund as a guarantee. It is hoped government would adopt proactive measures to enhance the autonomy of MMDAs to ease their active participation in the securities market.

SMEs must strive to adhere to the principles of lending institutions in order to have unfettered access to credit from the financial institutions across the country and beyond. This is the only way they can sustain their activities and continue to contribute to national economic growth.

BY Ebenezer M.Ashley (PhD), Lead Consultant/CEO Eben Consultancy & Fellow Chartered Economist.

Need To Balance Hard Work With Prayers For National Development

In recent times, miracles and prophetic teachings have been the main feature of Christianity in Ghana. Unfortunately, over reliance on prophesies and prosperity messages have not only plunged many citizens including some self-acclaimed men of God into a state of confusion, but also risk setting the expectations of believers in God to very absurd levels. It was refreshing when at this year's May Day parade in Accra, President Akufo-Addo entreated church leaders to impress upon their members to be hard working and desist from over reliance on miracles for success. It is mind boggling, how all of a sudden, Ghanaian Christians are losing the very good values and principles of Christianity.

Many years ago, hard work, humility, cleanliness and respect for the law were the attributes of Christians. But the insatiable quest for quick wealth has led to the erosion of such admirable values. The President was right when he stated that these days, we are in danger of getting things out of balance and allowing our lives to be taken over completely by a narrow interpretation of religion. And as Martin Luther King observed: “The belief that God will do everything for man is as untenable as the belief that man can do everything for himself". We must learn that to expect God to do everything while we do nothing is not faith but superstition.”

In terms of development, Ghana lags behind her contemporaries like Malaysia and Singapore. We are still far from our destination and without hard work, we may never get to the promised land. As Ken Blanchard once said, "productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort." That is why the attitude of most public servants in Ghana is very repugnant, to say the least. To quote the President again, "we arrive at work late and then spend the first hour in prayer. We become clock watchers and leave in the middle of critical work because it is the official closing time. Everything comes to a stop when it rains and we seem to expect the rest of the world also to stop. We have no respect for the hours set aside for work. We pray, we eat, we visit during working hours. We spend hours chatting on the telephone. We take a week off for every funeral and then we wonder why we are not competitive."

After 60 years of independence, thousands of children still go to school under trees. Thousands of babies die due to inadequate maternity facilities, thousands of people sleep outdoors and thousands of communities are inaccessible. It appears the best booming industry in Ghana is church ministration. Too much emphasis appeared to have been placed on religion in this country. This has been the bane of Ghana's development. It is shocking to see church activities going on weekdays, weekends and holidays from morning to evening. One can agree with Kay Musonda, when he said that "African Pentecostalism has given birth to a new breed of mentally lazy Christians who see God as a rewarder of mediocrity". For us, everything depends on prayers.

Indeed prayer is good but that is not sufficient. Prayer must be seen as a complement to hard work. Nevertheless, we should be guided by Thomas Edison, who said being busy does not always mean real work. The object of work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing." It is only with this mentality that we can make any meaningful progress towards our quest for rapid socio economic development.

Our religious leaders need to understand and imbibe in their followers the virtues of hard work. As the saying goes, you cannot eat your cake and have it. If you do not plant, you cannot harvest. If we expect our nation to develop rapidly, we must learn to work hard. To quote Brian Tracy, "You are where you are and what you are because of yourself, nothing else.

Nature is neutral. Nature doesn't care. If you do what other successful people do, you will enjoy the same results and rewards that they do. And if you don't, you won't.”