The agricultural sector still remains a major pillar in the Ghanaian economy, though its contribution to GDP has declined due to the increasing share of the services sector. It continues to be the largest employer of the economically active population, providing raw material for agro-based industries, generating significant foreign exchange earnings, holding the key to achieving food security and reducing the high unemployment rate. In view of the critical role the sector plays in the Ghana’s socio economic development, one needs to commend the government for the launch of the “Planting for Food and Jobs Programme” aimed at increasing agricultural produce especially, maize, rice, soya, sorghum and vegetables. The programme seeks to enhance food security, provide raw materials for agro-based industries, substitute imports especially for rice and soya beans as well check the cancerous rural urban migration.
The usage of improved seeds and optimal level of fertilizers is expected to increase productivity per unit area, looking at the ever-decreasing man to land ratio in Ghana. The services of agricultural extension officers will ensure best agronomic practices. Whilst the programme is laudable, its sustainability and maximum impact would be determined by five major factors. These are the commitment of farmers to repay after harvest, capacity building for extension personnel to transfer technology to farmers, expansion of irrigation infrastructure, putting in place structures to reduce post-harvest losses and a shift in paradigm which integrates improvement in agricultural production to enhancement of the socio economic conditions of the rural areas.
Many a worthwhile programme started over the years aimed at accelerating the growth of the agricultural sector have failed the sustainability test because of repayment challenges by beneficiaries. Since resources to finance the current programme are not limitless, the only way it can be sustained is for beneficiaries to pay after harvests for the funds to be revolved to others and the programme replicated over the years.
Since water is the most important limiting factor to crop production in Ghana, any effort to provide irrigation facilities would have a positive impact on the outcome of the ‘Planting for Food and Jobs Programme.’
With the country annually losing between 20 and 50 per cent of all vegetables, and 20 to 30 per cent of grains produced through post-harvest losses, it will be prudent to invest in appropriate post-harvest technology. Past approaches to enhancing agricultural and rural development have been premised on selective programmes mostly dealing with the agricultural sector on adhoc basis with the hope that the development of the sector could engender overall rural development. The positive effects of such an approach if any have been minimal.
A more prudent approach to improve the lives of farmers is the adoption of an integrated rural development plan which enhances both agricultural and non-agricultural activities such as industry, education, health and social welfare. It is important to link the ‘Planting for Food and Jobs Programme,’ with the One District one Factory initiative with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture taking part-ownership of the agro-based industries to be set up under the One District one factory programme. The fact that most rural labour is underutilised is well known especially in the Northern, Upper East and Upper West regions where there is only one cropping season.
Rural industries would provide income generation opportunities for underemployed farmers during lean seasons and also strengthen and diversify the rural economy by making it less dependent on primary agricultural production, which invariably is at the "mercy of God."
Rural industrialization will offer a less cumbersome and cheaper alternative to urban industrialization by taking industrial development to rural areas where land and raw materials are readily available and where an appreciable proportion of the population live.
These together with seamless linkage of the programme to the One-District-One-Factory-Programme, strengthening off-taking arrangement under the programme, inclusion of crops such as cassava which is amenable to various forms of processing and industrial usage and the expansion of the programme to cover aqua-culture, livestock and poultry could make the programme in a stead to become one of the most successful contemporary interventions in the agricultural sector in Ghana.
By: POLYCARP KWAME AKOBENG, AGRICULTURAL DEVELOPMENT BANK, ACCRA.