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.