Ghana's farming sector is 'key to prosperity'

Man picking strawberries in Ghana
Image caption Some farmers are able to export produce such as strawberries to the European Union

Ghana will always rely on handouts from international donors unless it learns to feed itself, according to Dr Joe Taabazuing at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA).

"The focus on increasing crops whilst at the same time neglecting our animal production is also detrimental to the country," he says.

His thoughts are echoed by Yao Fiagbeto of the Concerned Citizens Democratic Alliance for Ghana (CCDAG), who advocates that any developed nation should be self-sufficient in food production.

"No land lies idle in developed nations," he says. "If you are well fed then you can sit back and think about all the other issues."

His main concern is that in post-independent Africa, nobody is paying attention to the land.

"People are either ignorant about it, or think they can get food from developed nations," he says.

Government intervention

Dr Taabazuing says the reason that animal production is not vibrant, is mostly due to the cheap importation of animal products from Europe and the US.

"Farmers in those places are subsidised, or they have the technology which makes it difficult for local producers to compete with them," he says.

It is a fact however, that families have to be fed and they will look for the cheapest product, although Dr Taabazuing believes the government should intervene with subsidies for technology and animal feeds.

He also maintains that the government should put appropriate taxes on imported products to make it comparable and competitive with local products.

"We need to wake up to the realities of our times and do something," he says.

"Markets are limited and many farmers are not able to recoup their cost of production," he notes.

He would like to see the government providing guaranteed prices so farmers would know that they could sell their produce at a minimum cost.

New markets

"If we improve our marketing within the sub-Sahara region we could sell some of our produce there rather than relying on exports to Europe," Dr Taabazuing says.

"I don't see why we cannot mop up excess maize in Ghana and sell it to Niger or drier lands," he says. "Small farmers cannot market on that scale on their own."

Some crops already get government help.

"Cocoa farmers are subsidised and maize is improving, but other crops such as soya bean have not had the same attention," he says.

Image caption Cocoa accounts for about 40% of Ghana's foreign currency earnings

"The good thing about crops is that everyone will eat that, whereas with animal protein some people can survive without it," Dr Taabazuing points out.

"So there is always a better market for the crops. Crops are better off than animal production both in terms of government attention and in terms of demand and market possibilities," he says.

Lost skills

Most animal production in Ghana, particularly poultry, has collapsed.

"That has signalled to many people that opportunities to continue with animal production are limited, so a lot of people are shying away from it," Dr Taabazuing says.

He is concerned that over time, the knowledge and capacity to develop the animal industry will become weaker and weaker, and that will create serious problems for the future.

The older generation is accustomed to farming but younger people prefer to live in big cities and find a different kind of work.

This is where the government can make a difference, he believes.

Mr Fiagbeto of CCDAG maintains that if the government directs investment and develops rural resources it will encourage young people to stay on the land.

"If you don't develop your resources into different kinds of consumer products then all you will depend on is handouts from people who have concentrated on exploiting their own resources," says Mr Fiagbeto.

"Governments can help finance processing plants for the produce grown, and that in turn will create jobs," he says.

"At the moment, the young have nothing to fall back on in fishing and farming communities, so they all go to the cities in search of greener pastures."

Finding the funds

Mr Fiagbeto advocates that 60% of Ghana's new oil revenues should be directed into agriculture and fishing by providing processing factories and infrastructure.

"It will be a rock of investment that Ghana can build upon. If we only use that income to build big buildings in cities, we will always be asking for handouts," he says.

Dr Taabazuing, meanwhile, says it is a question of deciding the country's priorities and once you prioritise something, you should be able to get the funding.

Image caption People are leaving the countryside in the belief they can better prosper in the cities

"I believe government expenditure can be trimmed in some areas. There are leakages in many areas of revenue collection and expenditure," he says.

"If we are determined as a people, that we want to block these leakages, and we want to use the resources we have more efficiently, and we get agriculture right, it will stimulate the rest of our economy," he asserts.

He believes it is time for everyone to make sacrifices - including government officials.

"It is unacceptable for politicians to say we should tighten our belt when they are loosening theirs," he says.

"If the leadership offered the right signals that they are ready to make their own sacrifices to build a better society, the economy would expand and all of us would be better off."

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