Every misfortune ultimately proves to be a blessing as the case of the drought and famine that plagued the country in 1982 and 1983 and brought in its wake so much hunger showed.
It is largely that unforgettable experience which birthed the idea of a national farmers day to spur on the production of more food crops, livestock and dairy.
During the famine period, people had to employ survival techniques such as buying uncooked kenkey or else risk missing out once it was put on fire and cooked. Those days, having banku made from yellow maize considered as grain for poultry was even a luxury.
Those hard days notwithstanding, one of the good things that have happened to the country is that successive governments have maintained the farmers’ day and it has been commemorated each year on the first Friday of December since 1985, to honour Ghana’s farmers and fishers.
The event which acknowledges the very important position farmers and fishers occupy in the nation’s socio-economic development has improved over the years in terms of organisation and the awards presented to the winners.
It has ultimately also resulted in an increase in food production, so much so that Ghana is no longer classified among the hungry or food-stressed nations of the world. Indeed, there are often bumper harvests of some crops and now the challenge being faced by the farmers has a lot more to do with post-harvest losses due to bottlenecks in the distribution chain.
Mabel Akoto Kudjoe from Hohoe in the Volta Region was named first runner-up last year. President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo presenting her the citation accompanying the award
Farmers Day was instituted by the Government in 1985 in recognition of the vital role farmers and fishers play in the economy, especially the highly commendable output of farmers and fishermen in 1984, which resulted in about 30 per cent growth, after the bad agricultural years of 1982 and 1983.
The institutionalised farmers day awards, which is always on a chosen theme, also acknowledge the untiring efforts of farmers and fishers at feeding the country’s growing population, providing raw materials to the nation’s industries, and contributing substantially to the nation’s foreign exchange earnings.
The award to the first best farmer comprised two machetes, a pair of Wellington boots and a preset radio at a national durbar held at Osino in the Eastern Region in 1985.
Ever since, the value of the awards has improved from year to year, moving from bicycle to power tillers to tractors, to pickups and then to a three-bedroom house for the ultimate winner from 2002 to 2016. We have indeed come far.
The programme of activities usually planned for the celebrations include a National Farmers Forum at which the award winners are expected to interact with policy makers and experts on some technological advances in the agricultural sector and also make their views known.
Prizes are awarded to deserving farmers and fishers in order of best practices and outputs.
One notable feat chalked up by the awards is that over the years great interest has been shown by organisations and institutions that sponsor the event by offering various agricultural inputs, cash and other items that are presented to the deserving award winners.
Other organisations in agriculture have also made available to farmers and fishers either credits, inputs for production or processing of produce to reduce post-harvest losses.
Robert Crentsil (left), a 42-year old farmer from the Ajumako Enyan-Essiam District in the Central Region, was the last National Best Farmer to be presented with a three-bedroom house as prize. He was handed a dummy key by then President John Dramani
The 2017 edition, which was on the theme: “Farming for Food and Jobs,” was won by Philip Kwaku Agyemang, a 50-year-old farmer from the Dormaa West District Assembly of the Brong Ahafo Region. He was presented with US$100,000 instead of the three-bedroom house that had been presented by the Agricultural Development Bank for 15 years, in response to a request by the farmers.
Mr Agyemang who is married with seven children, has only had basic education, and has been farming for the past 29 years. His Farm, Awurade Na Aye Farms, employs a total of 205 workers, comprising 97 full-time employees, 80 casual employees and 28 others, assisting in the capacity of family relations. His farm is located within the Dormaa West District and other farming communities such as Ahenfiekrom, Mantuka, Bebone and Sikasu.
Mr Agyemang, who is the Chairman of the Nkrankwanta Poultry Farmers Association, had previously won awards which are the Dormaa District Best Farmer for 1994, Brong Ahafo Regional Best Poultry Farmer for 2001 and the National Best Farmer (2nd Runner-Up) for 2011.
That is not surprising as he can be referred to as a total farmer, since he has large acreages of crops and rears a variety of livestock and birds.
His stock includes 125 acres of cocoa, 74 acres of maize, rice, 13 acres; cassava, seven acres; yam, two acres; tomato, six acres; pepper, 0.5 acres; cabbage, 0.5 acres; citrus, three acres; oil palm, 18 acres; coconut, 11 acres; plantain,78 acres; teak, 20 acres and Terminalia trees, 3,500 acres.
As of last year, livestock and birds included 57 cattle, 35 sheep, 42 goats, five grass cutters, about 40,000 Layers (cxolic) 6,000 Broilers (exotic), 130 local birds, 25 Guinea fowls and 32 ducks.
He also had 90 bags of mushroom, one box colonised beehives, two fish ponds and 114 snails.
As part of his social responsibility to his community, he has undertaken projects such as the donation of electricity poles to Nkrankwanta, offered educational sponsorship to needy, brilliant orphans, constructed a dormitory for the Nkrankwanta Senior High School and donated a house to the Department of Agriculture, Dormaa District Assembly.
Launching the 2018 event to be held at Tamale in the Northern Region on the theme: “Agriculture: Moving Ghana beyond aid” on August 3, the Vice-President, Dr Mahamudu Bawumia, said the introduction of a number of reforms, including a cash donation of about US$100, 000 to the National Best Farmer last year and the start of an exhibition to showcase the country’s agricultural endowment and diversity were part of reforms to improve on the awards.
Dr Bawumia said last year the agricultural sector accounted for 18.7 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and recorded an estimated growth of 8.4 per cent after a decade of erratic growth averaging less than four per cent.
“The diagnosis of the lower than expected performance of the sector over the years indicates that the agricultural sector is plagued with low productivity arising from low adoption of technology such as improved seeds and fertilisers, poor infrastructure, poor access to market and high post-harvest losses, as well as aged farmers,” he added.
He listed some interventions being rolled out by the government such as the construction of 570 dams in the three regions of the north next year and the investment of close to US$1 billion in road infrastructure this year under the Sinohydro intervention.
Planting for food and jobs
For his part, the Minister of Food and Agriculture, Dr Owusu Afriyie Akoto, indicated that about half a million more beneficiaries of the Planting for Food and Jobs would be engaged this year.
He also announced the construction of over 50 warehouses under the Ghana National Buffer Stock Company to enhance the storage of agricultural produce.
In a speech read on her behalf, the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development, Ms Elizabeth Afoley Quaye, also outlined a number of initiatives being undertaken by the fisheries sector such as the construction of landing sites in Axim, Mumford, Teshie and Winneba; the intensification of patrols on the sea by the Navy and marines, among other interventions, and appealed to the traditional rulers to assist the ministry to ensure that fishing laws were obeyed.