Agric Minister, will Farmers Day 2022 give hope to the youth?
Attention Dr Owusu Afriyie Akoto, Minister of Food and Agriculture! Attention the committee responsible for selecting the Best Farmers and deciding the prizes: will Farmers Day 2022 be the same old story?
Or will there be evidence of strong commitment to attracting the youth to take up farming to replace old or ageing farmers?
This year’s Farmers Day, Friday, December 2, is scheduled to take place in Koforidua, under the theme ‘Accelerating Agricultural Development Through Value Addition’.
Clearly value addition is needed to boost agricultural earnings, but evidently also required is an adequate, youthful workforce. The calls for the youth to go into agriculture usually increase around this time of the year.
But what happens on National Farmers Day? Is any proof provided of an encouraging response to the calls, by way of meaningful prizes for young farmers in the Farmers Day rewards scheme, as bait?
To date, the practice has been for all the recognition and the top, coveted Best Farmer prizes to go to the big-time farmers, mostly well established, already wealthy commercial farmers. The youth, who have done well enough to be rewarded, are recognised only by meagre, unappealing prizes.
Incidentally, an old video clip I came across recently, features a Zambian woman, raising similar concerns at a conference in Rwanda in 2018. The Zambian, who identified herself as Tamara Kaunda, a medical doctor but a strong advocate for youth in agriculture, was making a contribution at the conference themed ‘YOUTH EMPLOYMENT IN AGRICULTURE’.
“Make agriculture sexy!” was her passionate suggestion towards achieving the aim of the theme. To attract the youth, even adverts about agricultural events should be promoted in an alluring, “sexy” way, she said, to much applause.
Dr Kaunda continued: “We can talk and talk, but let’s create the enabling environment for the African youth. We need to look at agriculture as the oxygen of the economy in Africa.”
Her stirring words have prompted me to deliver again my now almost annual petition to the Agricultural Ministry to find approaches to entice the youth into agriculture! And, to me, an ideal way would be to give significant rewards to deserving young farmers to sustain their interest, and also persuade their peers to take up farming.
Of course here in Ghana, successive governments have long recognised that agriculture should be viewed as “the oxygen of the economy”, as indicated by the institution in 1988 of the first Friday of December as National Farmers Day, and in recognition of the contribution of agriculture to the economy.
Recently, a video on social media that generated much discussion, showed cocoa beans spread out to dry on a newly constructed town road! The fury of the Ashanti Regional Minister, Mr Simon Osei-Mensah, who reportedly chanced upon that bewildering sight at Ntobroso, in the Altima Mponua District, was understandable.
(Mr Osei-Mensah was on an inspection tour of roads being constructed under the Ghana Government - Sinohydro Corporation of China agreement.)
Amid the controversy, countless arguments for and against the Minister’s reaction and the offender’s rudeness to the Minister, what I was wondering was: could it be that there are now no more cocoa drying stands in that community, hence the resort to the bizarre decision to use a town road, newly constructed at that, as a cocoa beans drying space?
And if there are no more cocoa drying stands there, then maybe that indicates the status of cocoa farming in that area now. Sadly, yet another community conquered by the galamsey (illegal mining) fever?
The following are excerpts from a previous article on this subject:
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EXCERPTS FROM A 2018 COLUMN:
When this year’s Farmers Day observance was launched recently, the one question that it prompted in my mind was: will the 2018 National Farmers Day unveil an innovative and refreshing approach, or it will be the same old story?
Will the Farmers Day prizes reflect the country’s recognition of the urgent need to offer incentives to entice the youth into farming?
Or it will be yet again smiles and laughter for the big-time farmers and sighs of frustration and disappointment from the smallholders desperately trying in vain to catch the eye of the Government?
The lament of farmers, agricultural experts and observers of the sector has long been that Ghana has a serious problem of aged farmers and thus ways should be found to attract the youth into farming, notably cocoa farming, as it is the backbone of the economy.
Decades ago, in my hometown in Brong-Ahafo, despite being a very urbanised district capital, there was evidence everywhere that people were into cocoa farming in a big way.
Outside many of the houses, there were platforms for drying cocoa beans, on traditional specially woven bamboo mats. During cocoa harvesting time, there would be the unmistakable, pungent smell of fermenting cocoa beans.
But these days the story is very, very different. The cocoa drying mats have long disappeared from the neighbourhoods, including the one behind my family house.
Not surprisingly, unlike the past, parents if they are farmers are not encouraging their children to follow in their footsteps.
Every schoolchild in Ghana is taught the importance of cocoa to the national economy. So why is it that apparently fewer and fewer young people go into cocoa farming? Have successive governments shown enough concern, about this situation?
So how does the Ministry of Agriculture, or the Government, hope to attract the young to go into cocoa farming when no young farmer will hear their name being mentioned as recipients of the big prizes on Farmers Day – a house, tractor, car or dummy cheque with numerous zeros? (August 17, 2018, ‘Farmers Day 2018: will it be the same old story?’)
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I believe that currently, in our context, making agriculture “sexy”, creating an enabling environment for the young and other new entrants, would be by making sure that on Farmers Day, some of the main prizes go to deserving young farmers, too.
Therefore, Dr Akoto, I sincerely hope that Farmers Day 2022 will tell a different, historic story, one of hope for the youth.