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Celebrating the centenary of an agricultural visionary

BY: Ajoa Yeboah-Afari

Friday would have been the centenary birthday of Boahene Yeboah-Afari, popularly known as ‘B. Yeboah-Afari’, appointed by Dr Kwame Nkrumah as his first Minister of Agriculture. He was born on November 13, 1920.

Interestingly, what would have been Mr Yeboah-Afari’s centenary, on November 13, 2020, fell exactly one week after the 2020 National Farmers Day, whose focus was very close to his heart: agriculture and industrialization. The theme for the Farmers Day, hosted this year by Techiman, Bono East Region, was ‘Ensuring Agribusiness Under COVID-19: Opportunities and Challenges’.

The topic reminded me of Mr. Yeboah-Afari’s visionary contribution in the Gold Coast Legislative Assembly (LA) in 1951, in which he highlighted the need to twin agriculture with industrialisation, to convert agricultural produce into commercial products.

Thanks to the marvellous work of the Public Records and Archives Administration Department (or PRAAD, formerly known as the National Archives), I have a copy of those LA proceedings.

To commemorate the centenary of his birth, and against the backdrop of the two similar themes, though nearly 70 decades apart, the following is an abridged version of Mr Yeboah-Afari’s far-sighted LA contribution:

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GOLD COAST Legislative Assembly Debates
Session 1951, Issue No. 2

(Volume 1)
Proceedings of the Meeting of the Legislative Assembly held in the King George V Memorial Hall, Accra, at 10 a.m. on Thursday the 29th March, 1951 Contribution by B. Yeboa-Afari (sic), Rural Member, Sunyani:

Mr Speaker: There is one important point which has been made through the course of the Minister of Finance’s speech which I commend for the serious attention of this House: industrialization of the country. If Mr Speaker will allow me, I shall read the passage:

This country is dependent for its prosperity on the value of the exports which leave its shores. The main exports are the crops that grow here and the minerals which are mined here. In due course one hopes that there will be an expansion of the economy of the country by the fostering of local industries.

One can say that, in the present position of very high prices throughout the world for minerals and raw materials, the Gold Coast is reaping the benefit of world conditions, but it will very soon feel a very severe impact of very much higher prices for imports and possibly curtailment of supplies.

I remember that during World War II, we could not export our cocoa – heaps of cocoa had to be burnt because we could neither export nor manufacture the cocoa into chocolate and other things.
Now, a very realistic approach to the industrialisation of this country has been made by the Government through the introduction of the Volta

River Scheme. I think it is a very important scheme, because when the country has hydro-electric power then we can develop our industries and export our products.

I hear the Cocoa Marketing Board has accumulated a lot of profit for the farmers. If part of that money could be used to industrialise the country I think it would be to the benefit of the farmers, because after all their livelihood is at stake. If their money is used for industrializing the country, whereby they can store some of their products and manufacture chocolate and other products from cocoa, it will be to their benefit.

They will tell us we have no skilled workers therefore we cannot industrialize, but cannot we bring people from other countries to help us with our manufacturing agenda? Also, can’t we send people abroad to learn how to manufacture things?

And talking about raw materials, I say we have them in abundance, including rubber; fruit. We have cocoa, we have timber. Out of cocoa we can manufacture chocolate, cocoa butter and other things. Out of timber we can manufacture furniture which can be sold to the people in England and other places in the same way as they sell their things to us here.

We have cotton and if we can grow cotton here, why should we import cotton from Lancashire and other places? Can’t we manufacture our own cloth here?

About two hundred years ago Britain was an agricultural country as we are today; but after the industrial revolution the whole country changed. The people became industrialized.

Japan, too, started to industrialize in about the year 1900. At that time Japan was more or less feudal; consisting mainly of farms, hamlets, and villages, and was in the same situation as the Gold Coast is today.
If the people of the Gold Coast can also industrialise, I think within a few years we will also become as powerful as Japan.

(From LA Debates, 1951; courtesy of the PRAAD.)

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Although Mr Yeboah-Afari was at one time a close ally of Dr Nkrumah, he eventually parted company with Nkrumah’s Convention People’s Party. By the time of his death in 1996, he was a staunch member of the New Patriotic Party.

Among his considerable achievements, Mr Yeboah-Afari co-founded, with the Paramount Chief of Akwamu, Odeneho Kwafo Akoto II, and other partners, the Volta River Estates Limited, Ghana’s first export banana business, still in operation at Akwamufie, Eastern Region.

The abridgement is from the book, Conversations with My Father by Ajoa Yeboah-Afari. Yes, Mr Yeboah-Afari was my father; I am his eldest child.

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