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?
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This year Tamale will host the Day, to be held in December as usual, under the theme ‘Agriculture, Moving Ghana Beyond Aid’.
Speaking at the launch in Accra on August 3, Vice-President Dr Mahamudu Bawumia, reportedly pointed out that Ghana still lacks a sustainable agricultural plan to make her an agricultural hub in the region, Radio Ghana reported.
But it is what Dr Bawumia said about the involvement of the youth that I found of particular interest: “(The government) has a vision to totally transform the agricultural sector hence the introduction of several initiatives to make agriculture more attractive, especially to the youth”(Radio Ghana).
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.
Another serious problem is that farmers are abandoning cocoa and going into other cash crops.
Decades ago, in my hometown in Brong-Ahafo, despite being a very urbanised district capital, there was evidence everywhere that people were intoNcocoa 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.
One would not need to be told that there were cocoa farmers in those houses.
And there were many, many of the farmers.
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.
I suspect that one would have to go quite far, deep into villages and hamlets to find some of the cocoa drying stands.
And for me the disappearance of the mats is the most vivid illustration of the current status of Ghana’s cocoa farming fortunes: fast dwindling interest, old farmers and inadequate numbers of youth taking their place.
The young people are mostly either in Accra-Tema, other urban areas, or braving the Sahara Desert, among the Europe-bound adventurers.
Not surprisingly and most definitely, unlike the past, their parents if they are farmers are not encouraging their children to follow in their footsteps.
Interestingly, this month the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) has been marking its 80th anniversary. Speaking at a CRIG anniversary lecture, Tony Lass, a UK-based cocoa expert, noted that the sector appears to be quite unattractive to the youth, the Daily Guide of August 13 reported.
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?
What is the reality? For example, year in,year out, the best Farmers Day prizes still go to the big-time farmers who evidently are already people of substance.
So how does the Ministry of Agriculture, or the Government for that matter, hope to attract the young to go into cocoa farming when no young farmer will hear their name being mentioned as recipients of big prizes on Farmers Day – a house, tractor, car or dummy cheque with numerous zeros?
In recent years, I have written a number of times about the need for drastic changes to the Farmers Day arrangement.
The following is an a bridgement of one of the articles.
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I can’t help feeling once again that it is time to have a radical review of the format of the Farmers Day, especially the awards.
The observance has been going on for (more than) 30 years, and therefore it’s not surprising if it needs a new breath of life.
The main prizes have improved to magnificent levels since the early days, but I think that the present award system could be vastly improved.
It seems to favour the bigtime farmers more than small and peasant farmers.
Also, I think the idea of holding a nationwide, simultaneous observance needs to be replaced with a staggered one, on different dates: district, then regional and finally national.
The grand finale could still take place on the first Friday of December and would still be a national holiday.
Furthermore, a three-tiered observance would provide an opportunity to give recognition to many more award winners in the media.
Under the present system, regrettably, district and regional winners tend to be overshadowed by the national prize-winners; many amazing stories are left untold.
Rewarding deserving peasant farmers with houses, even modest ones, could also serve as the much-needed incentive to encourage more school leavers to go into farming. In fact, these days the cynical comment one hears in farming
communities is that if one is poor one can’t succeed even in farming.
Why not reward the Most Promising Young Cocoa Farmer and the Most Enterprising Young Agro-Processing Farmer with a house, or a car, to attract other youth?
Perhaps what the government needs to do is to honour the National Best Farmer in another way.
Why not, for example,appointment to the Council of State for a year, until the selection of the next winner?
(Issue of December 12, 2014, ‘Rewarding best farmers: Isn’t it time for a review?’)
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Recently, Ghana Cocoa Board Chief Executive Mr Joseph Aidoo was reported to have announced that Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire are “close to securing a $1.2bn loan
… to undertake programmes and interventions that will make the cocoa industry attractive to the youth” (Daily Graphic, August 4).
Very welcome news! But my view is that the award of one of the principal prizes to a deserving young cocoa farmer on Farmers Day is the one innovation that will act as compelling bait to attract youth into cocoa farming.