Enimil Ashon got it wrong - Agric Sector under Dr Akoto has been best under Fourth Republic
In the Friday, February 10, 2023 edition of The Daily Graphic, a columnist with the newspaper, Enimil Ashon, wrote an article seeking to assess the successes or otherwise of the government's flagship agriculture policy, Planting for Food and Jobs (PFJ).
In his write-up, Mr Ashon benchmarked his assessment of the PFJ programme based on two main issues; marketing and transportation, alluding to the PFJ Market, which was introduced late last year, as a stopgap measure to help deal with the escalating food prices in the cities.Subscribe
His argument was that the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, under the leadership of Dr Owusu Afriyie Akoto, had used taxpayers money to transport food from production areas to city centres under the interim PFJ Market intervention.
I would like to address the issues raised by Mr Ashon in his write-up from two main perspectives.
Rationale for PFJ
First, the rationale for the PFJ initiative and the successes thereof, and two, the reason behind the introduction of the PFJ Market and the details thereof.
It is important to emphasise for the attention of Mr Ashon and esteemed readers that the PFJ initiative is a holistic approach to address the myriad of challenges which had hitherto bedevilled the agricultural sector over the years.
The PFJ initiative involves five main areas. These are:
1. Food security aspect - These involve increasing production in basic food crops such as maize, rice, soybean, sorghum etc
2. The Tree Crops Sector- which involves the development of six major tree crops namely Coconut, Cashew, Rubber, Oil Palm, Mango and Shea.
3. The livestock sector under the Rearing For Food and Jobs (RFJ)
4. Greenhouse Technology- which involves modern technology in vegetable production.
5. Mechanisation for Food and Jobs- which involves making modern farm equipment and tools available to farmers at cheaper prices.
These modules have all seen significant successes.
For example, prior to the advent of the NPP administration in 2017, the average production of farmers was very low, largely attributed to lack of the use of modern farming technology, including the use of fertiliser and improved seeds.
Also, the extension capacity of the agricultural sector was nothing to write home about.
This means farmers lacked the requisite knowledge of farming inputs which had commensurate impact on production.
The Planting for Food and Jobs programme, therefore, sought to address these challenges by making these inputs available to farmers at cheaper and affordable prices.
The PFJ programme, in this case, addressed two key issues; accessibility and affordability of farming inputs.
As to whether these objectives have been achieved or not, the over 1.7 million farmers who have benefited from this laudable initiative are the best people to answer.
Today, through the instrumentality of Dr Akoto, the human resource capacity of extension officers has been increased from 1,400 to over 4,000.
Again, if Mr Ashon and others who think alike will spare few moment of their time to analyse data of the growth of the country's economy, which are freely available on various websites, including our very own Ghana Statistical Service (GSS), they would have known that the agricultural sector has witnessed an unprecedented growth under the leadership of Dr Akoto.
Per statistics from the GSS, the agricultural sector recorded its fastest growth in 30 years in both 2020 and 2021, at 7.3 percent and 8.4 percent respectively.
The closest any past administration had come was in 2009, when the sector saw a 7.3 percent growth
It is also interesting to note that before PFJ was introduced in 2017, Ghana’s agricultural sector was growing at less than three percent a year, indeed even lowest at 0.9 per cent in 2014.
If these are not enough proof of the outstanding performance of the sector under Dr Akoto, then I do not know what other yardstick can be used to measure the performance of a sector vis a vis a country's GDP growth.
Now, let me spend few minutes to address the issue of the PFJ Market upon which basis Mr Ashon drew his conclusions about performance of the PFJ programme.
I would like to remind Mr Ashon that the events that necessitated the introduction of the PFJ Market, which was purely private sector led without any financial input from the ministry, had more to do with morality rather than economics.
This was at a time when some Ghanaians, for reasons best known to them, had chosen to profiteer from the global economy challenges, brought about as a result of COVID-19 and the Russian-Ukrainian war.
Suffice to say, some of our fellow citizens “were seizing the opportunity of the Christmas to consume crackers” as the popular phrase goes.
Price of foodstuffs had reached its peak as a result of constant increases in fuel prices and traders were using that as an excuse to price items astronomically.
However, the honourable minister, having toured the entire country and realising the vast price differentials of foodstuffs at production areas compared to the cities, decided to mobilise the private sector to help transport food from local communities to the cities.
The objective mainly was to allay the fears of both traders and consumers about food security.
Mr Ashon failed to look at the positive aspect of the entire intervention; the fact that food is sufficiently available, owing to the PFJ initiative even in the midst of the economic challenges.
It will, therefore, be out of place for anyone to conclude that simply because the ministry decided to mobilise the private sector to transport foodstuffs from production sites to the cities, connotes failure.
I will be glad to engage Mr Ashon for a comprehensive discussion on the progress of the agricultural sector over the last six years.
The writer is a social and policy analyst