Attention Dr Owusu Afriyie Akoto, Minister of Food and Agriculture! Watch out for the committee in charge of selecting the Best Farmers and deciding the prizes: will Farmers Day 2022 be the same old story?
Or will there be evidence of a strong commitment to getting young people into farming to replace older or aging farmers?
This year’s Farmers’ Day, Friday, December 2, is to be held in Koforidua, under the theme ‘Accelerating agricultural development through value addition‘.
It is clear that adding value is necessary to increase farm incomes, but it is also necessary to have an adequate and young workforce. Calls for young people to take up farming usually increase at this time of year.
But what happens on National Farmers Day? Is there evidence of an encouraging response to appeals, through meaningful prizes for young farmers under the Farmers Day rewards program, as bait?
The practice to date has been that all the recognition and the most coveted Best Farmer awards go to large farmers, mostly well-established and already wealthy commercial farmers. Young people, who have done well enough to be rewarded, are recognized only with meager and unattractive prizes.
Incidentally, an old video clip I discovered recently features a Zambian woman, raising similar concerns at a conference in Rwanda in 2018. The Zambian, who identified herself as Tamara Kaunda, a doctor but ardent advocate for young people in agriculture, was to make a contribution to the conference on the theme ‘YOUTH EMPLOYMENT IN AGRICULTURE’.
“Make agriculture sexy!” was his impassioned suggestion to achieve the goal of the theme. To appeal to young people, even advertisements for agricultural events should be promoted in an alluring and “sexy” way, she said, to much applause.
Dr Kaunda continued, “We can talk and talk, but let’s create an enabling environment for African youth. We must consider agriculture as the oxygen of the economy in Africa.
His moving words inspired me to re-deliver my now almost annual petition to the Ministry of Agriculture to find approaches to attract young people into agriculture! And, for me, an ideal way would be to give large rewards to deserving young farmers to maintain their interest, and also to persuade their peers to take up farming.
Of course, here in Ghana, successive governments have long recognized that agriculture should be seen as “the oxygen of the economy”, as indicated by the institution in 1988 of the first Friday in December as a National Day farmers, and in recognition of agriculture’s contribution to the economy.
Recently, a video on social media that sparked a lot of discussion showed cocoa beans spread out to dry on a newly constructed municipal road! The fury of the Ashanti Regional Minister, Mr. Simon Osei-Mensah, who allegedly came across this bewildering sight in Ntobroso, Altima Mponua district, was understandable.
(Mr. Osei-Mensah was on an inspection tour of the roads being constructed under the agreement between the Government of Ghana and Sinohydro Corporation of China.)
In the midst of the controversy, the countless arguments for and against the reaction of the Minister and the rudeness of the offender towards the Minister, what I wondered was: could it be that there are now no cocoa dryers in this community, hence the bizarre decision to use a newly constructed communal road as a drying space for cocoa beans?
And if there are no more cocoa dryers there, maybe that indicates the current status of cocoa cultivation in that region. Sadly, yet another community taken over by galamsey (illegal mining) fever?
Here are excerpts from a previous article on this topic:
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EXTRACTS FROM A 2018 CHRONICLE:
When this year’s Farmers’ Day celebration was launched recently, the only question that came to my mind was: will National Farmers’ Day 2018 unveil an innovative and refreshing approach, or will it be the same old story?
Will the Farmers’ Day awards reflect the country’s recognition of the urgent need to provide incentives to entice young people into farming?
Or will it be yet again smiles and laughter from the big farmers and sighs of frustration and disappointment from the smallholders desperately trying in vain to get the government’s attention?
Farmers, agricultural experts and industry observers have long complained that Ghana has a serious problem of older farmers and therefore ways need to be found to attract young people into agriculture, especially cocoa farming, as it is the backbone of the economy.
Decades ago in my hometown of Brong-Ahafo, despite being a highly urbanized district capital, there was evidence everywhere that people were into large-scale cocoa farming.
Outside many houses there were platforms for drying the cocoa beans, on specially woven traditional bamboo mats. During the cocoa harvest period, there would be the unmistakable pungent smell of fermenting cocoa beans.
But nowadays, the story is very, very different. Cocoa drying mats have long since disappeared from neighborhoods, including the one behind my family home.
Unsurprisingly, unlike in the past, parents, if they are farmers, do not encourage their children to follow in their footsteps.
Every school child in Ghana learns the importance of cocoa to the national economy. So why do fewer and fewer young people seem to be taking up cocoa farming? Have successive governments paid enough attention to this situation?
So how does the Ministry of Agriculture, or the government, hope to entice young people to take up cocoa farming when no young farmer will hear his name mentioned as a recipient of the grand prizes of the Day of farmers – a house, a tractor, a car or a dummy check with many zeros? (August 17, 2018, ‘Farmers Day 2018: will it be the same old story?‘)
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I think right now, in our context, making agriculture ‘sexy’, creating an enabling environment for young people and other new entrants, would be to make sure that on Farmers’ Day some of the major prizes also come back to deserving young farmers.
Therefore, Dr Akoto, I sincerely hope that Farmers Day 2022 will tell a different and historic story, a story of hope for young people.