A farmer applying fertiliser on the farm

In my part of Ghana, when we see an adult person talking to the wind, we know he is talking to God. Usually, they are complaining to God about somebody. People do that because God is inaccessible and they and the offending person are at daggers drawn.

Last week, our beloved Agriculture Minister called the press to complain about the Finance Minister. His complaint was that fertiliser importers had refused to bring in fertilizer because they had not been paid for their previous imports. Why? Because the Finance Minister had not released the money.

Questions: Was the President inaccessible? Are the Agric and Finance Ministers not on speaking terms?

Well, even as he spoke, poultry farmers were also wringing their hands. Their birds are dying from hunger because there is a shortage of maize for use in the manufacture of feed. They say 1.5 million bags of maize are urgently needed; otherwise, the poultry industry will collapse within weeks. For the time being, they are importing maize from La Cote d’Ivoire. This is Ghana, a country which, less than a year ago, was boasting of exporting food!!!

The Agric Minister may have a point when he lays the problem at the root of smuggling. Indeed, an audit report revealed that GHc12million worth of fertilizer could not be accounted for in 2020.

Question is, did he or didn’t he know that smuggling is as old as Ghana? What is the use of education if we cannot learn from history enough to let it guide the present?

We shall be told that it comes down to money. But is Ghana really broke? People with needs as basic as ours, unable to pay for fertilizer imports, do not go flying their Presidents around in jets with in-situ showers for freshening up on an 11-hour flight.

At the time the Finance Minister was approving this expenditure, was he aware his country was owing fertilizer importers? I swear he would have found the money if Parliament had passed the Spousal Emoluments Bill to put First and Second Ladies of Ghana on Cabinet Minister’s salary, backdated to 2017 and fast-forwarded into their ex gratia.

The ordinary man in the street will wonder why we need fertilizer. The answer is that out of Ghana’s total of 23,853,900 hectares of land, only a little over 13,000 hectares are suitable for agriculture. Soil fertility is low.

Ghana has 38 fertilizer importing companies. Among them are Yara Ghana, Wienco and Dizengoff. I have nothing against them. They have done their bit, so far: it is on their imports that our agriculture has depended, so far.

But why must we continue importing fertilizer at 64? We have no shortage of research scientists. Our universities have professors and have been turning out graduates in chemical, mechanical and agricultural engineering for ages.

Experts tell me that we need US$2 billion to set up a fertilizer plant here. That amount of money is not peanut, but it is not an impossible figure either. All we need is the horse pulling the cart, and not vice versa.

Along with the existence of the private initiatives, our agriculture has benefited from interventions, so many you’d sleep by the time I am halfway listing them.

One of them is USAID. From June 2012 through May 2017, USAID helped ECOWAS (of course, including Ghana) to set up the West Africa Fertilizer Programme (WAFP) with a budget of $18million. At the end of five years, it was concluded that there was not enough commitment from the individual governments of West Africa.

There have been USAID-funded programmes, including Ghana Strategy Support Programme, the USAID/Ghana Feed the Future Agriculture Policy Support Project (APSP), the USAID West Africa Fertilizer Programme (WAFP) and the African Fertilizer and Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP), among others.

I doubt that Malaysia has this many institutions, with so many grants and loans and technical support from so many international organizations. All it took them to transform the oil palm industry was one trip by their President to Ghana in the early 1960s, with a small team of researchers. That one visit turned Malaysia into the oil palm giant of the world, producing so profitably that oil palm in Malaysia is known as red gold.

At the end of the day, it comes down to positioning the cart and the horse. For instance, how do we even begin to think of producing our own fertilizer when the Minister responsible for Science and Technology has no permanent seat in Cabinet? Evidently, the cart, which has no eyes, has been placed before and is pulling the horse.

PS: This article has benefited from conversations with the Director of CSIR’s Soil Research Institute and friends at the Agric Department, Legon.