When the world returns to normalcy, the food we eat must at least be produced in Ghana, specifically Wenchi and other municipalities like that spread across the country.
Wenchi has a population of 120,000, mostly farmers. These amazing people grow staples we eat all year round like maize, yams and cassava. These days, cashew has taken the front seat leading mango as two cash crops that potentially can make farmers make a living out of their toil.
However, farming has been a ‘tough activity’ for years and agriculture despite the humongous benefits it gives Ghana from the provision of food to employment, has been underwhelming in capturing the conscience of Ghanaians as a most essential activity.
The President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, as a result of the global pandemic shuts the country’s borders and restricts the movement of Ghanaians. An extremely wise decision celebrated the world over but not without its externalities. With China and Europe, two of Ghana’s major trading blocs hit hard by COVID -19, Ghana has to drastically reduce dependency on foreign imports including food, medicines and a whole lot that the country needs and craves.
President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo has forever emphasized the need for self-sufficiency in the Ghana Beyond Aid blueprint and COVID-19 has only served to catalyze that transformative vision. The pharmaceutical industry has especially been a benefactor of the President’s illuminating idea. The incredible demand for hand sanitizers spiked prices as it was deemed an essential item to stem the unbridled spread of the corona virus. Faced with this chronic shortage, the pharmaceutical companies led by indigenous stalwarts like Samuel Amo Tobin of TOBINCO and Entrance Pharmaceuticals and entrepreneurs like Daniel Mckorley of Mac Dan Group of Companies spun into action. The result? The production of sanitizers met the country’s demand and prices were restored. Even institutions of higher learning like Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and the Sunyani Technical University joined in this truly remarkable national effort.
Production of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) has also been one of the places that the President’s rallying call for locally inspired solutions has birthed incredible success. Whether it is the production of reusable nose masks made out of cloth or the Ghana version of the N95 masks as well as face shields, the national effort has just been remarkable. It would appear that the quintessential element in creating this truly outstanding response is twofold; First is the impetus provided by the President which is buffered by the challenge to aspire to Ghanaian excellence. Secondly, we are faced with an existential threat that presents us with one choice and one choice only. Survival!
Cloning COVID-19’s Response
In the pursuit of solutions to the myriad of problems we are faced with in Ghana, it would appear that replicating the leadership of the President on COVID-19 is one sure way to find our true north. Not least in Agriculture and that is where Wenchi comes in.
The EXIM Bank has advanced Entrance Pharmaceuticals and Research Centre, the manufacturing arm of Tobinco Ghana Limited, $5 Million dollars to bolster its manufacturing potential of Hydroxychloroquine and Azithromycin, the drug anecdotally acclaimed in Europe and America for treating COVID-19 patients.
The bank intends to extend its support to nine other sectors of the economy to help resuscitate our fortunes post Covid-19 as a catalyst for job creation, export to other West African countries and also pluck imports. Some of the thematic areas include Poultry, Agro- processing, Cassava, Maize and Cashew.
Reading about the thematic areas felt like intentionally singling out the Wenchi constituency for investment as it should naturally be. There is no one place in Ghana where you can find poultry, maize, cassava and cashew all present in commercial quantities. Indeed, Wenchi has been christened by President Akufo-Addo as the ‘Cashew Capital’ of Ghana and these days mangoes are also making a big push for the attention of the people as a major cash crop. Maize, Cassava and Yams have been farmed on the land for a century. Added to these remarkable features in Wenchi is fifteen thousand (15,000) acres of farmland which used to belong to State Farms but have unfortunately been encroached upon in no small measure. There is also a farm institute which was supposed to train extension officers and farm managers and a true relic of when Wenchi was incomparable in the Brong Ahafo Region, the tomato cannery of the 1960s, TomaCan.
Wenchi – A new paradigm
The approach to investing in Wenchi must mimic the Entrance Pharmaceuticals and Research Centre example by EXIM Bank. The time has come to incubate ‘Big Agriculture’ or the so called ‘Big A’ in Wenchi. The new paradigm must necessarily incorporate in its DNA, thousands of acres under cultivation, meaningful capital and the deployment of relevant technology. The focus of this new paradigm should be exports and must necessarily meet the global standards for exportation out of Ghana.
The import numbers assaults our collective conscience as Ghanaians. Some figures say in 2018, we spent $ 1.1 billion dollars on rice brought in from China, India, Thailand and Korea. We are still buying some $ 347 million dollars of chicken products from Brazil and Netherlands, chiefly broilers and cut chicken parts which is ready to be used in the kitchen. While we produce 95% of the eggs we consume, we flip it paradoxically to import 95% of the chicken we consume. This absurdity must cease not least because we are spending hard currency to import. The truth is there is a new African opportunity which requires Ghana to Ghana to become a production hub for food to export and not just consume.
The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA) places a responsibility on Ghana to become self-sufficient and even feed the rest of West Africa or we will be bulldozed and bullied by nations around us who wake up and smell the coffee. It is imperative that we create an export culture out of Agriculture. It is an adaptive challenge that will immediately switch the orientation of food production from subsistence to high commercial value agriculture. The rubrics for measuring success will now move to wholesale application of technology, standardized output, critical knowhow in farm management, financing crop cycles with appreciable levels of capital and value chain development. We clearly need to redesign our concept of agriculture.
Subsistence based small holder farming will not be able to radically supply the produce we need. A more commercial approach is what will bring us the economic acceleration we urgently seek. Rice, yams, maize, wheat, cashew, mangoes and their attendant value chain development will revolutionize the job creation agenda of farming and places like Wenchi will become an example of Ghanaian agricultural excellence. Admittedly, the Investing for Food and Jobs Program by the Ministry of Food and Agriculture integrates various dimensions of this new paradigm as part of its approach. However, we must emphasize farming companies who know how to produce food at scale and empower them. As intimated above, small-scale agriculture must now ease into medium or large scale agriculture. We must intentionally invest in the likes of Tobinco (Entrance Pharmaceuticals and Research Centre) who are in agriculture and are indigenous Ghanaians companies which can be heralded in West Africa and Africa at large.
To achieve this state of ‘Ghanaian Agricultural Excellence’ we need to be laser focused and deliberate about building or financing entities who have a clear and executable plan which makes financial sense to invest in. We cannot get it wrong. Posterity is relying on our decision frames today. It will be their life tomorrow. Switching to Big Agriculture will be quite a legacy for the future of Wenchi and many other places that can be hoisted as flag posts of the tenacity and ingenuity of the Ghanaian post COVID-19.
About the author
Kojo Frempong is a Presidential Staffer and an aspiring NPP parliamentary candidate for the Wenchi constituency in the Bono Region. He is a Harvard University certified PDIA facilitator and solutions explorer as well as a public value advocate.