Coat-coat Ghana must return to the farm and go back to basics Featured

By Kofi Boadu Oppong March 03, 2020 3634 1024 comments

An expatriate Ghanaian argues that the only way to kick-start properly sustainable development is to develop indigenous technologies.

Like many diasporan returnees from southern Ghana, I have always felt the need to see other parts of the country I am not familiar with. Recently my two adult children joined me to spend two weeks touring the northern regions, visiting towns, remote villages, markets and tourist centres. Leaving Accra, we stopped in Kumasi and then visited Bole, Damongo, Wa, Bobo Dioulasso, Ouagadougou, Bolgatanga and Tamale, then looped back to Kumasi and Accra.

We ate at restaurants, chop bars and street food shops. It was one of the most exciting holidays I have had in a long time, full of incident, pleasant and unpleasant, including challenges with the police and border control officials. It offered an eye-opener into how deeply rooted corruption is in this country.

What I observed

It was the first time I was venturing from the thick forest of the south to the savannah of the North, and what I saw came as a shock.

There were swaths of uncultivated land all along the way. Across the country, rural buildings are in a dilapidated state. The land around some village dwellings has eroded, making it necessary to fashion rough, steep steps to reach the entrance of each house. The signs of poverty everywhere are clear.

Farm produce is sold raw and unprocessed at our markets. The farm tools I saw are the same primitive implements our people have been using since I was young. I don’t believe that in the times of Moses the Jews were using as much raw manpower as we do now: even in savannah areas I did not see any working donkeys or cows, and there is no ploughing. Under such circumstances, farm yield can only be low and economically unviable. It seems there has been very little improvement to our indigenous technologies, if any, for centuries.

The varied uses of these technologies and processes include:

* pounding fufu and grains;

* sun-drying vegetables and kokonte at the roadside and in open spaces, exposing the goods to the elements;

* cracking open cocoa pods using a machete, with bare palms;

* using fishing canoes made of dugout trees, instead of lighter boats made from sawn timber;

* “hunter-gathering” to survive in our farming areas, despite the rising rural population;

* using short rather than long-handled brooms in schools and homes;

* destroying our forest and savannah lands in the quest for firewood and charcoal, thereby speeding up desertification;

* weeding with “langa langas” and cutlasses and turning the soil with hoes and “sosos”. These are antiquated implements for anyone attempting to engage in large-scale farming.

The same thing is happening with the foods we eat. Much of our plantain and grain harvests still goes rotten because our scientists have failed to develop methods to prolong food’s shelf life which are suitable for our climate and environment. We still hunt and eat grasscutters, bush rats and other wild animals, but these are fast dwindling. If that is what we choose to eat why can’t we rear them as livestock in abundance?

We still drink akpeteshie produced using the same old, inefficient tools and methods. The processes used by most makers of shea butter in the North and “Alata samina” or “Anago samla” have not improved in ages. For decades, our traders have been making the journey to Burkina Faso to buy tomatoes, shunning our own stunted varieties.

I can list many other technological deficiencies, but let us compare with examples of what some other developing countries which are quicker off the mark have been doing.

* Pod cracking machines are used in Malaysia, a country that Ghanaians introduced to the cocoa industry, as I understand it. Why did Ghana, which was the world’s largest producer of cocoa for so long, not originate this technology?

* Simple mechanised systems are used to plant cassava in Brazil and the Philippines, but in Ghana most farmers have to bend and strain their waist through 90 degrees-plus to use a short-handled hoe to turn the hard, unploughed soil.

* Solar drying of farm produce is the norm in many countries, using basic equipment. This practice is very common in India and China, even in rural areas.

* In many developing countries, long-handled brooms are used to remove the strain caused by bending.

There are many other examples of appropriate technology that space will not allow me to list here.

Back at independence

Ghana was fortunate to have a very literate population and governance structures to ensure fast and effective development at independence. Since then, we have established the present Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, built universities including KNUST, established the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, with nearly ten subdivisions focused on food crops, atomic energy, industrialisation, construction, forest products, soil, animal husbandry, herbal medicine et cetera, all to speed up national development.

It is astonishing that these institutions have not made any significant impact by developing the ancient technologies and processes we still employ.

Why the stagnation?

The first step in the development of any country is to till the land – the first natural resource almost everywhere. In fact, the transatlantic slave trade came about through the demand for labour to till vast expanses of the then New World and turn it into farmland. In most of the developed countries I have visited, much of what you see on either side of any major road between cities is cultivated land. This is even clearer when you fly low over such countries.

That was the first thing one of my daughters observed during our trip to northern Ghana. “Where are the farms?” she asked. I had to explain that, with the technology most Ghanaians use, physical labour can only achieve so much. Such farming methods were sufficient when Ghana’s population was six million. If we think the poor farmers can feed the current 30 million with hoes, cutlasses and muscle power alone – a way of working that was done away with in the developed world more than a thousand years ago – we are deceiving ourselves. Even at the time of Moses and the Israelites, the Jews were using animal-drawn ploughs to till the land. If we don’t have the animal power, our engineers should have built alternatives by now. Productivity would be high and routine processing of produce could follow.

The government’s One District, One Factory policy has great potential but it must be developed to draw in the whole country, specifically by developing improved technologies which can be used sustainably in rural areas, reducing the dependency on raw manpower to improve productivity and make farming attractive to all, as well as more profitable. When this happens, it will make more people stay in the rural areas and stop drifting to the cities. Planting for Food and Jobs has an equally important role to play in this change.

Over the years, the government and big business have introduced high-powered tractors but the use of these has been problematic, in a nation dominated by relatively unsophisticated rural folk, and where there are poor management regimes for anything belonging to the state.

How to solve the problem

There is a huge disconnect between educated Ghanaians and poorer citizens, most of whom are uneducated. The educated citizens generally see themselves as the natural successors to the colonial-era masters, filling positions of authority and power. They have assumed such self-importance historically that they look down on the traditions, trades and lives of their compatriots.

This applies even to political representatives of rural constituencies, who move to the big cities and forget the poverty of their home areas. This disconnect and misapplication of power, like under the colonial masters of decades past, are what has kept Ghana at this level of underdevelopment. That is not in any way to accuse the educated class in Ghana, but to highlight a glaring impediment to the development of our dear country.

There is a huge gap in living standards. What we see in our towns and cities is almost wholly imported, expensive and, sadly, funded largely through the sweat and toil of these same rural folk. It is disgraceful to see imported carrots being sold at Mallam Market in Accra.

What we are doing is not developing our country from our internal resources. All countries which have gone this way have failed. Malaysia did not develop like that. It generated internal wealth by innovating around home-grown technologies and processes, which led to huge productivity gains that were buttressed by introducing value addition and goods specifically for export. The Malaysians did this with cocoa, cassava, oil palm.

The more formally educated classes need to join the effort to develop our country in a more direct way than they have done so far. Education which does not make a positive impact on the society it is supposed to serve cannot be described as valuable. Ghana’s review of its school curriculums is long overdue, and could not be happening at a better moment. The same must happen for our universities. We must also revise the charters of our development and research institutions to address the glaring disconnect.

It seems to me that Ghana is yet to begin developing. Yet it is not too late to make farming attractive. The people to do that are the educated classes, sitting in offices in our urban areas. They must get involved in all stages of the agricultural process, from production using improved technology, to processing farm produce, to marketing the end product. Ghana has no excuse to be where we find ourselves today. We need to start now with the right policies, and action.

The writer is a diasporan, recently returned to Ghana, who comments on news and current affairs and education. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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Last modified on Tuesday, 03 March 2020 20:01


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