Wa, May 31, GNA – This writer exclaimed several times and shook his head in disbelief. He opened his mouth so wide that any fly could have taken advantage to pass down his throat.
He simply could not believe the fact that the banana plantation, the mango plantation, the pawpaw plantation, the orange plantation, the vegetable gardens and the large tracts of maize and pepper farms before his eyes were located in semi-desert neighbouring Burkina Faso.
Poverty is never pleasant and whoever believes there is something noble about being poor does not fully understand the reality that millions of people are forced to live. However, there is a positive aspect of poverty – it often develops ingenuity. Northern farmers should complain less and work harder with the natural resources available to improve their lot as their counterparts in Burkina Faso are doing.
As a matter of fact, this writer after his recent experience in neighbouring Burkina Faso, has now come to terms with the saying that poverty is only a friend to lazy people and all who glorify it. Also, those who refuse to change their attitude; pretend not to see or hear what others are doing to improve their circumstances, would forever remain poor in the midst of plenty.
Along the bank of the Burkina Faso side of the Black Volta river, farmers are using the “spring flow irrigation system” to irrigate large tracts of banana, cashew, pawpaw and mango plantations, as well as tomato, vegetables and maize farmers during the dry season to improve their livelihoods. The spring flow irrigation system is a system where pipes are laid on the field and water is pumped from a source to irrigate the crops in a spring-like manner.
The farmers are seriously using water in the Black Volta to improve their circumstances and sooner than later farmers in Burkina Faso will say goodbye to poverty while their counterparts on the Ghana side of the river continuing to wallow in eternal poverty.
The Burkina Faso side of the bank of the river is green while the Ghana side is lying fallow with very little farming activities going on, especially among farmers in the Lawra, Jirapa, Nadowli and Wa West Districts of the Upper West Region, who also have access to water from the Black Volta River with even more fertile lands than their counterparts in Burkina Faso.
There is no reason why farmers in the three northern regions should be poor. Is it that they are both pampered and lazy or they are refusing to see what their counterparts from Burkina Faso are doing to help improve their living conditions? Poverty in the North is man’s making and not God’s creation.
However, what the people need to enable them to come out from the shackles of poverty is a comprehensive governmental intervention. This is why the Northern Rural Growth Programme (NRGP) has started to mobilise farmers from the four districts in the region whose communities lie along the Black Volta to go into the large scale production of butternut squash among other crops such as maize, pepper and vegetables as well as pawpaw, cashew and mango plantations during the off farming season using the water in the river to irrigate their crops.
The butternut squash is a type of a winter squash. It has a sweet, nutty taste similar to that of a pumpkin. Butternut squash is a fruit that can be roasted and toasted and also be pureed to make soup or mashed into soup, casseroles, breads and muffins. It is a good source of fibre, vitamin C, manganese, magnesium and potassium. It is also an excellent source of vitamins A, C and E.
Agricultural experts say the three northern regions have competitive advantage in its production because it a winter squash and can mature between 80 and 100 days. It can also be stored for three months after harvest, an additional advantage.
Mr.Paul Siamea, Producer Organization’s Specialist at the NRGP told a group of 35 farmers at Project’s butternut squash demonstration farm at Metor in the Lawra District that the crop is an emerging one that has a high demand and a huge market in Europe. It could also be used for home consumption to enhance food security during the lean season, so urged farmers to embrace its production to inprove their livelihoods.
“The three northern regions are the best location for the crop because of their experiences of long spells of drought and erratic rainfall patterns”, he explained. The NRGP would provide planting materials including seeds, tractor services, inputs and financial services, marketing opportunities and other services such as irrigation equipment, dams and feeder roads to the farmers and urged them to start cultivation of the crop in November this year.
However, this writer is of the opinion that the success or otherwise of many agricultural programmes and projects in Ghana generally has often been determined by the lack of agricultural strategy against poverty. A more vigorous agricultural strategy against poverty needs to be mounted with more resources, a sharper focus and a stronger commitment on the part of government.
Such a strategy needs to provide better assistance - more focused on helping to improve national policy- making and institutions and less dispersed among a myriad of small scale projects. It also needs to do more to help communities committed to reducing poverty to introduce effective systems of organisation to pursue that objective.
The failure of many laudable agricultural projects in the past had often been the absence of effective organization/governance which constituted a “missing link” between national anti-poverty policy and the poverty reduction effort.
Moreover, the poverty targets set are based on monetary measures, while most development practitioners now agree that poverty is not about income alone, but is multi-dimensional. Thus Ghana should begin incorporating explicit human poverty targets – such as reducing malnutrition, expanding literacy and increasing life expectancy into poverty programmes.
Another shortcoming is that many anti-poverty plans are no more than vaguely formulated strategies. Only a few have genuine action plans with explicit targets, adequate budgets and effective organisation. This writer believes that Ghana does not have explicit poverty plans but incorporate poverty reduction into national planning.
Anti-poverty plans should help focus and coordinate national activities and build support. A plan is evidence of a national commitment and of an explicit allocation of resources to the task. It is also a means to build a constituency for change. Without such organised public action, market-driven economies rarely promote social justice.
But for such programmes to be effective, they must be comprehensive and much more than a few projects “targeted” at the poor. They also need adequate funding and effective coordination by government department or an authority with wide ranging influence. Most critically, they should be nationally owned and determined, not donor driven.
One reason many poverty reduction programmes become disjointed is that external donors provide much of the funding for individual projects, and the funds are not allocated through regular government channels. National control and coordination get elbowed aside, and the need to build government’s long term capacity to administer poverty programmes is neglected.
Many national programmes lack good management structures, and are located within the government rather than outside it. Multidimensional poverty problems should be addressed by a multi-sectoral approach, cutting across government ministries and departments. But most of such programmes hand the responsibility for poverty reduction over to the Ministry of Agriculture which generally lacks authority over other ministries.
Governments have difficulty in reporting how much funding goes to poverty reduction – unable to distinguish between activities that are related to poverty and those that are not. They often confuse social spending with poverty related spending but much government spending could be considered pro-poor if it disproportionably benefits the poor.
Under these conditions, it is probably best to set up a “Special Poverty Reduction Fund” to give a better financial accounting and to allow government departments and ministries to apply to the Fund for financing to their poverty focused programmes.
Shifting decision making power closer to poor communities by devolving authority to local government structures like the District Assembly or Town/Area Council can help promote poverty reduction as long as the new responsibilities are accompanied by resources and capacity building.
Helping poor communities to organise themselves to advance their interests is key to successfully getting poverty reduced. A major source of poverty is people’s powerlessness – not just that distance from government.
If poverty reduction programmes are to succeed, local government must be strengthened and held accountable both to the central government and to its constituents for the funds allocated to it.
Accountability in the use of public funds is critical to poverty reduction efforts. The poor pay a high price for corruption. If corruption were eliminated at the same time that the poor organised themselves effectively, many national poverty programmes would undoubtedly direct resources to the people who need them.
A GNA Feature by Bajin D. Pobia