Mr. Chairman, Julius Ametepe, distinguished former Regional Director of Agriculture, Togbeo, Mamao, Okyeame of Agortine and Ziope traditional areas, senior staff and students of Ho Poly, fellow Ghanaians, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Please excuse me for my late arrival. This business of being a presidential candidate is not an easy matter, as you pulled here and there. I am sorry for the delay and I apologise above all to Togbeo and Mamao for keeping them waiting so long. I am prepared to do custom to purge myself and hope that I am duly forgiven.
I am very happy to be here in Ho, and particularly happy to be at this now renowned polytechnic. A great deal of the infrastructure here was put in place by the NPP government of President John Agyekum Kufuor. It is an excellent investment, which is going to yield dividends, because it will produce the managerial and technical class that is going to be at the heart of our nation's transformation agenda.
I have come to speak to you on the critical subject of Agriculture, and to do so in this region of hardworking, energetic farmers. The role of agriculture in transforming our economy and nation is potentially tremendous it is an appropriate subject in a region where all the ecological zones are to be found. It means that everything can be grown here and any type of livestock reared here.
At this time of the election campaign, I appreciate the opportunity to state my party's position on a subject that affects all of us. I must first of all, congratulate the award winners at this year's Farmers' Day celebrations. I congratulate especially, Mr. Wisdom Aglago, the Volta Region Best Farmer.
The figures speak for themselves and they cannot be repeated enough. More than 50% of our population are engaged in agriculture, the poorest people in our country are engaged in food crop farming. If we are to make any meaningful change in the lives of the people therefore our efforts must be directed at this sector. The majority of people can only feel a change in their lives when we develop agriculture.
We have been making some progress especially in the cocoa sector but nowhere near enough in the staple food grain sector, like rice maize and soya. Having said that, I believe it is worthwhile stating one of the most understated successes of the last NPP administration that we no longer hear about something called "the hunger months" especially in the northern sector of our country. And you would recall that it was in 2003 that the phenomenon of "bayere foforo abetu bayere dada", "new yam has come to meet the old yam" first started. Now that is accepted as a normal part of the farming cycle because of the success of the development of the roots and tubers during the Kufuor administration.
Unlike, the current NDC government, the blessing of oil will not distract the next NPP government from making the agriculture sector more sophisticated, more productive and more efficient. Currently, the economic indicators show Ghana is beginning to show signs of suffering from Dutch disease although the NDC government will have us believe otherwise.
Mr Chairman, the Dutch disease is an economic concept also known as the 'curse of oil'. The term was coined in 1977 by The Economist magazine to describe the decline of the manufacturing sector in the Netherlands after the discovery and development of a large natural gas field in 1959.In Ghana's case, it is our agricultural and manufacturing sectors that have floundered.
The statistics speak for themselves. When you take account of the depreciation of the cedi and/or the rate of inflation, budgetary allocation to the Agriculture ministry has been falling steadily since 2008. In the same period agriculture growth has fallen sharply from 7.6% in 2008 to only 2.8% in 2011
There has to be a fundamental change in attitude towards agriculture if we are to make headway. Agriculture is not and cannot be a single sector industry. Farming is a business and it is a profession that must be promoted and studied like all other professions.
We tend to take farmers for granted, we tend to think it is a job that can be done by anybody, and some people think it is what you do when you have failed at everything else. But the truth is when farmers get it wrong, the consequences are immediate, catastrophic and affect all of us.
If when you got up this morning, you have had something to eat, and I hope that all of us apart from those among us who are fasting or on a diet, have had something to eat, then you must say thank you to a farmer.
I have spoken extensively on the importance of teachers in our society, I have spoken about the critical role medical professionals play in our society, but if we do not find food to eat, we will not even be alive to go to school or have any ailments that require treatment.
A farmer is firstly an entrepreneur, and more than all other entrepreneurs, a farmer doesn't count his hours. He takes risks and he must be able to manage humans, animals and plants; he is at once a historian and a scientist and a weatherman. A farmer heads a business, but, being a farmer means he must constantly adapt to the climate, market and in today's world, to technology and regulations.
For years many of our farmers, the successful ones have done these things to which we now ascribe fanciful names but often they have had to struggle through without help from government and yet we expect them to provide our most basic need as human beings, food.
In recent years one of the best organized and planned support that has been accorded agriculture, has been in the Millennium Challenge Account Compact started under the Kufuor government.
One of the most exciting examples of what happens when you have an integrated approach to agriculture and you adopt modern methods is happening not too far from us here in the North Tongu area. Under the Millennium Challenge Account programme this little corner of the Volta Region has something to teach us all. A well-known company VEGPRO has invested in a 900 hectare farm in the Togorme Irrigation project located on the left bank of the Kpong Hydroelectric Dam. Relying entirely on water from the Kpong Left Bank Irrigation Scheme and investment in very modern central pivot irrigation arrangements, the anchor farmer, VEGPRO has within a few months cropped a large variety of vegetables which, I understand, will soon be ready for export to British supermarkets.
Mr Chairman, the next NPP government will adapt the same integrated approach. Access to Finance, Improved Training and Technology, Land Tenure, Post Harvest Issues, Feeder Roads, farm tracts and Irrigation are going to be the nucleus of this approach.
To address the problems our farmers face in terms of finance, an Akufo-Addo government will establish an Agricultural Technology Fund (ATF). This fund will provide finance to small and large scale farmers at subsidised rates. This will enable them acquire the relevant inputs and technology to make them more competitive and increase their output per hectare. We will also reposition the Agriculture Development Bank to fulfil its original mandate of specifically supporting agricultural finance. We will continue with reforming security in land tenure so that an ordinary small-scale farmer can use his land as collateral to secure a loan to finance his crop in any particular season.
Mr Chairman, improving the way land is administered in Ghana will facilitate the efficient transfer of title and use of agricultural land. The Land Title Registration and the Land Administration Projects have gone on long enough and we will make sure they are operational. MiDA has made it possible for 1,400 small farmers to have land titles for the first time ever.
In terms of increasing access to farming land in the Northern Savannah belt we must bring to bear the results of local research and of technological innovation in other parts of the world. In Brazil fro example, we know that the Savannah lands, which had lain uncultivated for years because of low yields, were treated with heavy doses of potash over a period of time. Now Brazil has become a powerhouse of agricultural production. We can do the same in Ghana!
Ladies and Gentlemen, we will facilitate the interaction between the Crop Research Institute, the Extension Services, Farmer Based Organizations and individual farmers to achieve high yields in farm production. We will also ensure that good quality fertilizer is readily available to the farmer at affordable prices, as was the case in the recent era of the Kufuor-led NPP government. Currently, only 20% of the acreage under maize cultivation benefits from improved seeds and fertilizer. The next NPP government, God-willing, will double this figure to 40% in four years. With this target, Ghana will become a major exporter in the ECOWAS grain market.
There is an urgent need to promote the use of technology and to update the farming methods that we use in our country and we intend to apply the same vigor to tackling this challenge as we intend to do in education. The next NPP government will establish 250 Mechanization Centres or Plant Pools across Ghana. These centres will provide mechanization services to farmers at competitive prices.
Farmers will also be provided with the business skills to enhance their crop productivity and boost their planning skills in order to forestall post-harvest losses. The aim is to support the farmers to get better value for their produce. Being equipped with business skills will also enable our farmers to negotiate better deals at various stages of the production chain.
Mr Chairman, in the Asian experience, the existence of a relatively extensive road network that carries fertilizer and other inputs to the farms and carries farm output to the markets has set them apart from us in Ghana. We will expand the feeder road and farm track network to mitigate post-harvest losses and also ensure foodstuffs are available to consumers.
Mr. Chairman, Ghana's agricultural sector remains mostly rain-fed. It functions like clockwork. In times of drought our harvests are poor and when there is abundance of rain, our harvests are abundant. Mr. Chairman, under the last NPP government in 2008, a feasibility study was made in which 5,000 hectares were to be put into agriculture production under the Accra Plains Irrigation Projects. The current government has not made good its promise to commence that project but continues its mention in succeeding budgets with a further promise to increase it to 10,000 hectares, and yet, as is their stock in trade, there has been no implementation.
As at 2010, only 35,000 hectares of Ghana's 7.3 million-hectare farmland was under irrigation. The MCA has shown that we do not need high end technology to irrigate our farming lands. But we do need to train farmers to be able to use simple pumps and take advantage of the numerous water bodies in this region for example. Mr. Chairman, irrigation must be taken seriously if we are to have the desired results in agriculture and an Akufo-Addo government will make the required investment.
As I said, farmers head business enterprises and we will work to provide them with the business skills they need to enhance their productivity and boost their planning skills in order to forestall post-harvest losses. We shall initiate a minimum Guarantee Price System for maize, rice and soya to support farm gate prices.
Mr Chairman, there is much to do in promoting Commercial Agriculture and it remains a largely untapped sector. With only 7.3 million hectares of Ghana's total agricultural land of 13.6 million hectares being under cultivation, the potential for the development of commercial agriculture is vast. Again the MCA has shown that there is a lot to be gained from farmers working together. We shall support farmers with small holdings by providing them with improved seeds and fertilizers to make them much more productive. There are examples of successful commercial size farms that we can copy. We will pick existing winners in commercial farming to give them the requisite incentives and access to funding to push them into major regional and global players.
Mr. Chairman, there is nothing more heartbreaking than a farmer recounting the losses suffered due to perishing produce after harvest. A priority of an Akufo-Addo presidency will be the building of post-harvest infrastructure for preserving the quality of crops during their transportation from the production site to final market destination.
Together with the private sector, we will work to develop pack houses, warehouses and improve our market places so as to ensure effective and efficient distribution and thereby minimize post-harvest losses.
The MCA has shown the way with the construction of the new perishable cargo centre at the airport and pack houses around the country. Our food exports stand a better chance of doing well in foreign markets because of the construction and rehabilitation of the laboratories that make it possible for goods to be certified to international level. Mr. Chairman, our mangoes, our pineapples, the beautiful garden eggs, peppers, cabbages and other vegetables I saw displayed on the road on my way here will get better value with a GlobalGAP sticker on them and we will work to bring the quality of our farm produce to international standards .
Ladies and Gentlemen, I would now like to speak on the plans the next NPP government has for the Fisheries Sector. Not only does fish constitute a substantial portion of the Ghanaian diet, fisheries are essential to the livelihood and economy of Ghana. The Kufuor Government instituted a Ministry of Fisheries to oversee this sector and it was beginning to show good results. I promise that next January, God willing and with your votes, an Akufo-Addo government will bring the Fisheries Ministry back. Fisher folk will have a voice around the cabinet table and their concerns will be articulated at the highest level of government.
Nearly all Ghana's marine fisheries and some inland fisheries are currently being overfished. Sustainable management of our fishing resources is crucial to the livelihood of the sector. A fishing sector where regulations are neither followed nor enforced is not the way forward. We will allocate additional resources for the enforcement of fisheries management policies as set forth in the Fisheries Act of 2002.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the poultry industry in Ghana has been hurting as a result of challenges it faces from imports of chicken from Europe and the Americas. This has led to the collapse of farms around the country. The high cost of inputs like soya and maize for feed, chemicals and even day-old chicks has rendered this once-viable venture an expensive undertaking.
The next NPP government will in collaboration with farmers and feed processors, assist poultry farmers to access cheaper feed ingredients. We will also put in place time-bound import tariff and non-tariff measures to ensure that there is an even playing field for our local producers of poultry and rice to compete on.
Our non-traditional exports have the potential of greatly boosting Ghana's GDP, Sheanut, pineapples, mangoes, bananas and vegetables have been successfully cultivated for export and an NPP government will focus on expanding and increasing efficiency in the farming of these high value cash crops.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I must say a few words on cocoa the cash crop, which has served as the bedrock of Ghana's development for generations. An Akufo-Addo government will continue to provide incentives in our cocoa industry through high producer prices, bonuses, cocoa scholarships, mass spraying and extension services to improve productivity and output. We aim to consolidate production at one million tones per annum and process up to 60% of our cocoa locally by 2018.
Mr. Chairman, agriculture remains the fuel that powers all our activity in Ghana. We ignore it at our risk. I give you my pledge that farmers, food crop farmers, fish farmers and livestock farmers will all have the support and respect they deserve from an Akufo-Addo government. We need to raise agriculture to a higher plane to be able to improve on the quality of life for our people. The NPP has the plans and the will to make it happen and I lead a dynamic and competent team that will show results, not propaganda and misinformation, but concrete, verifiable results.
On December 7, I ask for your votes to make it all possible.
Thank you, God bless you, God bless Ghana.