Food Security, Porous Borders And Lazy MMDCEs

Cargo ships loaded with grains have started leaving the ports of Ukraine to Africa and other places, thanks to the intervention of the UN and Turkey.  Africans in particular are jubilating because the threat of famine which stared them in the face is about to come to an end. But the truth is that, the smiles on the faces are like the smiles of foolish persons who failed to think like the way the ant thinks. I dare say Africans don’t think ahead when it comes to food security.  The ant knows during the rainy days, it could not gather food into its hole so, it gathers food when the rains are not coming and eats them when the rains set in.  Ants are wiser than us.

The introduction of the Planting For Food and Jobs, one of the flagship programmes of the Nana Addo-led administration sent my heart reeling with joy. I am a living witness to the Operation Feed Yourself programme, introduced by the Acheampong administration in the seventies.  It was one of the most successful agriculture programmes ever launched in Ghana since independence. In fact, no African country ever dreamt of such a lofty idea.  I have taken it upon myself to always travel down memory lane so that the younger generation who were born too late to experience what we went through, to understand things better.  Some of these upstarts make commentaries look like categorical statements. They mess around, twist history and think they know better.

General Acheampong was a military ruler who overthrew the barely two –year old Professor Busia regime and set off on a very dangerous road by declaring that his government will not honor any loan that Ghana contracted with foreign countries (Yentua Regime). Meanwhile, meek and mild Professor Busia had told the world when he took over power that, the world should give Ghana a breathing space to start paying debts owed them. (“Okafuor didi’) Acheampong’s ‘soldier comments’ led the world to also refuse to give Ghana any loan and so Acheampong was left with no choice but to rely on local resources to develop the country.  The Operation Feed Yourself was introduced to fill this gab. Within two years, the programme became so successful that food became abundant in Ghana with some getting rotten. The regime also introduced the Backyard Gardening which saw people living in the big cities and towns getting involved in farming at their backyards. It was an era of “grow what you eat and eat what you grow”. Acheampong made Ghanaians to believe that milk was a luxury and that a person who is satisfied doesn’t need milk (obi a wadidi amee nhia milk) Fine idea! Fishermen along our coasts also got involved and nature smiled on Ghanaians so well that our fisher folks returned from their fishing expeditions with unprecedented bumper catch of different species of fishes, particularly herrings.

The dream died young because we failed to see the need to store food for the rainy day. In fact, we did not see the need to build cold stores to store the bumper catch of fish. Boat loads of herrings were sent back to the high seas and jettisoned because we had no cold stores along the coasts and elsewhere to store them and fishmongers became tied of drying them. The smell of rotten fish was a nuisance to the people. In no time, the fish stock in our territorial waters depleted and draught stepped in to consume our food crops.  Things went from bad to worse and we had to go cup in hand begging the international community for help. For the first time in the history of Ghana, we experienced hyperinflation.

For two years, the Planting for Food and Jobs, like the Operation Feed Yourself was a success story but sadly we did not learn any lesson from the failure of the Operation Feed Yourself Programme.  We ate what we produced, threw away the excesses and failed to store the rest for the rainy day.  When the war in Ukraine came knocking on our doors, we found ourselves standing  in the cold, pants down, panting like fishes out of water. The sad aspect of our story this time is that fertilisers and other farm inputs which we imported to help the Planting for Food and Jobs programme, ended up being smuggled outside the country.  From Bawku to Paga, Elubo to Dormaa, Aflao to Yendi, truckloads of fertilisers were carried to Burkina Faso, Niger, Ivory Coast, Togo, etc, without any check. Donkeys and tricycles carried fertilisers and crossed our porous borders to these countries under the supervisions of greedy and unpatriotic Ghanaians.

Meanwhile, we have MMDCEs, chiefs, Assembly members, community leaders, party leadership, Unit Committee members, etc., in these areas.  My problem today is the toothless MMDCEs who control these border towns. As an MMDCE, you are supposed to be the representative of the President there. You are the Chairman of the District/Municipal Security Committee and the political head of the district or municipality you control.  You don’t expect President Akufo Addo or the Minister of Food and Agriculture to come to your district and check the smuggling of our fertilisers and farm inputs.

This behavior of the MMDCEs brings into focus how they are appointed by the President. Many of them got the position because of their loyalty to the party instead of their experience and ability to perform. They are only happy ridding in their official cars and leaving everything to the civil servants who work under them. In fact, some of them are simply good for nothing.  They are just square pegs in round holes. The truth is that any MMDCE who takes the civil servants at the assemblies for granted does so at their own peril. In Nigeria, these civil servants are nicknamed “Super Permanent Secretaries.” What that means is that governments will come and go but these guys will still be at post until they go on pension. They are the most corrupt but when a policeman stands at the barrier and collects GHC1.00 from a driver, Ghanaians spit fire on him.  Most MMDCEs fail because they are misled by these civil servants. If you were a teacher, for example, before being appointed as an MCE or DCE, woe betides you.  You don’t know anything about office routine or administration. You are given a few days of orientation to go back to your municipality or district to man the place. In fact, they are asking you to go and descend into a snake pit.  If you try to be soft on them, they will lick you like the way they lick sugar. Even though MMDCEs do not sign cheques at the assemblies, these civil servants know how to trick the MMDCEs to sign the memo that accompanies the cheque.

By Eric Bawah