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From Bread-Basket to Basket-Case; Thousands Go Hungry In the Northern Regions


A recent World Food Program (WFP) report stating explicitly that on any given day in the northern regions of the country, 658,000 people go hungry and have no access to nutritious food should raise the alarm bells in the corridors of power. That is 1 in 6 residents in a population of 4 million.      

The report, stunning and grim as it is, nonetheless, exposes the ugly underbelly of our national economy; that it is a two-tier system and hugely unfair. In fact, the report conjures images of the Sahel region of West Africa where perennial food shortage brought about by prolonged drought has created untold hardships for millions.

Despite glowing assertions by the World Bank and the IMF that our economy is at a full throttle, (growing at an annual rate of 6 percent in the last couple of years) the harsh reality is that it is just a handful of well-connected and wealthy individuals – politicians and their cronies -who are reaping the abundant windfall.

Meanwhile stuck at the bottom of the economic ladder is the other segment of the Ghanaian population- the less well-connected – who go to bed at night hungry and despondent. Nowhere is this lamentable situation more acute than in the northern regions which once prided themselves as the granaries of the country.

That thousands of residents in the northern regions suffer from perennial food shortages is distressing; how did it come to this, one is compelled to ask? After all, it was not so long ago that the regions were considered the food baskets of Ghana, literally producing huge quantities of grain – corn, millet, rice, and maize primarily for domestic consumption.

Subsistence farming has long been the mainstay of agriculture in the northern regions enabling farmers to feed themselves and their families. In the 1970s, however, commercial farming trumped subsistence farming as the Late General Kutu Acheampong launched his famous ‘Operation Feed Yourself’ pilot program in the north.

Prodded by the government to be generous with the vast tracts of land under their jurisdiction that went largely unused, northern traditional rulers made available huge acreages for cultivation. Many gobbled the offer, including army officers and highly placed civil servants. Overnight, Tamale became the hub of intense agricultural activity.

And to boost the confidence of the budding farmers, financial institutions extended assistance in the form of capital and equipment. Profits soared and food was plentiful. It was a time of abundance, to put it subtly. Everyone went to bed at night well fed. Hunger was an afterthought.

Against this glittering background, it is easy to dismiss the WFP report as the musings of a few starched bureaucrats. However, times have changed, and the northern regions are bearing the brunt of failed agricultural policies that have drastically affected farming production over the years.

Bowing to pressure from the World Bank, the PNDC under Rawlings adopted an economic revitalization program commonly called Structural Adjustment Program that removed subsidies from agriculture. And the consequences have been devastating.

Commercial farming has gone the way of the dinosaurs; it has simply disappeared. What we see now are young men who could easily go into farming opting instead for business suits and calling themselves contractors. Apparently, the construction industry is more lucrative than tilling the earth and sowing seeds.

Tied in with these bankrupt farming policies and stale farming methods is the failure of government to create employment opportunities even as the economy rebounds from the global recession. Without income of any sort, people cannot afford the basic necessities of life of which food is paramount.

One thing that I gleaned from the WFP report is the painful reminder that the glaring inequity between the north and the south is still prevalent, efforts to address the gap notwithstanding. Fact is the northern regions continue to suffer from lingering poverty and it is not a surprise that one in six of its residents goes to sleep with hunger pains.

The WFP report alarming as it is should be a wake-up call for government officials to abandon obsolete agricultural policies and adapt modern technologically driven methods that will double food production not only in the northern regions but across the nation as a whole.



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