In Ghana, the first Friday of December is set aside to acknowledge the hard work of some of the country’s most important individuals – farmers and agricultural workers. So that would mean today! Happy Farmers’ Day!!
For a while now I’ve wondered about the future of agriculture in Ghana. It has been Ghana’s predominant sector since the early days of independence, and even though a lot of activities are undertaken, the potential for growth still remains. Question is, are Ghanaians willing to take up that charge? Or more specifically, are Ghana’s youth willing to do so?
One of the typical composition questions featured in English examinations in basic schools when I was younger was: “The Farmer and the Doctor: Who Is More Important?” I always grappled with that question, but more often than not, it came down to the farmer. Why? Because basic human instinct seeks nourishment before other needs or wants. Maslow’s theory confirms this, and it’s also true in our everyday lives. Also, when you think about traditional African societies, medical practitioners (herbalists) relied on plants (grown by farmers) to treat their patients. So it would seem like the presence of the farmer with his food and plants for medicine gave birth to the doctor. In a sense.
Eitherways, I’m not here to argue about whether the doctor or the farmer is more important. If my guess is right, thousands of Ghanaian school children are still contemplating that question in their essays. What I’d like to talk about though, is the youth’s perception of agriculture.
Thanks to globalization and western influence, many Ghanaian and African youth look down upon careers in agriculture. Particularly with regards to farming and fishing. They think it’s beneath them. Let me correct myself. Since I’m also a Ghanaian and African youth, we, as a collective, think it’s beneath us. Which is really incredulous. How can an honorable trade such as farming, that essentially offers the opportunity of life and health, be a second-thought or second-class career option?
And it’s not just the youth who think this way. Adults do too. Many parents will say, “oh my daughter/son is going to grow up to be a medical doctor, lawyer, or teacher.” Very few say “my child will be a farmer or fisher when he/she grows.” Why is this the case? We seriously need to think about this. Especially since our main economic strengths lie in agriculture. If we ever want to advance into strong manufacturing and services sectors, we’re gonna need to fill up our breadbaskets to the brim and have extra in storage. The agricultural sector needs us. Without the human resource base in that sector, we’re basically screwed. We’re letting our key strengths go to waste, and in addition to that, we’re paying a dear price for it by having to import food we can grown ourselves and dealing with food shortages and crises.
When Kofi Annan stepped down from his post as UN Secretary-General, he declared he would be returning to Ghana to farm. The reaction? “What is wrong with this man? You go as far as being the head of one of the most influential international organizations, and now you want to be a mere farmer?” I admire Annan for his decision. Why? Because despite his association with top global leaders and dealing with complex issues, he realizes that food security is the essential ingredient to keeping humanity afloat. A hungry (wo)man is an angry (wo)man. And when Awuradjoa, Aishatou, Kofi, Selorm or Habib are angry, nobody else is happy. When you’re hungry, you’re not only irritable, you can’t concentrate until you get something in your system.
The great news is that in this era of technological advancement, there are many sexy agricultural jobs out there. Yep, you heard right. We need to change our idea about what agriculture entails because there are so many components to it. For instance. If you feel like you don’t have the muscles necessary to till the soil, you can concentrate on helping design and invent new technologies to make that process easier. Not convinced yet? Okay. Let’s say you’re more interested in legal structures. You can do research and evaluate current labor laws governing the agricultural sector – both at the local and international levels (within the framework of the WTO for instance). Figure yourself as more of a business person? No worries. You can help develop and implement marketing schemes to help farmers get as much profit as their hard work deserves. Interested in climate change? You can help develop new, ‘green’ initiatives to keep the agricultural sector, well, green. And for those of us who think women are no good as farmers, think again. Women contribute the most to the subsistence agricultural sector in many African and developing nations.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to perception. If your window of perception about agriculture is limited to days under the sun toiling for hours on end, then you’ve got another thing coming to you. We’re in a new era with new possibilities. And even if you do end up sweaty and panting under the tropical sun in a field of corn, is that so bad? You would be participating in one of the most honorable trades (in my opinion) out there, and you’d be contributing more than your quota to humanity. Think about it. It’s time to make agriculture sexy.
Here’s an interesting TED video on food security in Ethiopia (where a serious food crisis is ongoing)
Jemila Abdulai is the creative director, editor and founder of the award-winning website Circumspecte.com. A media and international development professional and economist by training, she combines her business, communications and project management expertise with her strong passion for Africa. Besides writing and reading, she enjoys travel, global cuisine, movies, and good design.