MPs argue over agric policy in 2018 budget

Mr Eric OpokuThe Majority and Minority caucuses in Parliament agreed with the centuries old adage that ‘agriculture is the backbone of Ghana’s economy’ but characteristically disagreed with who has the solution to the fortunes of the sector.

 

Battling for superiority while debating the 2018 budget statement and economic policy on agriculture in Parliament yesterday, a Deputy Agriculture Minister, Dr Sagre Bambangi and the Ranking Member on Parliament’s Agriculture Committee, Eric Opoku dug deep to support their arguments to the effect that their respective administrations remained more responsive to the needs of farmers.

 

Mr Opoku, MP, Asunafo South, making a case for the erstwhile John Mahama-led NDC administration said the current government was paying lip service without practical steps to addressing the inherent challenges in the agriculture sector.

 

According to him, this is evident in the “meagre” 0.98 per cent of the total budget sum allocated to agriculture for 2018 from 1.2 per cent in 2017 as against a 10 per cent allocation agreed by African countries as stipulated in the 2013 Maputo Declaration.

 

Mr Opoku, who is also a former Brong-Ahafo Regional Minister, said while allocation to almost all sectors of the economy, including agriculture was declining; same was increasing for the executive as allocations to that area has increased exponentially.

 

This, he said exhibits the lack of commitment to the overall development of the country, wondering why financial allocation to the Presidency would jump from GH¢1.5 billion to GH¢1.9 billion at the expense of other sectors which have direct impact on the citizenry.

 

Commenting on the cocoa sub sector, Mr Opoku said cocoa farmers were worse off today than in 2016, because they had to purchase their own fertilisers when it was actually free of charge under the NDC and that a GH¢ 5 bonus for farmers for every bag has also been scrapped.

 

While all these reductions in budgetary allocation was going on, Eric Opoku said the administrative cost at the COCOBOD was soaring when the government claimed the producer price could not be increased.

 

For instance the Cocoa Marketing Board’s allocation moved from GH¢74 million in 2017 to GH¢103 in 2018, Quality Control from GH¢102 million to GH¢155 million over the same period and the headquarters of the COCOBOD itself moving from GH¢360 million to GH¢537 million, he said.

 

He urged residents of cocoa farming areas to brace up for their bad roads as contracts cancelled by the COCOBOD have not even been budgeted for, alleging that the budget document was fraught with contradictions and misinformation.

 

But Dr Bambangi disagreed and said the Minority miscalculated the allocation to the agricultural sector and if the fisheries sector was added, government would have made available 1.56 per cent of the budget to agriculture.

 

The Dr Bambangi, the MP for Walewale could not fathom why the Minority was crying foul when under the watch of the NDC government the agricultural sector had never been given any seriousness.

 

“Under the NPP administration, agriculture is getting back to work and for that matter the Planting for Food and Jobs policy will receive the maximum support,” he declared.

 

In his view, agriculture under the erstwhile NDC government was nearly extinct but had been revived by the Akufo-Addo-led government.

 

He said for effective monitoring of the progress of the policy, government would engage 2,700 farm extension officers and other ancillary staff to ensure a successful farming year.

 

He said government’s pre-election promise to pursue an irrigation policy would be followed through to ensure an all-year-round farming and extended a hand to the Minority to support the government to succeed.

BY JULIUS YAO PETETSI

 

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