On January 10, 2023, the then Minister of Food and Agriculture, Dr Owusu Afriyie Akoto (OAA), resigned from his position to enter the race for who becomes the flag bearer of the New Patriotic Party (NPP).
Our Education and Agriculture Editor, Severious Kale-Dery (SKD), caught up with him in his house for an interview.
Below are excepts of the interview.
Severious Kale-Dery (SKD): Hon, it has been three months since you resigned from your post as the Minister of Food and Agriculture. What have you been doing since?
DR OWUSU AFRIYIE AKOTO (OAA): Since my resignation from office, I have used the time to consult stakeholders as to what requirements we need to win the 2024 general election. I consulted from the polling stations through to their supervisors, who are the coordinators, to the constituency executives, to the regional and national level.
So, the three months have been used very judiciously in trying to understand the nature of the problems this party faces. Basically, I am in this race as a result of what I observed to be things which are not well managed in the party that nearly cost us in the 2020 elections.
SKD: What are some of those things that are not being managed well in the party?
OAA: Given the amount of work that was done in the first term of the Akufo-Addo administration of which I played a major part, I think that the performance was very satisfactory to the extent that we were expecting that the results would have reflected the acknowledgement of the good works done by this government.
Unfortunately, it was rather the reverse. We were expecting that the 1.5 million majority that President Akufo-Addo had over President Mahama in 2016 would have gone to two million or more, with the over 169 constituencies that we had in Parliament increasing to 200 constituencies.
But what did we see at the end of the elections? Now, Parliament is 137 NPP and 137 NDC and the Majority was cast substantially with just one difference between what is our Majority and their Minority and that was ironically by an independent candidate who used to be an NPP MP who was so disappointed with what was going on within the party that he decided to defend his seat as an independent candidate.
So, that is what is making the difference. Otherwise, Parliament is split. The Speaker of Parliament is now in the domain of the NDC, the Right Honourable Alban Bagbin, who won the vote over the Right Honourable Professor Aaron Mike Oquaye, who had shown a lot of competence in the first term of the administration in Parliament.
So, you see that things are not going well in spite of the superior campaign that we ran in 2020. If you look at the NDC, you cannot even remember any campaign message. They didn’t have a single campaign message that would have attracted Ghanaians to say let us give them a chance. On the other hand, we had lots of messages of what we had done during the first term and were going to continue and add on new projects and programmes.
Unfortunately, we didn’t impress the electorate because of the too many conflicts within the party.
SKD: So, Hon, why do you want to contest, knowing that there are so many challenges?
OAA: I want to bear the flag of this party to give me the opportunity to bring about the necessary changes in this party to stand us in a good position to be able to win the 2024 December general election.
Apart from the conflicts, a lot of the party people on the ground throughout the country are complaining about lack of employment from the base all the way to the top. The people are actually unhappy.
SKD: You seem to have good ideas but there are obstacles ahead in terms of super congress and national congress. How prepared are you for the job ahead?
OAA: I am very much prepared because I am going on my track record as Minister of Food and Agriculture. There are 3.1 million farmers in this country. I know this for a fact because in 2018, for the first time in 36 years I organised an agricultural census and it was very clear that we had 3.1 million in this country.
The Planting for Food and Jobs raked in a little over 1.7 million of these farmers and this has to do with subsidies for seeds and fertilisers to improve the efficiency of the smallholder agriculture in particular because they still produce the bulk of our agricultural output but have been neglected all these years. So, I decided that we are going to come in to introduce new technology of improved seeds and application of fertiliser.
So, what I am saying is that these 1.7 million farmers are really appreciative of what I did and I remember in 2022, when I went out, you could see that everywhere I went, it was like a thanksgiving tour because everywhere I went, farmers were expressing their appreciation for the work that I have done.
SKD: Surely, that is great, but I think that before the farmers endorse you, you have to deal with a certain constituent of the party that will ensure that you are able to get to the level of the farmers. How are you dealing with those constituents?
OAA: The interesting thing is that most of these delegates, especially in the five regions in the north, are also the delegates. Their constituency executives, almost all of them that I met, Savannah, North East, Northern, Upper East and Upper West regions are actually farmers.
So, it is a double-edged sword. While agriculturally it was positive, politically, it is also recognition of my contribution to their living standards.
SKD: Hon, people think that you are relying on the goodwill of your father to want to climb onto the seat. What is your reaction?
OAA: No! No! That is not true at all. There is no basis to say that. What I am saying is that the emphasis is to do with my track record.
I don’t think there will be many people who will be able to use their track record to defend the way I have. And as I have said, the 3.1 million farmers are the ones who will bear witness to me.
You just have to go to the farmers and ask them of the impact that I have had on their lives as Minister for Food and Agriculture and they will confess to you. Not only farmers, but traditional rulers who are in charge of leading farmers around the country. From Nayiri in the Mamprusi land to the King of Dagbon, the Yaa Naa himself, to Otumfuo Asantehene. Everybody accepts that I have made a positive impact on their subjects and the subjects themselves would come confessing that this man has changed our lives.
So, for me, that is a good sign that in terms of ability, in terms of vision in terms of delivery, I have done it.
So that’s the first thing but I am saying that in addition to that, my concern for this party is also derived from the part of my heritage and not only that, two terms in Kwadaso weren’t handed over to me on a silver platter. I had to try three times. So, I understand the politics at the grassroots. When the grassroots cough, I understand what is wrong with them.
So, I am in touch with the grassroots and therefore, the grassroots are the base. They are the ones who deliver power to us and therefore, if they are complaining about the fact that they are hungry, they are neglected, they don’t have jobs and so on, it is for some of us to lead the charge, to take power to correct those things in order to strengthen the party at the base.
SKD: Your other contestants are busily touring the country. What assurance are you giving to your supporters that you are strongly in the race?
OAA: Actually, my other competitors are running around the country as if we are having a general election. This is not a general election.
We have only 210,000 delegates who are going to vote and in the super delegates, less than 1,200 delegates and we know all of them.
So, for me, it is not a matter of a big gathering. I go directly to the people, who have the power to vote. It is not a secret; everybody has their names and telephone numbers and where they are.
So, I am going to them and three months that I have been out of office, I have been going to them quietly talking to them. So, you as a journalist may not know. But I have been very busy. My schedule is totally different, it is not sitting in one place in the office. I am talking to the delegates. And I have been engaging them for quite sometime now.
SKD: Hon, what has been the most exciting moment in your six-year stay as Minister in charge of agriculture?
OAA: For me, the most exciting thing in my life is the opportunity to deal with the poorest in the society, who happen to be the smallholder farmers; that I have been able to impact their lives to increase their income and their living situation that they can now afford some life of luxury from the additional production and that, they have been able to achieve through the application of subsidised seeds and fertiliser. For me, that is the most important.
SKD: You have served for six years as a minister. What has been your greatest regret?
OAA: Oh, my regrets really are not many. For instance, poultry, I wish we had done better in poultry. Over the years, poultry farmers are closing down because of the high prices of feed and the flood of imported poultry, which are literally dumped in the country because if you can land and sell for averagely GH¢14 per kilo, when production in this country could be a minimum of GH¢32 per kilo, then the local industry has not got a chance.
SKD: Why have you not been able to ban the importation of poultry in the country?
OAA: By the World Trade Organisation (WTO), we have regulations, we have evidence to say that we are restricting or we are countervailing, but that is not my area, that is Ministry of Trade and Industry.
SKD: What happened to the Rearing for Food and Jobs?
OAA: That is going on but I am saying that out of the livestock, poultry is very disappointing so far because poultry is the easiest source of protein for the ordinary person.
In Ghana here, there are two sources of protein- fish, poultry and the others. Poultry is by far the biggest in terms of generating employment and income for the family.
We are talking about the situation of dumping from their countries of origin, as they subside their supplies to bring poultry into this country and we are not doing much about it.
Then, secondly, in terms of feed and all of that, we need to have an institution and that is why I am talking about the Poultry Development Authority (PDA) and the Grains Development Authority (GDA) because 70 to 80 per cent of the cost of production of feed is from the grains.
So, the GDA can collaborate with the PDA to make sure that they can bring down the cost of grains by intervening in the market at the right prices but we need institutions.
That is the problem that we have. We have not created enough institutions to be able to manage these soft sectors because if you go to East Africa or even Cote d’Ivoire, these are very common. We don’t have these, but we are just here, make lip service that agriculture is important and that the farmer is important, but we don’t do anything. That is why this government has done a lot in terms of institution building to strengthen the sector.