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In Search of the Hoe and Cutlass

Monday, December 19, 2016 - 13:09

“As the globalisation project unfolds, it exposes its bankruptcy at the philosophical, political, ecological and economic levels. The bankruptcy of the world order is leading to social, ecological, political and economic non-sustainability, with societies, eco-systems, and economies disintegrating and breaking down. The philosophical and ethical bankruptcy of globalisation was based on reducing every aspect of our lives to commodities and reducing our identities to merely that of consumers on the global market. Our capacities as producers, our identity as members of communities, our role as custodians of our natural and cultural heritage were all to disappear or be destroyed. Markets and consumerism expanded. Our capacity to give and share were to shrink. But the human spirit refuses to be subjugated by a world view based on the dispensability of our humanity” - Vandana Shiva (quoted in Fisher and Ponniah, 2003:1) 

We are not sure how many friends Vandana Shiva has in the West.  It is much more difficult to say how many she could lay hands on among free market and globalisation crusaders. For those of us in economies that are currently being paraded as models of African excellence, the temptation is to dismiss Vandana Shiva and other crew members as enemies of progress.

Globalisation and the market system are almost templates for economic growth, development, well-being and prosperity. Nations that opt out of this phenomenon, we are told, might remain indoors for years to come, and indeed will have no alternatives to fall upon in the global quest for improved welfare. We think Vandana Shiva and her friends are of the view that another world is possible and that organic farming methods incorporating indigenous knowledge systems will support livelihoods of many peasant farmers. For capacity reasons, we make no attempt to join this discourse. We are concerned with some little issues that we suspect have been occasioned by the foregoing.

The presence of the Hoe and Cutlass farmer in Ghana

Where is the hoe? What has happened to the cutlass? They are out there in the hamlets and cottages dotted around developing countries slugging it out with “superior” and modernised technology in our desire to increase food production for both domestic consumption and export. The Bretton Woods institutions have done a lot of work in developing countries, trying to salvage ailing economies and providing formulae to enhance growth in these countries. Figures and numbers have played leading roles in this direction. We have heard a lot about GDP growth. Modernised agriculture, we are told, is key to unlocking the potentials of developing countries, particularly Ghana. Precision planning has been given prominence. 

A $200 investment in a bee-keeping project in the Savelugu–Nanton District in Northern region will yield X gallons of pure honey. These will be sold on the streets of London to earn about $Y million. The resulting foreign exchange will take Z number of beggars and Kayaye off the streets of Accra and other cosmopolitan cities. No space is left for the native knowledge of the indigenous farmer. 

The hoe and cutlass farmer is very much active in rural Ghana. We are to be challenged that they are not in the majority. There is a claim that peasant and indigenous farmers are inefficient and unable to meet the growing needs for food production, and that the only solution is to take a full dive into industrialised, large scale and “chemicalised” agriculture as well as genetic modification. Who made them inefficient in the first place? Who introduced chemical agriculture and for what reasons? What happened to the regenerative capacity of the soil and farm lands? A result of which the hoe and cutlass farmer is no longer able to produce enough for consumption without relying on external inputs. The irony is that this farmer is also unable to acquire these inputs and so is tagged inefficient by the very system that has taken away his or her capacity to at least, remain self-sufficient in terms of food security. 

Defence of the commercialised farming system

The GDP-motivated, commercial and export-oriented advocates argue in typical precision planning models that the “trickle down” effect will address the food and other material needs of the hoe and cutlass practitioner. In that case, we are told that our fears are unfounded and exaggerated. In a case of high income inequalities and significant imbalances in resource allocations, huge doubts remain whether the hoe and cutlass farmer is getting better. 

The Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA) and the Ghana Commercial Agriculture Project (GCAP) are embarking on ambitious and innovative projects to modernise agriculture. There is a rural development component attached. A lot of discussions have already gone into the design and operational strategies. No further scores are likely to be earned by simply revisiting these. Export–oriented agriculture looks like the major objective. That sounds very good in terms of foreign exchange earnings and improved welfare. Subsequent investments in social services will translate to improved welfare and hopefully the end of poverty would have been here. 

File 36415A smallholder farmer stands next to her field of bounty harvest from using Climate Resilient Sustainable Agriculture (CRSA)

Time is not up for us to abandon the hoe and cutlass farmer. In the Savelugu–Nanton District and several other places for instance, there was an upsurge in mango plantations. Large hectares of land have been utilised in this direction including the Nasia–Nabogu valley for commercial rice farming under the GCAP. People who have recently travelled up North would have seen this already. What has largely remained unreported has been the large scale and wanton destruction of shea trees under the numerous interventions to make room for these plantations. In most of the cases, the felled shea trees become the fencing material for the plantations. These shea trees are naturally occurring and promise to be the North’s answer to Cocoa if the right strategies and policies are in place. This phenomenon is destroying the livelihoods of several rural women who make decent income from the shea trees. By comparison, very few of them make the entry into the plantation circles. Policy makers, traditional rulers and communities need to think through this if we are to avoid a World Bank sponsored “shea tree rediscovery project” in the near future. 

We are not against globalisation and export-led agriculture. We do not hate modernised agriculture. There is no attempt to undermine the power of precision models. Our concern is that hoe and cutlass farmers are in the majority. They contribute significantly to national food security and yet are still looking for survival mechanisms. New interventions in agriculture need to factor in the vulnerabilities of these farmers. More crucial, is the need to enhance and safeguard the integrity of regenerative capacities of natural resources. 

For years, ActionAid Ghana (AAG) has been working to increase the productivity of smallholder women farmers through the promotion of Climate Resilient Sustainable Agriculture (CRSA). It has, for two decades, been promoting the use of eco-friendly locally produced organic fertilisers relative to the inorganic – which are often expensive – to improve soil fertility among smallholder farmers. It does this through Female Extension Volunteers (FEVs) who are located within the farming communities and are well positioned to provide timely extension advice to these farmers. AAG has established several demonstration farms where practical lessons are undertaken, all aimed at raising agricultural productivity, to the feed the larger population and not only the immediate constituents of smallholder farmers. This approach adopted by AAG recognises the need to ensure that policy interventions and engagements must focus on delivering benefits to the masses.  Thus, the impact of GDP growth and high foreign exchange earnings need to be felt much more by the hoe and cutlass Ghanaian farmer in Kpendua, Jou, Asamang, Gwosi and Mognori. This is not a call to abandon “high tech” systems in rural agriculture but a call to balance this with the realities confronting peasant farmers, many of whom we know are women.

We do not have an option to do nothing.


Written By:

Alhassan Musah

Chartered Accountant and Senior Lecturer

UDS School of Business and Law



Muazu Ibrahim

Quality and Impact Assessment Manager

ActionAid Ghana