Large-scale agric mechanisation practically impossible in Ghana now, says economics professor

Professor Yaw Nyarko says for now agricultural mechanisation should be allowed to flow organically and not forced on to Ghanaian peasant farmers

A professor of economics at New York University (NYU), Yaw Nyarko, says that, for now, Ghana cannot afford large-scale agricultural mechanisation.

He said the process could be costly for the country to bear at the moment and could also be brutal on poor, rural Ghanaian farmers.

Professor Nyarko argues that replacing human labour in farming with mechanisation at the moment could lead to huge job losses which could trigger national security threats in the country.

While mechanisation raises labour efficiency and enhances farm production per worker, it reduces, by its nature, the quantum of labour needed to produce a unit of output. This, Professor Nyarko says, could lead to massive unemployment and further dire consequences for the Ghanaian economy.

Speaking with Nana Yaa Mensah on Sunday Night, he said: “Right now, it’s impossible to do large-scale mechanisation across the entire country. There are just too many farmers in too many places with too many pieces of land here and there.

“First of all, it’s practically not possible [because these] people own the land. And also think of the economic implications. Large-scale agriculture means that you taking machines to replace people.

Source of jobs

“Agriculture is the major employer in this country, so that theory would say: let’s go and do a lot of borrowing, get a lot of capital and kick all of these people off their lands to produce a bit more productively, and hopefully it will produce an output to help the nation.

“What’s going to happen to all these millions of people? What jobs are they going to be doing? What’s going to happen to the Ghanaian economy when you have all these [people] without a job? We have a problem of young people in the city with massive unemployment.

“Ghana is just a great place, because somewhere else there would be riots in the streets with the lack of jobs. And the government is trying its best. And so what: you are going to add to that massive unemployment among our rural folks? …

“I think we should try a bit of that [agric mechanisation] but everything would have to be done in tandem. We have to think through things very carefully. We have to keep in mind the reality on the ground,” he said.

Inevitable outcomes

Nyarko, whose research interests are in human capital and economic growth, recently undertook a pioneering study on the impact of brain drain on Africa’s intellectual and economic development.

He told Sunday Night, “Ultimately, in 50 years, Ghana is going to be that industrialised, mechanised society; it’s going to happen, it’s inevitable and, without a doubt, it’ll happen. But we’re living today: we don’t live in the future.

“We live with the reality of what we have and the reality of what we have says that we do a combination of both. You let the mechanisation occur organically at a particular rate …

“It’s going to happen [agricultural mechanisation] but for someone to say that we come in with massive amounts of money, kick off all these farmers from the fields it’s not going to happen.”

“The only fear”

Professor Nyarko said during the rise of cocoa, Ghanaian farmers did farming on a small-scale level and yet the country was the world’s largest producer of the commodity until the late 1970s. “… we are able to manage a world-class industry with the highest-quality cocoa,” he said, “even though we used what they call peasant agriculture.

“So, it can be done. We can have a blend of large-scale mechanised agriculture and peasant farming, and so the two are going to coexist for a while and eventually over the next few decades you’ll see one shrinking and the other rising,” he said.

He added: “The only concern with centrally directed large-scale agric mechanisation is that it may be way too costly, way too brutal and without enough common sense. That’s the only fear. And yes, there has to be the involvement of government but it shouldn’t be too much. The economy has to get to a certain level …”

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