Comment: Savanna bushfires – the bane of underdevelopment in northern Ghana

Comment: Savanna bushfires – the bane of underdevelopment in northern Ghana

20 October 2010

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Ghana —  The perennial bushfires that sweep across many parts of the country, notably the three northern regions — Upper West, Upper East and Northern region, are eminent. This phenomenon, which has unfortunately become a ritual, so to speak, is just a month away. The fires usually start in November through December and January, but sometimes decorate February like hot tea cup. Those in this region who are usually and enthusiastically engrossed in bush burning during these dry months are perhaps unreflective or oblivious of the repercussions of bushfires on their very survival. I wish to appeal to the conscience of the adamant to depart from their usual practice of bush burning and make this year a year of difference.

This development that is said to have existed in the north of Ghana from Adam is no longer relevant in the 21St century, regarding contemporary development paradigm. A cursory look at the underdevelopment and poverty indices of this part of the country is partly attributable to the arbitrary burning of the bush during the dry season. The people that continuously commit this crime cannot be said to be ignorant of the consequences of their actions, which is currently a major talking point in the 21st century global climate change discourse (details here from Christian Aid International).

Agriculture is undoubtedly the main stay of the people who live in this particular geographic enclave. Sadly, soil erosion and land degradation are sky rocketing largely as a result of persistent bush burning. This is certainly frightening. Thus it is imperative that every developmental initiative reflects a desire to curb this menace.

It is heartwarming that the NDC government, now the ruling government, aided and guided by think tanks, is introducing the Savanna Accelerated Development Authority (SADA) which aims at accelerated development and poverty reduction. Bravo to all stakeholders of this major initiative. The success of this magnificent project however depends on judicious land preservation and utilization among others. It therefore behooves SADA to design pragmatic policies capable of eradicating/curbing this perennial bushfires; otherwise this project, like its silenced predecessors (FASCOM, URADEP, NORRIP, UDERCO etc) will become yet another white elephant.

The local indigenes that blatantly ascribe their action of burning the bush to several reasons are not reasonable enough and should not endure any longer. Some of the reasons the local people usually advance for burning the bush include the simmering dangers of reptiles like snakes in their neighborhoods and farms, the difficulty in clearing farmlands and the flimsy excuse of hunting for bush meat such as rats. Clearly these reasons cannot and should not justify such colossal destruction of an otherwise rich ecological layout of great potential.

The savanna land possesses indeed a lot of potential. For instance sorghum, which thrives well in this ecological zone, is in high demand in the brewery industry. Yam, tomato, onion, cowpea, soya beans, mangoes, groundnuts, cashew and a host of other produce sustain many industries and thus the economy of Ghana. Unfortunately, ill-planning and feeble supporting programmes amidst rampant bushfires often plunge an otherwise energetic youth into unemployment and waste, hence their drive to migrate to the south with its attendant social problems.
As have been demonstrated severally and at many parts of this area, guinea corn and sorghum are being produced in larger quantities to feed the bourgeoning brewery industry that can employ over two million youth. The collaboration between Venture Capital and TechnoServe empowered farmers who produced a lot of sorghum to augment the strangulating/expensive importation of malt by the breweries. Thus the migration index of northern Ghana can be effectively managed if a demonstrable level of commitment is shown by government, non-governmental organizations, civil society and corporate Ghana in solving the problem of bushfires.

They are indeed other powerful institutions whose leverage will enhance/facilitate the decline/absence of bushfires. One such is the chieftaincy institution: Chiefs and Queenmothers have in recent times demonstrated a remarkably admirable sense in developmental issues across this nation. Just as Osagyefo Omotia Ofori Panin, the Omanhene of Kyebi Traditional Area, has eloquently shown interest in particular, environmental matters, we hope that other chiefs, especially those in bushfire-prone zones will emulate his neat example.

Unlike others, it appears Corporate Ghana is consistently deficient in its corporate social responsibility towards the prevention of bush burning through supporting campaigns; for the most part it is seen sponsoring events that have the tendency of promoting their products and services. Very renowned companies in Ghana give sponsorship packages within a spell of the moment to events like beauty pageants, dancing competitions and the like to the sheer neglect of critical issues such as climate change.

The downright, appalling development as manifest in the savanna land over the fifty years since independence simply beautifies the ugly gap, and further strengthens a severe disconnection between the north and south of Ghana. The savanna of Ghana can be considered as the leguminous basket of the country yet it is continuously left to be strangulated/consumed by bushfires among a myriad oddities. It is therefore time for the endowed natives of savanna land—those blessed with meaningful education and economic power–to seize the moment and make meaning to their people’s lives by initiating/creating all that are necessary in this regard.

It is equally prudent and critical for the inhabitants of the savanna to know that the act of burning the bush is creating a big collateral damage to the vegetation, which no doubt will affect posterity. It is commonsense that those already clothed in poverty need not be reminded, yet once more, to resolve to create more misery by setting fires to the dry bushes.

The most practical solution to the extreme but endemic poverty and underdevelopment in northern Ghana includes but not limited to the complete extinction of bush burning. This will certainly result in unbridled agricultural evolution unparalleled in the history of this nation in lieu of the somewhat peasant economy. It is a hard fact that only fools smile when the devil is recovering/approaching. Hopefully our baskets will be full when our brains get sharper.

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