TALKING DRUM: Lest we forget – Did Agric Minister lie over Fall Armyworm victory?

File photo: Army worms invade a maize farm

He is one of President Akufo-Addo’s ministers who will not often give journalists job to do. But when he strikes, like Nana Acheampong [the musician], everyone hears about him on various media platforms.

Prior to his vetting as Minister designate for Food and Agriculture, Dr. Owusu Afriyie Akoto made headlines as Food Sovereignty Ghana [FSG] accused him of being a strong advocate of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).

After battling a petition filed against him by the FSG at the vetting stages, Dr. Owusu Afriyie Akoto somewhat went off the journalist’s radar only to resurface recently. This time, it was the media asking him about a seemingly hanging truth he told Ghana’s Parliament.

The Minister answering a question on the floor of Parliament on the progress or otherwise of the fall armyworm infestation that is consuming most farms said government has won the fight against the disease.The fall armyworm is said to be a hungry caterpillar that eats up crops before growing into a butterfly.

Investigations by journalists across the various media houses indicate that Dr. Owusu Afriyie Akoto’s ‘victory’ could be likened to a broken down taxi with the inscription “No Problem” at its rear screen. We are still faced by the problem so why pretend it’s over?

For instance, on Sunday, July 30, 2017, TV3’s reporter, Eva Atiboka, reported that the fall armyworm infestation was fast consuming farms in the Northern region.

“I went to a typical farming area near Nyankpala yesterday. I spoke to some farmers who own not less than 20 acres of farm lands each.”

“These farmers said that everything in their farms was invaded. I actually visited their farms and I saw for myself; everything had been taken over by the fall armyworm disease,” she said.

Aside media reports that debunked Dr. Owusu Afriyie Akoto’s claim, stakeholders in the agric-business have disagreed with him. Speaking on TV3’s Midday Live, Programmes Officer of the Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana (PFAG), Charles Kwowe Nyaabe, indicated that the extent of spread of the disease had reduced. He said, however, that it was mainly due to rains washing away the fall armyworms.

“I don’t want to go into debate with the Minister because I don’t know the basis with which he came up with those conclusions. But I have also done some monitoring. Sincerely speaking, the extent of the spread has reduced but for the Minister to conclude, I have difficulty in agreeing with him.”

“According to the farmers I spoke to, the heavy rains washed away the armyworms especially those [farms] in the Northern Region. So, for complete eradication, I’m not able to confirm that,” he said.

Indeed, going by the media and stakeholders’ assessment of the continuous devastation of farms by the Fall Armyworm contrary to Dr. Afriyie Akoto’s claim, the Minister seemed to have waded in a deceptive tale similar to what the then President of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser told his countrymen.

In that popular war christened Six Days of War, in June 1967, fought between Egypt and Israel, the latter almost wiped out the former’s army. However, in Egypt was Gamal Abdel Nasser confidently cheering his people up claiming that their army had defeated Israel. Later, it panned out that Egypt was but in a deceptive ‘comfortable lead.’

At times, I quiz myself on what really the politician wants in this world. When they are in opposition they sound differently. When they come into power, they sound very much differently. When in power, the damage control becomes so obvious that one wonders why politicians would try to cover up their failures.

Here in Ghana, in particular, it is very difficult for government officials to accept failure in their duties and either apologise or quit their jobs. So, one is really not surprised Dr. Owusu Afriyie Akoto making an emphatic statement at the floor of Parliament of conquering fall armyworm.

Personally, I see nothing wrong telling the truth [whether it hurts or not]. The most important thing after such truth is to work to better things afterwards. The Agric Minister could have told Parliament and, for that matter, Ghanaians that government had, to an extent, curbed the devastation of farms by the fall armyworm and that it [government] is poised to eradicate the disease in the shortest possible time.

I think being frank this way could have helped matters. An African proverb teaches that the naked truth is always better than the best-dressed lie.

Dr. Owusu Afriyie Akoto’s truth versus that of the media and stakeholders. Does one need to ask who told a lie?

By Solomon Mensah

The writer is a broadcast journalist with 3FM 92.7. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect 3FM’s editorial policy.

Email: [email protected]

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