Students of the five state agricultural colleges of education yesterday picketed at the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA), appealing to the government to restore the payment of trainee allowances to them.
They said the cancellation of their allowances in 2013 had caused untold hardships to them as most of the students came from poor backgrounds.
Additionally, they stated that the persistent failure of the government to offer support to the agricultural colleges over the years had crippled the capacity of such institutions to offer hands-on training to the students.
Clad mostly in polo shirts of their respective colleges, with wellington boots on to go with red bands on their arms and heads, they registered their displeasure with the government since previous attempts to have it address their concerns had proved futile.
They carried placards some of which read “What is good for teacher and nursing trainees is also good for agriculture trainees”, “No agriculture, no future”, “All professionals can boast, but the farmers feed them all” and “Give us allowance to make agriculture attractive to the youth.”
‘Don’t neglect our colleges’
Speaking to the Daily Graphic, the President of the Agricultural Colleges Students Union, Mr Samson Chimbur Sanika, blamed the government for continually failing to provide adequate support to agricultural colleges set up to train extension officers and certified veterinary officers critical to the government’s Planting for Food and Jobs programme.
According to him, the government’s neglect of such institutions had contributed largely to their poor capacity to offer proper training to the trainees, who, he said, consequently had to foot the expense of most part of their training.
“In our training, we pay for almost everything from the fuel used in our colleges’ vehicles to farm machinery needed for our training
“These challenges are seriously affecting the competency level of trainees, creating a gap between industrial demand and what our colleges train us to do,” he said.
No employment guarantee
Mr Sanika said, “Since the government has turned its back to our colleges and our training, we are required to pay our own school fees, with fresh trainees paying about GH¢1,580 and continuing students paying GH¢900.”
Moreover, Mr Sanika expressed worry that upon completion of their training, the graduates of such colleges were faced with unemployment, following the non-employment of trained extension workers over the years.
“This situation of poor access to extension services has led to poor agronomic practices, poor post-harvest management, inefficient use of inputs, over-use of pesticides, among other factors.
“Currently, the extension worker to farmer ratio is about one to 3,000 (1:3,000). Evidently, it will be impossible for one extension worker to reach more than 3,000 farmers who are mostly in rural areas, where the expertise of extension workers is badly needed,” he added.
Addressing the trainees, the Minister of Food and Agriculture, Dr Owusu Akoto Afriyie, said he had personally presented their grievances to Cabinet for consideration, and appealed to the trainees to exercise patience, pending Cabinet’s decision on the matter.
He added that the government had resolved to employ all graduates of agricultural colleges who had not been employed for the past five years following the freeze on recruitment by the previous government.
“I can guarantee that next year, over 4,000 extension officers and graduates from the agricultural colleges will be employed by the government.
“This is to show that we are doing something important for the Planting for Food and Jobs programme and we need trained hands to implement it,” he said.
To improve agriculture, he said, the government had sent a delegation to the IMF in Washington DC to make a special case for agriculture as a flagship programme for which the “the IMF should revoke overall ban on recruitment and make a special exception for my ministry.”