We need better values
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Turkson, Paa Kobina. 2000. We need better values. Spore 88. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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In many developing countries there has been, and still is, a strong move for the government to give up or reduce its involvement in ventures that the market can take care of. The ideological basis for this hinges on the belief that the government...
In many developing countries there has been, and still is, a strong move for the government to give up or reduce its involvement in ventures that the market can take care of. The ideological basis for this hinges on the belief that the government should not provide goods and services that the private sector is willing and able to provide. Rather, the government should be concerned with providing goods and services that are public in nature but have the potential for market failure. This has been behind the moves for privatisation of veterinary services all over the world. In Ghana, the government has been responsible for the provision of veterinary services to animal owners freely or at subsidised levels since independence. However, there have been arguments against continued free provision or subsidy because the government is facing budgetary and financial difficulties. Another argument is that over-employment is over-extending the ability of government to provide quality services, and that some of those employed by the government have to go into the private sector to ease the burden. A project to help privatise veterinary services was launched in 1993, encouraging veterinarians to go into private practice. However, one factor critical to the success of the privatisation effort is the willingness of livestock farmers or animal owners to pay the full cost for animal health services. Their willingness to pay is to a large extent influenced by the livestock market structure, since services have to be paid for with cash in most cases. There is, though, no well-defined livestock marketing structure in Ghana. Livestock producers and consumers are therefore at the mercy of middlemen whose aim is to maximise profits by buying animals cheaply and selling meat at high prices to consumers. No formal market structures exist at present. Sometime back, the government set up a Meat Marketing Board that was charged with buying livestock from farmers and processing the meat to sell at reasonably competitive prices. However, the Board is now defunct partly because of low farmer patronage. One reason was that farmers were not paid on time and payments were on a carcass weight basis, which was not attractive. The alternative was for livestock owners to sell on the hoof to middlemen for ready cash. Middlemen too dominant The middlemen they are mainly butchers and influential people from livestock producing communities have a monopoly and therefore dictate what to pay for animals and what the price of meat is. Livestock farmers are not well organised, and therefore lack strong bargaining power to deal with the hegemony of the middlemen. If the prevailing market structure is left to stand, livestock farmers will continue to receive low prices for their animals and will therefore not have the financial power to pay for services rendered by private veterinarians. The effect is that private practice will not be profitable and will thus discourage other veterinarians from going in. Another factor in the market structure with implications for privatisation of services is the value system of livestock owners. Farmers are more concerned about numbers than quality. They are reluctant to sell animals. Animals are therefore sold only when the farmers are in dire need of money or when there is drought or disease. This has serious implications. When animals are sold to get cash for a pressing need, farmers are willing to accept any price, sometimes well below the market value; they therefore lose substantially. Since they do not receive a fair price for their efforts, they tend to be unwilling to invest in their animals. The other implication is that when animals are sold during drought, or when they are in poor shape as a result of poor nutrition or disease, farmers are unable to demand good prices. There is therefore the need to put in place facilities to help farmers know when to cull animals and how to market their animals. Bring in premium prices To help solve the problems of the market structure, livestock farmers should be encouraged to form livestock producer cooperatives, without political prodding or control. These cooperatives can provide inputs more cheaply (on the basis of economies of scale) and also help in marketing. They could also retain veterinarians on a part-time or full-time basis, which could encourage the privatisation efforts. Such an association could also lobby for fair marketing legislation, especially where monopolies abound. Another recommendation for market restructuring is to introduce payment of premium prices for quality. At the moment there is no price differentiation to encourage production of quality goods that will fetch higher prices. There is an urgent need to restructure the market so that farmers will be paid for quality products and will be more willing to invest in their animals knowing that they will be rewarded with higher prices. Once they receive premium prices, they may be more willing to pay for services like health, knowing that they stand to benefit in the end. The last recommendation is to educate farmers on the need to keep quality animals instead of keeping large numbers for social prestige. This can be done through livestock producer associations and through premium pricing. It may be helpful to work with rural anthropologists/ sociologists to help redirect societal values from quantity to quality. These, it is believed, will help in privatisation of veterinary services in the long term. The opinions expressed in Viewpoint are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of CTA.
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