Emmanuel Frimpong Boamah, James Sumberg | Food Policy
In theory, learning from past mistakes should result in adapted and improved development policy. However policy learning can be difficult to achieve, and the link between learning and policy change is neither direct nor immediate. In this study we look at learning in agro-industrial policy in Ghana, by tracing the interest in sugar production and tomato processing over six decades. Specifically we ask why four failed factories established in the early 1960s have continued to play central roles in both policy and public discourse. Using policy documents, academic material, and the popular press, we show that Ghana’s policy focus on sugar production and tomato processing has endured, despite the fact that the factories were misconceived, poorly sited, ill-equipped and poorly managed. Indeed, the political ideas that underpinned the establishment of these factories in the early days of independence can be seen in the current One District, One Factory policy. We suggest that it is their symbolic and political value, not their economic value, which keeps the discussion around these factories alive. Even when shut down, they are a physical manifestation of historic commitments by the state, and as such they guarantee the attention of politicians, and hold out hope of a next re-launch. Unfortunately as long as the factories continue to be incorporated into each new generation of agro-industrial policy, it is difficult for any alternatives to gain traction. This analysis highlights the very long overhang of bad decisions, particularly when they are associated with physical infrastructure. Learning from past mistakes will only happen if the short-term political cost of turning policy learning into policy action can be overcome.