By: Isaac Quansah
Agriculture has been my interest since infancy.
I had been told a number of occasions of how I was made the custodian of our landlord’s mango tree while growing up, but that role was short-lived.
The enviable position had landed me at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital for apparently eating too many mangoes instead of protecting it from ‘salivating’ guests.
What was the reason for this development? There was an overabundance of the mango fruits in that period; it was found everywhere and one ate them without caution.
Fast forward to 2018 and a contrasting narrative is happening.
Just these past days on Ghana’s Farmers Day, I decided to buy mangoes from a fruit seller and I was taken aback when she informed me that two tiny fruits sold for GHc5, the reason being that mangoes were not in season until after the Christmas festivity.
If you are someone who understands the Ghanaian system well you’d acknowledge that the pricing is quite high, and the reason for this is not far-fetched.
The shortage of these products means the pricing would skyrocket to enable sellers to promptly purchase and supply their wares from source to meet the growing demand of consumers.
Thus, sellers would add their wholesale rates, transportation to purchasing points, and their profits to the price of the commodities.
The prevailing conditions are putting a lot of financial burden on sellers and consumers in particular.
In contrast, the same fruits are sold on the cheap by farmers to sellers when in the season to prevent spoilage. It is fascinating, isn’t it? And this time the farmer bears the major blow.
Peasant farmers in the country have over the years been crying that more than half of the food crops produced in Ghana do not make it to the final consumer due to Post-Harvest Loss (PHL).
A few years ago I witnessed this issue firsthand in the Ejura/ Sekyeredumasi district when fruits were cheaply sold at their peak season.
Farmers literally begged for their harvests to be purchased at low prices for fear of having rotten fruits or vegetables taken back home from the market or distribution centre.
Failure to achieve this feat, the farmers’ produce start deteriorating right from the very grounds that was meant to inspire hope for themselves and their dependents.
The issue is assumed to have been a contributing factor to why many farmers die as paupers. It is also making farming unattractive to university graduates who deem the venture as unprofitable.
It is estimated that Ghana loses about US$700,000 annually on PHL. A World Bank report estimates that the value of PHL in Sub-Saharan Africa could potentially reach nearly US$4 billion a year out of an estimated annual value of grain production of US$27 billion.
In the same vein, Ghana loses about 318,514 tonnes of maize annually to post-harvest losses according to a 2016 study by Dr Bruno Tran, an expert in post-harvest losses management with the Africa Post-Harvest Losses Information System (APHLIS).
This figure represents 18 per cent of the country’s annual maize production and Northern Region is the largest contributor with 20,411 tonnes annually followed by Upper East Region and Volta Region which also contribute 13,000 tonnes and 8,983 tonnes respectively.
Upper West, Brong Ahafo and Central Regions are the least contributors with 778 tonnes, 734 tonnes and 636 tonnes respectively and according to Dr Tran, most of the maize was lost because the farmers failed to dry it thoroughly before storage.
In my opinion, the issue culminated from poor agricultural practices that hinder farmers from getting good and abundant storage facilities to keep their produces after harvest.
In his 2018 National Farmers’ Day address, the Minister of Food and Agriculture, Dr Owusu Afriyie Akoto revealed that ninety per cent of farmers in Ghana embarks on their production on a small scale.
According to him, these hard-working local folks continue to use traditional approach of depending on the natural weather conditions to facilitate their operations.
He further indicated that farmers use primitive tools like hoes and cutlasses to cultivate their farmlands, an act which was putting enormous strain on them.
He said farmers have little or nothing to show for their efforts at the end of the year, and this he said was hindering farmer’s efforts to bring sustenance to themselves and their families.
That notwithstanding, major factors which to the best of my knowledge contribute to this development include inadequate storage facilities, the inability of farmers to take risks and learn from their mistakes, and poor transportation channels to convey these fruits from the farming areas to the market.
Others include; poor marketing techniques on the part of farmers to get a larger market for their produces, poor extension services to the hinterlands to educate these farmers on best practices to agriculture and superstitious beliefs which are hindering farmers from putting in their best into job operations.
One worrying trend is the inability of the sector to embrace the advent of technology, particularly social media in their operations.
We are in a digital age, and if local farmers were to take pictures and other media of their operations, challenges and successes onto a website or social media platforms, I believe they could attract investors, support from individuals and the government.
With the aforementioned problems crippling the agricultural sector, one may want to reflect on some measures that are currently being undertaken to address them.
One may want to consider government’s initiatives- “Planting for Food and Jobs,” “One District One Factory” and “One District One Warehouse,” as strategies that are doing a lot to help the sector.
The initiatives by the government seeks to bridge the gap by ensuring these farmers get access to the best farming inputs such as good seedlings, subsidized fertilizers and also encouraging best farming practices.
Once there is an abundance of food, the government seeks to create a buffer stock by constructing warehouses in each constituency to store cereals while the “One District One Factory” initiative would use the harvest from local farmers as inputs to feed the factories.
The Ghana Commodity Exchange (GCX) was also recently launched to help address the pricing of foodstuffs.
The National Farmers’ Day celebration has also been beneficial to the cause, honouring gallant farmers and fishermen for their tremendous contributions annually.
The move continues to inspire upcoming farmers to contribute their quota to the growth and development of the sector.
At the just ended celebration, a 21-year-old youth was adjudged the best farmer in the Central Region. He owned about 40 hectares of land with plantation such as tubers, cereals, legumes, fruits, vegetables among others.
He has by virtue of this venture generated employment to many of his generation as well as older folks to cultivate the lands, the plant products, harvest, and market them and sell them to a ready market.
Authorities must supply adequate storage facilities to farmers and encourage them to adopt better and current procedures to store produces for the short and long terms.
I would also charge the media to do more in their quest to propagate information coming from the sector. Ghanaian television station UTV has a program dubbed “Ayekoo” which is broadcasted to promote farming most especially among women and the youth.
NET2 TV also has a program called “Akuafuo mmr3 be” that invites personalities aligned with Agriculture to educate farmers on the use of fertilizers and other agricultural inputs. The show also informs the public on happenings in the sector.
Such initiatives are worth emulating in the media landscape.
The media could bring into the limelight the ailing conditions of the sector, but must do same when it chalks successes.
Our country is in line to benefit tremendously if the canker is curbed.
We mustn’t forget the importance of Agriculture to our gross domestic product (GDP) and how it helps to reduce unemployment problems in a specified environment.
Long live Agriculture! Long Live Ghana!