Modern agriculture requires much more than sheer hard work

December 14, 2016
Source: Ama Kudom-Agyemang
Modern agriculture requires much more than sheer hard work

Mahama Lansah has witnessed lots of changes in his life as a Ghanaian farmer right from the colonial era to date. He recalls with a hint of sadness in his voice those times when his hometown of Damongo near the famed Mole National Park in the country’s northern region, “used to be part of Ghana’s food basket.” “Those days we used to do big time cultivation of maize, yams and cassava. Farming was good and lucrative, and we used to farm from 40 to 100 acres of land,” Farmer Lansah recollected.   

According to him, things have changed over the years and the area can no longer boast of being a major food producer. Farmer Lansah attributes the situation to the changes in the weather and environment as key among other factors. Indeed as a farmer, his greatest fear is, “the weather especially the nature of the rainfall these days and its devastating impacts such as poor yields on farming.”

Meanwhile, in the Mason Area in Michigan State which is part of the country’s food producing belt of the USA. Farmer John expresses similar fears. In his view, climate change and the weather determines and affects the outcome of their efforts.

So then, no matter their location, farmers have certain things in common – The fear of the weather and the rainfall pattern. While, they can manipulate the soil to be productive for them, farmers are mostly at the mercy of the weather and rainfall pattern.

Agricultural experts say in times past, when the population was smaller, the soil nutrients much more intact, with less competing land uses and the rainfall pattern consistent and predictable, all that farming or agriculture required was mostly hard work. These experts also agree that “now in the face of climate change with irregular rainfall, drought, depleted soils, keenly competing land uses, rapidly rising global population and increasing hunger, agriculture can no longer be left to “sheer hard work.” 

Ghana has recognized the need for a rejuvenated agricultural sector. This was rightly acknowledged in the celebration this year of the National Farmer’s Day on the theme: “Agriculture: A Business Response to Economic Growth.”  At the launch ceremony of the Day’s celebration, which was the 32nd in the series, the Minister for Food and Agriculture, Alhaji Mohammed-Muniru Limuna said “economic transformation through increased agricultural production required a sustainable increase in the level of investment in agriculture.”

According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, “eradicating hunger and increasing food production requires substantial increases in the level of investment in agriculture, including dramatic improvements in the level and quality of government’s own investment in the sector.”

The FAO has identified key areas within the agricultural sector for investment especially in developing countries such as Ghana. The areas include the current mode of production mainly by smallholder farmers, dependent on favourable weather conditions. The suggested investment is in the less vulnerable means of production such as irrigation.

Investment is also needed to strengthen and foster dialogue towards recognizing agricultural potential as the lead sector for growth. Additionally, investment is urgently required for the improved collection and analysis of agricultural related data that will take into account the linkages between agriculture and the rest of the economy.

Ghana's Medium; Term Agricultural Sector Investment" Plan (METASIP) is designed to create the needed investment climate in the sector. Additionally, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture with support from Development partners including World Bank and USAID are implanting various programmes to facilitate access to agricultural investment opportunities. The programmes include the “Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP)” and the Ghana Commercial Agricultural Project (GCAP).

One of the areas that has seen increasing investment over the years is in the area of capacity development for technology transfer and application, which is spearheaded by both national and international academic institutions including the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), University of Ghana, Legon both in Ghana and Michigan State University in the USA.

Michigan State University’s –World Technology Access Program (WorldTap) is one institution that engages in building the capacity of professionals whose activities relate to food production. Its annual international training packages include farm visits, which, according to Dr. Jane Payumo, a Research Assistant Professor, of WorldTap, “…enable our participants to observe and understand the importance of academic institutions working with farming communities for research, education and outreach.”

In an interview, she observed from past and immediate farm visits that, “our training participants connected very well with our farmer partners during the farm visits. The participants had a quick ‘on-farm’ education experience and observed the many ways that food producers in Michigan State, researchers and scientists from MSU are collaborating with technology deployment.” Dr. Payumo further observed that “interactive discussions also enabled the training participants to evaluate management practices for commercializing modern agricultural innovations such as biotech crops.”

Dr. Payumo described the outcome of these short visits as nurturing “… new international friendships, and enhanced cross-cultural understanding and dissemination of good practices for improved agricultural production.”

In WorldTap’s recent August-September training, a farm visit enabled participants to learn a lot about farming in the USA. For instance, farmers there cultivate big acreages and are willing to invest in and adopt technologies that will enhance productivity. This has been the practice of the Capital Area Innovative Farmers comprising local farmers in the Mason Area of Michigan. Members raise money and partner with research institutions to undertake research on their behalf. Thus, aspects of agricultural research are farmer demand driven.

In Ghana, agricultural research is more policy and funding driven. Ghanaian farmers are yet to drive research for their activities, for obvious reasons including the lack of awareness that it is possible for them to demand tailored research. But the good news is that Farmers such as Lansah are able to purchase improved seeds from seed buying companies. However, farmers are yet to maximize the business aspect of farming or “agribusiness,” which at times requires one to re-invest in buying new seeds for subsequent cultivation.

In a related development, WorldTap is collaborating with the Ouagadougou based NEPAD Agency African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE) to stimulate an African “Net Work” on modern biotechnology.

During a recent visit to Ghana, another Research Assistant Professor of MSU’s WorldTap, Dr. Ruth Mbabazi, in an interview disclosed that in response to issues raised on modern biotechnology by different stakeholders in the African region, the Program has collaborated with the NEPAD Agency- ABNE to setup a Lawyer's Network. She said, the Network, was being coordinated by Sunday Akile, NEPAD ABNE Program Officer, and “is designed to build awareness among lawyers in Africa. It is also to provide a platform for them to share knowledge and information related to legal issues of modern biotechnology.”

The formation of the Network was initiated by ABNE in consultation with government agencies, academia and private advocates within the African region. Dr. Mbabazi explained that “the overall objective of the network is to boost the knowledge of African lawyers on issues related to agricultural policy, regulations and intellectual property management. The aims are to foster implementation of sound agricultural regulatory frameworks, facilitate transfer of technologies and safe harnessing of modern biotechnology.”

She added that, “the network will leverage the capacity built by the MSU’s WorldTap technology transfer and product commercialization program for the Africa region,” Dr. Mbabazi was optimistic that, “technology transfer, capacity building and collaborative efforts for the Africa region, will foster the development of the seed industry and improve food security as farmers will be able to use seeds that bring greater crop yields.”