“We are concerned with the recurrent yam post-harvest losses,” yam farmers in the Sene West district of the Brong Ahafo Region have declared. This was recently revealed after interviewing a section of the population in a project that is aimed at getting descriptors of quality of food products made from yam for incorporation into yam improvement programmes.
The district is known to produce most of Ghana’s yam and contributes significantly to yam exports. Information from Community Key Informants (KII), Focused Group Discussions (FGD’s) and Individual interviews suggest that yam is key to their livelihood – serving as their major staple and income. Cultivation is done by all the people including both the young and old, even beyond the pension age of 65 years. The men dominate decision-making concerning cultivation, marketing and home usage. It is important to note that the people use practically every part of the yam tuber for food. The peel and head-end are dried and used for a traditional meal called “wasawasa”, while the flesh is eaten mostly as ‘fufu’ or ‘ampesi’.
Although there is maximum usage for home consumption, farmers have less control of loss as a result of pest infestation or lack of buyers. Farmers who send their produce to markets are compelled to sell them at cheaper prices because they have little bargaining power. “You either sell cheap or take them back to the village,” said Mr. Ajalo, a farmer. Another farmer, Mr. Peter Edigbe, also added that “when new yams emerge, farmers having old ones in these markets are advised to get rid of them in order to make way for the new ones”. The farmers complained they lose about 50% of the yam they produce yearly, mainly due to poor road network, and lack of barns for storage as well as processing equipment.
Mr. Ralph O. Fenuku, a Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) officer, also supports this assertion and said: “It is possible when the farmers consider all losses from the farm, home and market. Generally, however, yam-loss in the area is reported to be about 30 percent”.
The people of Sene West district also believe that when the road network is improved, post-harvest losses will be greatly reduced. They said: “Especially when the rains set in, most vehicles are unable to use the road; hence, we cannot send yam to the markets”. The deplorable road from Kwame Danso to Atebubu, coupled with the bulky nature of some varieties, has led to the christening of a specific yam variety as “kyirikumasi” (meaning it does not like to go to Kumasi). This is because it easily breaks before it gets to the Kumasi market.
The government of Ghana’s One District, One Factory (1D1F) policy should focus on setting up a yam-processing factory at the Sene West district as a means of reducing post-harvest loss of yam by producing yam-flour and starch for domestic consumption and export. A suitable storage facility for fresh yam should also be provided to ensure continuity of sale during the crop’s off-seasons.
The Department of Cooperatives should also work closely with these farmers to form Yam Farmers Cooperatives that will, among other things, give them a voice for stronger bargaining power that will improve their socio-economic standards. Again, managers of the School Feeding Programme and Heads of Senior High Schools should liaise with these farmer groups and buy directly from them to reduce waste and cost.
The writer is a PhD Student, Department of Food Science and Technology, KNUST Research Fellow, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA)-Nigeria