Agric Productivity …getting the basics right

In Ghana, Smallholder farmers constitute a sizable subset of the farmer population, and therefore are important stakeholders to consider in realising the broader goals of inclusive development and poverty reduction. Linking them to various agriculture-related activities across the value chain paves the pathway of opportunities to expand their access to markets and build capacities. As such, determining policy and institutional conditions which enable inclusive agribusiness development as well as key barriers to their engagement will provide greater leverage for smaller agribusiness.

Historically, agriculture’s role has been anchored by governments working with the millions of smallholder farmers – but in recent years, modern technologies have become useful in fuelling both production and productivity. In this vein, the private sector has emerged as an important catalyst for change and the agribusiness sector has consequently evolved into a significant contributor to economic growth. Notwithstanding this apparent evolvement, local agriculture is still challenged on many fronts and only a genuine effort from all stakeholders will guarantee the lofty heights that we have so often predicted for agriculture.

Since the concept of inclusive development advances the key tenet of equitable opportunities across all sectors of the economy, sustained and equitable emphasis on the continued development of agribusiness must therefore be matched by practical attempts to identify and activate proven techniques that can raise farm productivity and boost growth.

Adoption of High-Yield Crops

Land availability has never been a genuine source of concern for Ghana. Indeed, the country is blessed with so much arable land. This notwithstanding, the marauding effects of climate change exacerbated by environmental degradation have had a diminishing effect on the quantum of production volumes farmers had become used to in the past.

This unique challenge demands a deliberate attempt at increased research into plant breeding, which must take into account the unique soil types available to farmers, particularly, in farming enclaves around the country.

Boost irrigation across the board

Droughts and other types of abnormal weather patterns pose risks for farmers. Under these conditions, irrigation development offers the promise of greater food security and rural-area development by ensuring year-round agricultural production.
Despite considerable potential for development and the emphasis placed on irrigation development in many plans, less than two percent of the total cultivatable area in Ghana is irrigated. Moreover, even within this small area, researchers lack a clear understanding of where in Ghana different types of irrigation infrastructure are used and to what effect.

With rhetoric for a ‘Ghana beyond aid’ gaining momentum, the agricultural sector must lead the way in achieving this national goal, as agriculture employs more than 50 percent of the total economically active population.

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Cultivable land is still abundant, as only 38.9 percent of total agricultural land area is currently cultivated. Yet productivity of existing farmland is generally low and uncertain because of the prevailing traditional low-input, shifting-cultivation farming systems and dependence on rainfall.

According to the FAO, Ghana is endowed with sufficient water resources for irrigation-based intensification. Estimates of Ghana’s irrigation potential are wildly divergent – ranging from 0.36-1.9 million hectares to slightly more than 33,000 ha under irrigated cultivation.
 Increase the Use of Fertilisers

As soil fertility deteriorates, fertiliser use must increase. Government, through the Ministry of Agric, must however remain steadfast in its mandate to ensure that the right type of fertilisers are available at the right price and the right time. Fertiliser education lessens environmental impacts and guarantees bumper yields.

The National Fertiliser Subsidy Programme is one of the government of Ghana’s major agricultural interventions, which the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) has been spearheading since 2008.

The Fertiliser Subsidy Programme, which was launched at the beginning of 2015, is aimed at enhancing food production and security. The two types of fertiliser in the subsidy category are compound fertiliser (all types) and Urea.
The programme is within the national development agenda, with a view to promote the agriculture sector so it contributes significantly to structural transformation of the economy. It is also expected to maximise the benefits of accelerated growth for the country and raise the average income of Ghanaians, especially peasant farmers, and improve the chances of attaining at least five of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Improve Market Access, Regulations, and Governance

Improving rural infrastructure such as roads is crucial to raising productivity through reductions in shipping costs and the loss of perishable produce.

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) – Ghana loses about 318,514 tonnes of maize annually to post-harvest losses. This figure, according to the study, represents 18% of the country’s annual maize production – with the Northern Region being the largest contributor with 20,411 tonnes annually, followed by Upper-East Region and Volta Region which contribute 13,000 tonnes and 8,983 tonnes respectively.

The Upper-West, Brong Ahafo and Central Regions are the least contributors, with 778 tonnes, 734 tonnes and 636 tonnes respectively. The author identified failure of farmers to thoroughly-dry harvested maize before storage as the main reason for the huge incidences of maize loss, particularly.

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According to the report, as much as 60% of yam produced in Ghana, for instance, does not make it to the final consumer – adding that the level of loss occurring in maize production ranges between 5-70 percent. Between 11-27% and 5-15% of rice and millet/sorghum cultivated also never make it to the consumer.

This dispiriting analysis is one that calls for an immediate reversal: first through the Improvement of Market Access; insistence on Regulations; and proper Governance of the sector through effectual policies.

An extensive enhancement in the Transportation system across rural Ghana is also hugely important. If delicate and often perishable products like fruit and vegetables are able to reach the market without delay and attendant rough-handling, then farmers could be set to make optimum dividends from their labour on the farms.

Make Better Use of Information Technology

In Ghana, the industry has gradually but steadily embraced technology. Through the foresight of many industry-firms, many types of technologies are available to farmers across the country.

The shift from simplistic agriculture has brought about easy-to-use, affordable information and communication technology (ICT) tools which have helped agribusinesses address a range of challenges: gaining better access to customer and market price information; maximising efficiencies along the value-chain; and promoting products cheaply and widely.

Ultimately, these technologies help to bridge knowledge-gaps across the agriculture sector.  To be able to use these tools to maximise efficiency in the agricultural value chain, government and relevant stakeholders must work collaboratively to ensure that more farmers are brought aboard the agritech bandwagon.
Information technology can support better crop, fertiliser and pesticide selection. It also improves land and water management, provides access to weather information, and connects farmers to sources of credit. Simply giving farmer’s information about crop prices in different markets has increased their bargaining power.

Conclusion

Despite Ghana’s indifferent performance in recent years, the country has managed tellingly impressive strides. For the country to continue making significant inroads and further consolidate the gains made, there is a need to focus attention on areas with niggling challenges. Indeed, without such conscious attempts the colossal hard work put into the sector will effectively dissipate into an abyss of nothingness. Specifically, the fundamental structures needed to galvanise the local agric sector for growth must be prioritised by stakeholders for our agriculture to reach its much-publicised potential.

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