Ghana’s economic development is deeply rooted in agriculture. But the sector’s contribution to GDP, which used to be over 40%, has reduced drastically to 20%. The fact that the sector employs over 40% of the countries labour force but contributes less to GDP should be a cause for concern. Several reasons can be adduced for this sorry state. But one of such is the serious infrastructure deficit in the farming communities, especially the absence of good roads networking farming communities to the marketing centres.
The situation of roads in farming communities
Ghana has an impressive road network stretching from the north to the south. However, a closer look at this network reveals deep inequalities, as rural communities – mainly farming communities – lack good roads.
For instance, a community like Oku in the Sekyere Afram Plains North, which produces a lot of maize, is not linked by any good road to a marketing centre like Ejura. In fact, the road linking Oku to Ejura in its current form is not fit for purpose. At the peak of the raining season, it is almost impossible for vehicles to ply such a road. In most cases, only tractors can move there. Oku community is just an example of thousands of communities in Ghana that are production centres but not linked by motorable roads.
Besides, some of the communities that have roads are mostly cut-off during the raining season due to the absence of bridges. Therefore, they are cut off from the marketing centres. Globally, it is estimated that over 1 billion people do not have safe access to essential services like markets due to an impassable river. Unfortunately, some farming communities in Ghana are part of this sad statistic.
Causes of poor road networks in farming communities
The situation of poor road networks for farming communities can be blamed on several factors, but top among them is low commitment of central government to radically improve on the road network in farming communities. By observation, whatever has a high commitment from government gets done. Therefore, the inability of successive governments to speedily connect farming communities to marketing centres is due to low commitment.
Also, low investment in the agriculture sector – especially those for the construction of roads, has been largely low. Years of underinvestment in rural roads and bridges has left behind a huge deficit. Over the years, investments into roads by government and development partners seem to be concentrated in urban areas to the neglect of rural communities.
Inadequate government budgetary allocation and disbursement has also contributed to the current situation. For example, there are roads that find their way into the national budget but do not get executed. When funds are not disbursed to the dedicated agencies who are responsible for carrying out such road projects, in the end those roads are not given the needed attention.
Furthermore, lack of coordination among key agencies like the Department of Feeder roads, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) and the Ministry of Finance can lead to the current situation of poor roads from the market centres to the farming communities.
Effects of poor road networks on farming communities
The situation, if not addressed, has dire consequences on Ghana’s commitment to meeting the sustainable development goals of eradicating poverty in rural areas. For example, given that most of these farming communities are large production centres, the foremost effect of inadequate roads is high post-harvest losses. As farmers are not able to access markets, their produce remains susceptible to spoilage.
An indirect effect of the poor roads to farming communities is low incomes for smallholder farmers. Since farmers are unable to sell their produce as a result of inaccessibility to market centres, it leads to loss in incomes. Consequently, the standard of living for rural farmers remains disturbingly low as a result of poor road networks. Since these roads further connect them to health care delivery and the provision of other social services like education, they are not able to benefit fully from these essential services.
In order to get the issue addressed, there is need for a number of steps to be taken. Key among them is the need for government and development partners to increase their commitment and prioritise toward the construction of roads to farming communities. This also means there is a need to prioritise the allocation of funds for the construction of roads to farming centres.
Secondly, government will have to increase investment in the sub-sector. It is gratifying to note that the government of Ghana, early this year, declared ‘the year of roads’. It is the hope of many farming communities to see this slogan translated into action that delivers good roads to them. Instead of government spending scarce resources to buy expensive vehicles for state officials, such resources could be channelled into fixing roads that are linking farming centres to markets.
Also, there is a need for greater coordination among major state agencies. Key entities like MoFA, Ministry of Finance, Department of Feeder Roads, the Ghana Statistical services among others should deepen their collaboration and coordination to ensure that farming communities are better served with roads.
In conclusion, there is a broad consensus across theboard that agriculture holds the key to unlocking the economic potential of Ghana’s economy. It therefore goes without saying that there is a pressing need to improve on the road network to farming communities as a way of ensuring gains in the sector are maximised.
Fixing rural roads will go a long way to improve the lot of smallholder farmers as well as improving the entire Agriculture sector of the country. Indeed, in these times of COVID-19 pandemic when agriculture is even more important, business as usual is not an option for government in ensuring that rural communities are better served with good roads.
>>>The writer is a policy advocate and consultant in agriculture and international trade. He can be reached on 0249731699/0209029686; [email protected]