Small holder farmers in the food crop sub-sector are a significant portion of Ghana’s Agricultural system. The COVID-19 pandemic has further heightened their significance as they continue to contribute immensely to the nutritional and dietary needs of the Ghanaian population through food production. They contribute close to 80% of the food needs of the country.
However, they are faced with intractable challenges in their production process, a situation that begs for Government intervention. But looking back at 2020, the question is did small holder farmers receive the needed support required to improve on their productivity as well as their livelihood?
Key challenges of small holder farmers in 2020
A quick look 2021 shows there are still many challenges confronting small holder farmers in Ghana. But key among them include poor access to quality credit, inadequate access to mechanization services, inadequate access to ready market, and a weaker farmer groups among others.
The issue of quality credit remains a major challenge for many small holder farmers in Ghana. It needs to be stressed the credit regime in the country does not favor small holder farmers. For instances farmers who seek for and receive credit, complain of the high interest rates associated with it. Owing to the risk associated and the high interest rates, many small holder farmers shy away from seeking for support and hence not able to expand their production.
Another thorny issue for many small holder farmers is inadequate access to mechanization services. It’s been a challenge to many as they are not able to access mechanization services at the right time that it is required. The available mechanization equipment like tractors, power tillers, combine harvesters among others are not only inadequate but sometimes unsuitable to their needs.
In addition, marketing remains the headache of many farmers. Many small holder farmers are not able to access market for their produce. A key dimension of the marketing is price. Many farmers in Ghana have become price takers. They know the cost of production, but they are not able to fix the prices to reflect their cost of production. This leaves them to become even poorer with the over reliance on the middlemen.
Yet still, many small holder farmer in the country remain largely unorganized. The presence of a strong farmers groups for them would have provided some level of support to with respect to accessing most of the needed support services. In instance where these groups exits they are not strong enough to deliver such services to their members.
Effects of the challenges
The presence of these challenges mentioned above, continue to impact negatively on small holder farmers and consequently their levels of production. These have further narrowed their capacity to contribute more to the development of the Agriculture sector of the country.
The first consequence of these challenges on small holder farmer’s face is low productivity. Many small holder farmers are not meeting the National achievable yields in most of the crops that they produce. Many are not able to expand their production to meet the needs of consumers. For example despite the huge number of small holder farmers who produce staples like maize, there are already concerns of a possible shortage of it and other grains in the market.
The overall effect of the challenges they face is poverty and a low standard of living. Data on poverty distribution in Ghana points to small holder farmers being among the category of the poorest people in Ghana. And this could be attributed to their inability to improve on their productivity.
Way forward going into 2021
Amidst the challenges farmers are still confronted with, it is important to mention that there have been some level of support by the government of Ghana to address some of these concerns of small holder farmers. However, a lot remains to be done to bring them up to the desired levels of productivity.
Another area of commendation is the completion of the Agriculture census. Government, through the Ghana Statistical Service, successfully completed the Ghana Agriculture Census which provides a very good starting point to ensure that the concerns of small holder farmers are well addressed. For instance the census captured issues of gender, age, location, farm size, type of crop, level of production among others which should aid in planning.
Therefore, moving forward in to 2021, there is the need for the formation and strengthening of farmer cooperatives across the country. Such groups or cooperatives are needed to ensure that a lot of the available support mechanisms are channeled to the farmers.
Also, in the light of the above there will be the need to radically review existing programmes like the planting for food and jobs programme to address the concerns of farmers. Hence, the current programme which is hinged on five (5) pillars could be made to include others like access to credit, ploughing services (mechanization) among others. Such additions will ensure that the challenges of farmers are adequately addressed so as to help them improve their productivity.
In conclusion, looking at the year 2020, the current COVID-19 pandemic presents a unique opportunity for small holder farmers in the country. With Agriculture holding the promise for the economy, small holder farmers cannot be left behind. They hold the key to ensuring the sector drives the kind of growth the Agriculture sector is supposed to contribute.
Therefore, there is the need for a strong commitment and support to small holder farmers. Such a support needs to go beyond the supply of subsidized fertilizer and seed, to include other support services such as mechanization, credit support among others. Until such a mix is attained, it does appear successive governments have been paying lip-service to small holder farmers in Ghana and 2021 might not be different for small holder farmers.
>>>The writer is a Policy Advocate & Consultant in Agriculture and International Trade 0249731699/0209029868, [email protected]