Agogo food strides must be sustained

BY: Daily Graphic
 Minister for Food and Agriculture, Dr. Owusu Afriyie Akoto
Minister for Food and Agriculture, Dr. Owusu Afriyie Akoto

Agriculture has a central place in the socio-economic development of the country because it accounts for about 60 per cent of the workforce and 40 per cent of gross domestic product.

It is also estimated that agriculture accounts for about 30 per cent of the country’s foreign exchange earnings through the export of produce from the sector.

Indeed, statistics show that economic growth slowed in the first quarter as expansion of the oil sector and agricultural output eased.

Gross domestic product expanded 6.8 per cent in the first three months through March from a year earlier, compared with 8.1 per cent the previous quarter.

Agricultural output grew by 2.8 per cent, compared with 8.5 per cent the previous quarter, while oil and gas production expanded by 24.8 per cent, down from 57.9 per cent.

It is for this reason that the Daily Graphic is excited at the strides made by farmers in the Asante Akyem North District in the Ashanti Region by braving the odds to record a bumper harvest after years of battling with nomadic herdsmen.

The eviction of the nomadic herdsmen from the area, coupled with the good rainfall experienced this year, has resulted in a bumper harvest for farmers, especially those into plantain farming.

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The over-production has resulted in the export of the excess produce to neighbouring countries.

For over a year now farmers in the district have had to find new markets for their produce to avoid a glut on the Ghanaian market.

Consequently, for almost a year now plantain traders in Agogo alone have been exporting at least 17 big trucks of plantain to Burkina Faso weekly.

This has created job opportunities for labourers and drivers who have found brisk business on market days in Agogo.

The situation calls for a broader assessment of the agricultural sector and the ability of farmers to sustain the increase in food production.

Although agriculture is a key part of the country's economy, the structure of the sector is vulnerable because it is rain fed. Drought and other challenges of the weather pose risks for farmers relying on the rains to earn a living.

It is in this regard that we suggest the establishment of micro irrigation projects for small-holder farmers to produce more food to help achieve food security.

This could be in the form of a scheme where farmers are made to form groups, registered and then given micro irrigation machines on credit and allowed to repay in bullet instalments after harvesting their crops. This would be based on farmers’ capacity and willingness to repay.

Another challenge is the fact that farmers do not have a reliable market for their produce.

Apart from cocoa and perhaps cashew which have a guaranteed and regulated market by COCOBOD, many other agricultural produce are not easy to be sold because of the lack of reliable markets.

The National Food Buffer Stock Company (NAFCO) which was established to provide guaranteed market for food grain is timely and commendable, but similar institutions should be put up to cater for other crops such as vegetables, cassava, pineapple and pawpaw.

When this is done, farmers will be encouraged to stay in business to produce more food for the country and also make some reasonable income to take care of their families and improve their livelihood.

It is our opinion that food security and sustainable agriculture are inseparable. Agriculture can be seen as sustainable if it is economically viable, socially supportive and ecologically sound.

The Agogo story has shown that with a sound environment and little incentive, farmers can rise to the occasion and plant more and expect to reap the full benefits of their toil.