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Agric Ministry targets new cash crops

BY: Severious Kale-Dery
The participants after the opening session of the three-day workshop
The participants after the opening session of the three-day workshop

The Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) has announced its decision to diversify the cash crop sector from cocoa to cover other crops.

The crops targeted are coffee, coconut, oil palm, mango, rubber and cashew.

Consequently, the ministry is set to launch another version of the Planting for Food and Jobs, dubbed: Planting for Food and Export, this year.

"The ministry is working through local government structures to get the district assemblies to produce seedlings for distribution to farmers within their districts for free,” the Minister of Food and Agriculture, Dr Owusu Afriyie Akoto, announced.

Seed experts

Speaking at the opening of a three-day workshop on the Seed Knowledge Gateway (SKG) at Akosombo in the Eastern Region yesterday, Dr Akoto said all metropolitan, municipal and district chief executives (MMDCEs) had been given targets to produce seedlings from the six crops, depending on the needs of the area and the farmers.

The SKG seeks to improve the seed sector through increased stakeholder access to information.

It is part of the overall broad strategy of AfricaSeeds, the implementing agency for the African Union (AU) seed programme.

The workshop, being attended by seed experts from some West African countries, also serves as a means of validating the preparatory phase of the consultants’ draft report and project document of the upcoming main project and is jointly organised by AfricaSeeds and the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA).

Seedlings

 Dr Akoto announced that even though the Planting for Food and Export programme was yet to be launched, last year 9.3 million seedlings were produced.

"This year we are projecting 22 million seedlings to be distributed among the farmers," he said, adding that it was the expectation that in five years' time the diversified crops would start accruing foreign exchange for the country.

He said there had been an over-reliance on cocoa as the only foreign exchange earner for the country over the years and that the time had come for the country to look elsewhere.

Improving yields

Dr Akoto said the government's policy for the agricultural sector was aimed at producing more and importing less.

For instance, he said, when the government took office in January 2017, the country was spending GH¢1 billion annually on rice importation, even though it had the potential to produce enough to feed itself.

He said Ghana was one of the countries with the lowest yields in food crops in the world because farmers continued to use the traditional seeds, which were low in yield.

Accordingly, he said, the way to go was the use of improved seeds through technology, emphasising that seed technology was the cheapest way of improving yields.

Dr Akoto said statistics showed that a farmer using the traditional seeds could only harvest three bags per an acre  but the same land space could provide 40 bags with improved seeds, explaining that the idea was to get all farmers to rely on improved seeds.

The minister said with 50 per cent subsidy, the government had turned to the research institutions to produce more improved seeds and that in 2017, 3,000 tonnes of seeds were produced, while in 2018 the figure jumped to 7,000 tonnes and this year it was projected to hit 14,000 tonnes.

He commended the seed experts and assured them that anything that had to do with the improvement of seeds would always get his backing and that of the government.

Collaboration

The Lead Specialist Capacity Development for FARA, Mr Krishna Bheenick, said the workshop was a demonstration of the need to reinforce collaboration with all stakeholders.

He said FARA was the apex continental organisation responsible for coordinating and advocating agricultural research for development (AR4D) and served as the technical arm of the AU Commission on matters concerning agricultural science, technology and innovation.