The Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) says it will achieve the ambitious target of reaching one million farmers under the Planting for Food and Jobs (PFJ) ahead of 2020.
The sector minister, Dr Owusu Afriyie Akoto, who stated this, said more than 600,000 farmers had already been registered under the programme against a target of 500,000 for the year.
He, however, said more could have been achieved under the PFJ if all the budgetary allocation to the ministry had been released.
Last year, MoFA was allocated GH¢760 million in the budget but only GH¢368 million was released
This year, only GH¢272 million out of the GH¢598 million budgetary allocations to the ministry had been released as of October, the minister said.
Speaking at a review workshop held in Accra last Tuesday to assess the impact of the PFJ, Dr Akoto said although the slow release of funds to MoFA had been a setback to the effective implementation of activities, the PFJ policy had been largely successful.
“I wish I had three times the budgetary allocations that have so far been released to MoFA so that more can be done to achieve results, but I had a limited purse to carry out the activities that we planned because of the weak economy that we inherited.
“This notwithstanding, many farmers were supplied with fertilisers, improved seeds, and supported with extension services under the PFJ, resulting in higher productivity.
Our target was to register up to 500,000 farmers this year, but as I speak, we have exceeded 600,000 and so, we have reviewed our target to hit the one million mark in 2019, instead of 2020,” he said.
The review workshop brought together officials from agencies and departments under the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA), the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development (MLGRD), the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MOTI), the Ministry of Finance, the PFJ Secretariat, the World Bank, research institutions and other stakeholders.
The workshop provided a platform for the minister to discuss other initiatives that will be rolled out to boost the agriculture sector with other stakeholders.
Dr Akoto said the small number of agricultural extension officers was a major challenge to delivering quality extension services to farmers.
For instance, he said, out of about 4,500 extension officers that were required across the country, there were only 1,600, 80 per cent of whom would soon retire.
However, the minister said clearance had been given to employ 2,700 extension officers next year to bridge the gap.
Dr Akoto admitted that the invasion of farms by Fall Army Worms (FAW) in 2017 was a major threat to the success of the PFJ but was quick to add that through efficient handling of the situation, the worms had been contained.
“About 14 hectares of maize farms were lost to the FAW in 2017.
But I am happy to announce that we have not recorded losses this year and it is all because of the efforts made by MoFA to set up a task force to deal with the menace, as well as the timely release of insecticides to affected farmers,” he said.
He reiterated that the number of jobs created in the agriculture sector through the PFJ stood at 745,000, saying “people who are criticising these figures can do so but that is the truth.”
Dr Akoto said the Planting for Export and Rural Development (PERD) and the Rearing for Food and Jobs (RFJ) modules were set to be rolled out in 2019 to cover more aspects of agriculture.
Dr Akoto added that arrangements were being made to import $12 million worth of agricultural machinery, beginning January next year, to help revive 164 agricultural machinery centres (AMC) across the country.
In a presentation, the Deputy Director of Policy Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (PPME) at MoFA, Mrs Josephine Quagrainie, said it was important for all stakeholders to rally round the PFJ to make it a success.