Smallholder farmers shift from staple to tree crops - GAWU blames high cost of production
The high cost of general agricultural production is fuelling a gradual shift from the cultivation of staple foods to tree crops among smallholder farmers, the General Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU) has said.
The union said most of its members were gradually moving away from the cultivation of maize, rice, beans and other staples to cashew production.
The GAWU is made up of about 60,000 members, comprising smallholder farmers formal and informal agricultural workers along the value chain.
In an interview with the Ghana News Agency, the General Secretary of GAWU, Edward Kareweh, said many farmers had also reduced the sizes of their farms due to the rising cost of farm inputs such as fertiliser, pesticide and general farm services.
He cautioned that the shift to tree crops could threaten the country’s food security systems in the near future if urgent action was not taken to encourage farmers to expand their cultivation of staple foods to meet demand.
“In 2022, the cost of fertiliser quadrupled compared to prices in 2021. The cost of tractors, pesticides, land preparation and other essential inputs also went up. So farmers are struggling, and for that reason they are exploring alternative ways to survive.
“In the Bono Region, there is a growing change to tree crops such as cashew. Lands that were used for maize production are now being used for cashew production. If agricultural production suffers and the staple area is okay, the effect on food security and food prices will be minimal,” he added.
Ahead of the 2022 crop season, the government reduced subsidy on chemical fertiliser from 38 per cent in 2021 to 15 per cent, which meant that farmers had to pay more for the commodity.
A bag of fertiliser which was selling at an average GH¢250 in 2021 shot up to about GH¢400 by the middle of 2022.
Mr Kareweh described last year as “a difficult year” for farmers, saying that many of them could not apply fertiliser to their farms on time, leading to low yields.
He said the heavy rains in the Bono regions, as well as the spillage of the Bagre Dam, also flooded large swathes of farmland, which reduced the income of farmers in the affected areas.
The agricultural sector, which grew at 8.4 per cent in 2021, was projected to grow at 0.7 per cent by the end of 2022.
In the 2023 Budget Statement and Economic Policy, the government outlined a number of policies for the agricultural sector, including an investment of GH¢50 million to augment the agricultural value chain; the promotion of local production and use of organic fertiliser and the extension of $400m agricultural insurance to farmers.
Mr Kareweh said GAWU was not confident that the agricultural sector would perform better this year because the structural challenges affecting the sector, including the high cost of farm inputs, had not been addressed.
He urged the government to conduct a comprehensive audit of the sector, as well as the policies that had been implemented over the years, to diagnose the magnitude of the challenges in the sector.
“We also need to engage the real stakeholders in the sector to understand the problem and find ways to resolve them,” Mr Kareweh said.
The average share of the agricultural sector to Ghana’s gross domestic product increased from 19.1 per cent in the first half of 2020 to 21.3 per cent for the same period in 2021.
The sector employs about 60 per cent of the population and accounts for 65 per cent of the country’s land area. — GNA