Dear Mr. President,
AGRICULTURE IN GHANA; WHAT WILL WORK! – AGRO MINDSET’S PERSPECTIVE
Warm greetings to you Mr. President from Agro Mindset. Just to introduce ourselves to you briefly, Agro Mindset is an agricultural entity working with the vision of becoming leader of robust agribusiness models that produce safe, quality, affordable and consistent foodstuffs for our customers in a financially, socially and environmentally sustainable manner. Our farms remain our production component to model how the private sector engages agriculture.
Our Logistics service assists young and new farmers to increase engagement with markets for investment stimulation. We look forward to working with you to use the agricultural sector to create employment opportunities for the teeming unemployed youth of our country. We also wish to partner you to alleviate poverty of the millions of poor rural based citizens of our very wealthy nation, and make our nation food secure.
Mr. President, this correspondence to you at this particular point in time would not have been necessary if the cyclical rhetoric that have been churned out by political leaders over the years whilst on campaign platforms to prioritize the agricultural sector and make Ghana the food basket of Africa had been backed by action. Unfortunately, every four years, when the treks across deprived communities in a plea for votes come to an end and the campaign offices get shut down, the victors return to Accra, forgetful of virtually everything that had been promised until the next election is due.
Mr. President, many were the promises you made to the sector ahead of election 2016, which you have given life to by launching your flagship Planting for Food and Jobs programme. With a promise that it will cause a huge leap in productivity on our farms, cut down on our more than $2 billion annual food import bill and generate revenue to the tune of GHS1.2 billion in our economy.
These huge leaps in the performance of the agricultural sector would not be meaningful if the smallholder farmers in the rural areas engaged in small-scale agriculture and struggling to make optimum outputs from their investments are not targeted with similarly special policies. They constitute about 80 percent of farmer populations in Ghana. They are the old and weak men and women with little or no education breaking their backs to till the land and feed our nation.
They should be our priority. They should be assisted to commercialise. Doing this will increase their engagement with markets and ensure that they earn enough money to rise above the low-income bracket, alleviate poverty and get enough resources to re-invest in their farms. That is why we believe the provision in the Planting for Food and Jobs Policy that says it will target farmers with farm sizes above four acres should be scrapped.
Mr. President, as you take the reins of governance for the next four years, we would encourage you to refocus attention on implementing targeted policies that would help these poor, rural based farmers improve upon production, expand their farm sizes and get higher up the economic ladder. This will restore hope to the incoming generation.
The rural poor are the people who deserve the support even more because they have shown that they are fully committed to the art and science of growing food, and they would be able to make even more meaningful impact if given adequate support.
Agriculture has been our cornerstone as a country for many centuries now. A lot of efforts have been invested into increasing production over the years but little has been seen when it comes to other activities of the value chain such as processing, marketing and storage. That's precisely what markets are, connecting production with consumption via distribution.
This is where we believe your focus should be. Fix the problem with the market. Effective market structures just like behavioural change will never come through legislation or executive pronouncements alone. This is not intended to discount the role and importance of diplomatic and development efforts. But giant steps need to be taken to effectively build up the market structure so that it actually provides value proposition to farmers that can be materially realized, rather than continuing to misprioritize and misallocate efforts by focusing on old methods of doing things that only produces into a system that wastes products of even doubled production.
The bigger picture is to create equitable and efficient markets for commoditised foodstuffs. This is done by way of bringing big business efficiency to commercialize smallholder farming via-supply distribution modeling in a fractionalised high search and transaction cost food production system.
The detailed focus needs to be on post-production and creating the pipeline for aggregate supply. It's at this level of commerce that creates the value-proposition for improved farm management and eventually willingness and desire to learn and implement improved agriculture techniques.
What this will look like is the transformation of behaviour that leads to a new middle class, an engine of wealth creation and solving hunger and malnutrition. Leadership would just have to walk the talk as far as these ideas are concerned and make them available to the rural farmers, and then, we would get there.
The Planting for Food and Jobs initiative is a wonderful idea which we are confident will fix a lot of the production challenges that still remain within the sector. These include the neglect and decline in agricultural investment and support in Ghana over the years which is evidenced by flat-lining of crop yields, the lowest adoption of improved varieties, the smallest use of fertiliser (some 9 kg/ha), lack of accessible credit and general absence of subsidies on fertiliser for farmers. Now it seems like there is some light at the end of the tunnel in the efforts to fix these problems. But the bigger challenges worth tackling lie with the markets.
We all were in this nation when watermelons, oranges, cassava and various produce attracted lower pricing due to abundance on the markets. We know of large poultry farms who bury hundreds of crates of eggs just to cause a shortage to revive a crushing market. When you solve post-harvest losses, invest in storage and process capacity and commoditize production, farmers will realise that fertilizer and seeds are cheap enough and they can afford them.
This has the propensity to decrease average total cost, or cost basis per unit produced because realized yields are maintained. The plan to plant more food has been the African story for 30+ years. This is what has led us to where we are now. To fix the problem, we need an approach that provides perfect execution by all players involved in several value activity fronts.
Also, Ghana should invest in the use of our own natural resources to produce fertiliser, and its use should be encouraged through micro-finance initiatives and subsidies, as is done in Malawi and Kenya. In parallel, fertiliser use efficiency by farmers must be optimised agronomically. Farmers’ access to markets is vital so that they can buy the inputs like seed and fertiliser they need and sell any food surpluses they have.
Such policy initiatives designed to attain food security and reduce the risk of future food crises in Ghana will require funding and staffing, cooperation of government and private sectors, complemented by external assistance. Kudos to your government for starting this.
The linkage from the farm to fork is where the opportunity and pleasure is. It will require and create space for education, policy, equity investment, commodities market, futures market, innovative farmer-friendly financial instruments, social and physical infrastructure, revolving lines of credit, venture capital, truck, bulk storage, sound retail, improved business practices, communication, big data, and the list is infinite.
Linking farmers to market will only work if there is a return on investment for smallholder farmers. Set up forums for value-chains with participation of key players. Make sure that they have the political support and active engagements of ministers. Be ready to react to findings, above all in being prepared to change policies and regulations.
Let’s not forget that, the agricultural sector can and need to contribute to solve the youth employment challenge in Ghana. Without more employment generation in agriculture our youth employment problem will not be solved over the coming two decades.
If we do this, Ghana will dance to a new rhythm. Not because someone keeps trying to teach a new dance. But a good path taken becomes the new rhythm and eventually a music that everyone dances to, across the region.
David Asare Asiamah, Obed Opoku
Founder Country Director
Agro Mindset Organisation Agro Mindset Organisation
Cc: Minister for Food and Agriculture