NewsWest AfricaAgriculture: Brown gold jackpot


Posted on Wednesday, 18 April 2012 16:56

Agriculture: Brown gold jackpot

By Kwabena Mensah in Accra

Last year's bumper cocoa crop masks a reluctance to invest in other agricultural sectors.

photo/ reutersGhana's agriculture sector has produced mixed results, as cocoa harvests break records and a lack of rain hurts productivity elsewhere. Having registered a 1m tn cocoa crop during the 2010/2011 season, the monopoly state-run Cocoa Marketing Board (Cocobod) has committed to an extensive modernisation programme. 

The government has drawn up a roadimprovement programme in the Ashanti, Brong-Ahafo and Western regions financed by Cocobod. Government projections suggest that the cocoa sector will lag only slightly behind gold and crude in the country's top exports.

Cocoa production tends to fall slightly after a bumper year, and Cocobod predicts that total production for 2011/2012 will be about 850,000tn. To fight that trend, farmers are replacing trees that are more than 30 years old with hybrid, high-yielding seedlings. The 2012 government budget provides for 20m seedlings to be distributed to cocoa growers free of charge.

More from our March 2012 Ghana Special:
People to Watch in Ghana in 2012
Power: Of transformers and substations
Ghana, the fight over state or market
Ghana's election watch: The vote starts here
Ghana: Big Oil stakes for the little guys
Ghana's mining sector shares the shine

In a bid to raise yields per acre, farmers will increase their use of pesticides, which has traditionally been low compared to Côte d'Ivoire, the dominant producer of the global cocoa market. With the settlement of Côte d'Ivoire's bloody post-election dispute in April 2011, Ghana will no longer benefit from the illicit smuggling of cocoa across its western border.

The relative success of the cocoa industry in recent years masks a decline in overall agricultural production. The National Democratic Congress (NDC) government says that irrigation holds the key to accelerated growth. Fruit and vegetable production for local consumption and export, a mainstay for farming families in the south, has declined as a result of the lack of irrigation facilities and erratic rainfall pattern, according to members of a vegetable exporters' organisation in Gomoa East.

To combat the current shortage of maize, one of the main staples both for human consumption and as feed for the declining poultry industry, the government plans to import 43,000tn this year to make up for last year's rain failure. 

Farmers in the Afram Plains, long touted as the bread basket of southern Ghana, believe there are already adequate stocks of maize and that fresh imports will flood the market.

Government after government has promised modernisation through mechanisation and the increased use of fertiliser. International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) country director Ulac Demirag says the administration needs to deepen markets and provide financial and other incentives to raise crop production.

Cocobod has promised to invest profits from the 2010/2011 yield in improving infrastructure for farmers

Demirag observes "We have to recognise more strongly that farming is a business, and so private sector incentive systems and a focus on appropriate policies are key to ensuring investment in the sector."

The Agriculture Ministry is worried about the impact of low productivity in 2011. The National Buffer Stock Company created by the NDC government holds just enough reserves to supply the market for 21 days, compared to a global average of 30 days, according to Kofi Yeboah, a Ghanaian analyst.

A joint study by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Bank estimates that due to weaknesses in the supply chain Ghana loses 30 percent of its cereals and between 20-50 percent of its fruits, vegetables, roots and tubers each year.

IFAD reports that only 2 percent of the country's 500,000ha of irrigable land is currently being utilised. Of 57 irrigation schemes spread across the country's 10 regions, IFAD estimates that only 26 are in working order.

So far, the government has failed to provide the billions of dollars required to kickstart the Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA) that the NDC promised in its 2008 election manifesto. President John Atta Mills' administration has given less than $100m to the SADA in the past three years. Actors in the sector argue that an ambitious expansiondrive is required, encompassing not just crop production but also the dams, roads, schools, electricity and other infrastructure required to keep farmers on the land and to stem the rural-to-urban drift of unemployed youth.

This article was first published in the 2012 March edition of The Africa Report, on sale at newsstands, via our print subscription or our digital edition.

Last Updated on Friday, 20 April 2012 09:51

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