Acknowledgement is given the honouring of the national, regional and district level farmers for excelling in their farming and fishing businesses which contributes to economic development. Significant improvements in the farmer awards scheme is seen today from the time it took off decades ago when the national best farmer was given a cutlass and a pair of wellington boots but it is worrying that the selection criteria favours wealthy large scale farmers to the detriment of the larger majority of small holder farmers. But the awards could be better organized to benefit majority of farmers.
Whenever villages have been connected to urban or overseas markets, smallholder farmers have produced surpluses for them at times prompting remarkable transformations in rural economies. Smallholder farmers can play an important role in meeting Ghana’s growing food supply challenges.
Government could implement a targeted screening regime, which focuses on productivity in work and yield output than farm size to allow for small holder farm operators to also benefit from the ‘goodies’ of the National Farmer’s Day Award. There are District and Regional awards, but there should be a way to assess farmers, which could someday see smallholder farmers also winning the National Best Farmer Award, thereby propelling them higher up the wealth ladder, and it is only then that we would see the awards scheme promoting the agricultural sector as a whole and not skewing solely for the benefit of already wealthy farmers.
It will be good to scrape the policy which allows for personal freebies such as houses and pick up vehicles worth thousands of Ghana cedis to be given, which does not in any way help improve upon the agriculture sector as a whole. And rather focus on giving out agricultural related sophisticated tools, equipment, and materials, which would in the end help further advance the agricultural sector as a whole.
Across Ghana, product marketing is still largely informal, quantities supplied are not always consistent and a lack of access to credit is a perpetual problem. Add to this the problems of poor infrastructure, unproductive growing techniques and a lack of technology which is seen even across many southern countries and it is clear why so many smallholder producers are caught in a low-yield trap: less produce means less cash, which reduces their appetite to invest or take production risks. This has called for the need to even commercialise small holder agriculture. It is about time, assistance was given these farmers to assist them to commercialise with an increases engagement with markets, increased fractions of crops and animal products being destined for sale. Smallholders need to increase inputs and factors of production being acquired from the market: most obviously in machinery and tools, seed, fertiliser, crop protection chemicals, veterinary drugs and animal feed.
Targeting smallholder farmers in Ghana which has a large population shares in the agricultural sector can generate more income, thus economic growth. Increased income in the agricultural sector will then raise demand for manufactured goods and services in the other sectors of the economy, thus stimulating further growth and giving these policy targeted farmers the opportunity to grow more for the export market could enhance foreign currency earnings and improve the balance of payments. Currently, insecure land tenure is potentially leading to under-investment. Lack of credit and inputs lead to stagnating production at levels well below the apparent potential.
Climate change too is setting in. Rainfall is highly erratic these days, both in spatial and temporal extents. Future climate variability and change are expected to worsen the case of these farmers who supports us. These conditions; potentially accelerates the already high levels of soil erosion, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, as well as water and air pollution. This contributes significantly to worsening the plight of small-scale farmers who may be least responsible for climate change. Although, some regions in the world will benefit from the recent extreme changes in temperature and rainfall patterns, Ghana is likely to suffer because climate change distracts the growing patterns of crops and causes food shortages and this may extenuate chronic poverty and malnutrition
Rural households are likely to engage in nonfarm activities when the expected returns exceed that from engaging resources in agriculture which will lead to exit from agriculture. The current discourse on agricultural transformation has focused on the failure of agriculture to help farmers feed themselves either directly or through income generation. The notion that efforts to improve the quality of life in rural areas or to reduce rural poverty contingent more on targeted cannot depend exclusively on the facts about agriculture with its importance and recognition to Ghana.
Our national farmer award should showcase ways in which Ghana can produce food, fibre and wood products from farms and crafted in a commercially viable way while maintaining the natural capital of the land and minimising the ecological footprint of farming activities.
The author, David Asiamah is a farmer and entrepreneur.