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Breadbasket initiative begins bearing fruits in northern Ghana

Farmers are being taught to plant crops in line and correctly spaced (© AGRA)
Farmers are being taught to plant crops in line and correctly spaced

Farmers in Tamale, northern Ghana are beginning to enjoy the fruits of a three year breadbasket initiative launched in 2010, aimed at doubling yields, increasing the food security and incomes of around 250,000 smallholder farmers, and creating 15,000 jobs in agriculture-related sectors including agro-dealership, marketing, transport, and processing.

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) is supporting Ghana's Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) to implement the project at community level. For example, 20 farmers in Zugu-Yizegu village in Savelugu Nanton district joined the initiative in 2011, adding to the 20 who started with the project in 2010.

Kickstarting higher yields

The village's main staple is maize and traditionally farmers randomly scatter their seed, which results in poor yields. With advice from MOFA extension officers, the farmers are being taught to plant crops for higher yields: in line and correctly spaced. Farmers are also taught about manure, composting, appropriate fertilisers and the quantities to apply. Farmers involved in the initiative are required to have at least one acre of land in order to access credit facilities from the bank to acquire farm inputs, such as fertilisers and quality seed from agro-dealers.

AGRA acts as guarantor for loans and, at harvest, farmers pay for the inputs and services, like ploughing, by selling part of their yield to local traders or markets. Initially, during land preparation, AGRA also strikes a deal with local plough owners paying them directly, so they don't demand payment from farmers who can't afford the service.

Farmers are beginning to enjoy the fruits of the breadbasket initiative (© AGRA)
Farmers are beginning to enjoy the fruits of the breadbasket initiative

When farmers harvest, but are unable to market their produce due to oversupply, they are able to pay off the loan initially advanced to them by giving AGRA part of their harvest, equivalent to the initial loan extended to them as inputs and services. If farmers get low yields and are unable to pay back the loan, either with crop or cash, AGRA doesn't demand payment.

For the farmers of Zugu-Yizegu village, the initiative is critical as few can afford the farm inputs due to low incomes. "Here people can't afford fertiliser and have never applied it," says Sumami Ibrahim, a MOFA extension officer. As a result, the region's soils have poor fertility, made worse by continuous cropping and no regeneration of soil nutrients.

The importance of credit

By obtaining bank credit, with support from AGRA, farmers are able to acquire higher yielding non-subsidised seed than the indigenous, low yield varieties they traditionally grow. For example, according to Ibrahim, Obatampa, a new improved maize seed that's been crossbred with a local variety, yields three to four times more than local indigenous varieties, averaging twelve 90kg bags per acre. It is also fast maturing, taking 110 to 120 days compared to 150 days for local varieties.

Idrissou Adam Enoch is one of the farmers reaping the benefits of this breadbasket initiative. In 2009, on five acres of his family land, he harvested four 90kg bags of maize per acre.The MOFA extension officers taught Enoch composting, spacing and the right quantities of sulphate and NPK fertilisers to apply. He was also able to access credit facilities through Stanbic Bank for inputs from local agro-dealers. The fertilisers, having been subsidised, were half the normal retail price. From the four acres of land, he harvested 8.25 bags per acre.

By obtaining credit, farmers are able to acquire higher yielding seed (© James Karuga)
By obtaining credit, farmers are able to acquire higher yielding seed
© James Karuga

In 2011, Zugu-Yizegu farmers began by selling their 90 kg bags of maize for US$20 each but, as the supply decreased, the price hit a peak of US$40 per bag. Enoch sold a total of 15 bags averaging US$30 per bag, the income helping to educate two of his brothers and feed his wife and two children. "This year I didn't need to buy food," said Enoch, who was also able to store 18 bags, some of which he will give to hungry neighbours and his extended family. As a sign of his gratitude, he gives them part of his yield to ensure they have sufficient food to survive. Success has spurred him to acquire nine more acres.

To ensure farmers continue to have markets, AGRA is working with bodies like Savannah Farmers Marketing Company (SFMC) and the International Centre for Soil Fertility and Agricultural Development (IFDC), which have market linkages to companies like Yedent Agro Processing Ventures, located in Sunyani, which process fortified maize-based products with high nutritional value. They also provide warehouse facilities for farmer members lacking sufficient quality storage.

Overcoming setbacks

The initiative has suffered some setbacks. For instance, some subsidised fertiliser has been smuggled to neighbouring Burkina Faso and poor feeder roads are delaying timely delivery of fertilisers: at times, these have only reached farmers when crops are already seven weeks old but, by then, stunted.

AGRA is working to ensure farmers continue to have access to markets (© AGRA)
AGRA is working to ensure farmers continue to have access to markets

To respond to some of these challenges, AGRA facilitated the training of 200 agro-dealers in Tamale and provided them with grants to expand their outreach. For example, Alhaji Abdul Gamiyu received a grant of over US$25,000, enabling him to open agro-dealerships in 18 districts. And to operate them successfully, IFDC and the Ghana Agricultural Associations Businesses Information Centre (GAABIC) trained him to manage the business and to train farmers in safe handling and application of chemicals.

As a result, Gamiyu's profits have risen by between 40 to 60 per cent and he has been able to employ six family members. For AGRA, working with trusted agro-dealers directly is reducing fertiliser smuggling incidences and delivery delays. And by creating partnerships with agro-dealers, marketing companies and financial institutions, AGRA is working to ensure the initiative lasts beyond the initial three years.

Written by: James Karuga

Date published: January 2012


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