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  • Schandorf Adu-Bright, Director of Farmer Services at Farmerline

The agriculture sector plays an important role in Ghana as it is the backbone of the economy and one of the major foreign exchange earners.

Thus, the sector contributes and remains the main driver of poverty reduction as it stands enabler for more income generation and ensures food security for a large part of the population. So after Ghana’s 2017 Budget had been read, Schandorf Adu-Bright had an interview with Luv FM and Focus FM, both in Kumasi, and writes this article looking at the focus areas of the budget in terms of farmers, rural employment and infrastructure development.

  1. Planting for food and jobs is undoubtedly a great campaign. We, as a nation, must endeavour to increase our production. However, it is incumbent to provide and accelerate reliable and profitable market access for our cherished and hardworking smallholder farmers. Farmers do not just produce for food; they essentially produce to earn income. Often, what we witness on the field is that smallholders lose about 1/3 of their production, primarily due to the lack of market access and storage facilities. In a typical village like Ejura or Yonso in the Ashanti Region of Ghana, almost all the farmers produce crops like cassava, maize and vegetables. A situation like this means that when there is a bumper harvest, there are no buyers. Prices then drastically reduce and farmers who wait hoping to get favourable prices lose everything at the end to pests, diseases and poor storage.

The new government must avoid this. The “One District, One Factory” initiative if done right and on time will help to reduce the effect of this challenge.

  1. Widening the net of free fertiliser distribution projects to 180,000tons is a giant step. This is expected to boost cocoa production for this year. But before we jump into celebration about this, let us ask: how much of the quantities of the fertiliser written on paper and distributed to the district actually go down to the field – the cocoa farm?

The free fertiliser project has huge challenges with distribution and smallholder farmers’ access. From Farmerline’s interactions on the field, the following are the issues:

  1. Poor timing of distribution. The ideal time for fertiliser application is May when the rains start to pour. Unfortunately, most farmers receive their free fertilisers in August.
  2. Inadequate quantities.
  3. Unmapped farms or non-members of the group are excluded.
  4. Lack of education on fertiliser application and spraying chemicals use.
  5. Government free quality fertiliser is not available on the market for sale to farmers who can afford.
  6. Lack of effective monitoring, verification and evaluation.

So the point, what mechanisms is the government adopting to ensure adequate accessibility of these inputs by the smallholders.

To solve these issues, the government will need innovation technologies like Farmerline’s Mergdata to facilitate verification.  Again, National Identification will also be helpful in the verification process of these deliveries.

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  1. The government must be applauded for boosting the funding in Agriculture. Agriculture has always been underfunded. Item 785 of the 2017 budget, the government revealed that GHC335.14 million was the planned expenditure for the agric sector in 2016. This was miserably slashed down to 50% amounting GHC181. 29 million. About 90% of this actual expenditure went into was spent on poverty-focused expenditures such as the Fertilizer Subsidy programme and the establishment of Agricultural Mechanisation Service Centres, among others to boost agricultural production. For 2017, a total of GH¢450.33 million is estimated for this sector. An amount of GH¢421.52 million of this allocation, representing 93.60 percent, will be spent on the Fertilizer Subsidy programme and the Agricultural Mechanisation Service Centres, among others.

Now the question is, how much goes into extension service delivery at the district levels and the running of the various MoFA directorates? These offices are mostly under resources and extension officers lack funds for fuel and transport to do their works.

One key thing here is, the 93% budget allocation for Fertilizer Subsidy Programme exclusively targets the cocoa sector. So what happens to other commodities like rice, maize, sorghum, cassava and etc. All of them to share the remaining 7%, this is woefully inadequate. Why is cocoa sector given that priority, cocoa has reliable and profitable market access?

So, I think, the government should also give deserving attention to the non-cocoa sectors in the agriculture space.

Lastly, it will also be great for the government to make a commitment to advancing rural finance and credit access by smallholder farmers.

As Farmerline’s Director of Farmer Services, Schandorf manages a team of eight and he is responsible for leading training workshops for farmers, conducting user research, collecting data, advocating Farmerline’s initiatives, and monitoring and evaluating their impact. On behalf of Farmerline, Schandorf has trained more than 5,000 small-scale farmers to adopt and benefit from Farmerline’s voice messaging technology.  Schandorf has rich experiences in rural financing.