In a town council meeting just on the outskirts of Morso, a village two hours away from Kumasi, Kwadwo Ofosu-Amoah raises his hand to be given the opportunity to make his case.
Like other farmers gathered here, Kwadwo has showed up to express his opinion on certain farming subjects which are upsetting him.
His concerns center on why the farming structure in the village has kept most farmers continuously deprived, indebted and frustrated into alcoholism. In summary, he is seeking some sort of trade justice.
But as Kwadwo expresses his frustrations, something unique is happening; most of the farmers are nodding their heads to Kwadwo’s concerns whilst others scream words of support. The theme of Kwadwo’s message resonates with them. Town council meeting after town council meeting, they have asked the elders of the land to find a solution to the farming model which has not benefited them. Time and again, their leaders have failed them.
But these issues are not just peculiar to Morso.
The story is the same for small scale farmers across the country who grow produce for the local and international market. They produce valuable farm products of unending global demand yet remain under-privileged – living in rundown houses without adequate water or sanitation, unable to pay for health care or education and unable to retire from farming as they lack pension and other social securities.
Most of Ghana’s population has grown up being told that agriculture is the backbone of the country’s economy. The fact that agriculture accounts for roughly one-quarter of Ghana’s GDP and employs more than half of the workforce means that the importance of agriculture to Ghana’s economy cannot be exaggerated. It is what it is; a very significant aspect in the lives of every Ghanaian. So why can’t smallholder farmers, who form the majority of Ghana’s agricultural sector, make enough returns from their investment? If it is the smallholder farmer that is growing Ghana’s exports for its foreign value why don’t their livelihoods depict that?
Much of that can be pointed to farmer’s limited understanding of global supply chains, lack of information on pricing, lack of access to education for sustainability, lack of agricultural extension services, increasing costs of inputs, delays in payments and soaring food prices, all of which has resulted in high levels of debt among smallholder farmers.
Lack of information on pricing
You don’t have to spend an extended period in many farming areas in Ghana to realise the need for better agricultural information. Farmers lack pricing data, traders need transportation contacts, governments and extension officers need a better way to reach out to farmers, businesses don’t have concurrent updates on their stock and the worth of their yields. The list goes on.
For instance, for most of the farmers gathered at the town council, they have had no choice but to blindly accept the prices offered by traders. And it’s through no fault of theirs. They have often not been provided with commercially useful information which will enable them negotiate with buyers and merchants from a position of greater strength.
In this regard, Farmerline’s information service package, which involves sending area-specific prices in voice-messaging in various local languages, is seen as a timely intervention.
This service saves farmers time and money, as well as maximize their profits. For example, when farmers want to find the market that will offer the highest price for their cassava, their only option then was to travel to each market in person — a costly venture. Challenged with this option, a farmer will frequently decide to sell to the nearest market or purchasing officer, missing out on possibly more profitable opportunities. But accessing Farmerline’s information on even the most basic mobile phone, farmers can find out the going price for their crops in different local markets without leaving home, avoiding time-consuming and costly travel.
At the simplest level, the availability of Farmerline’s market information helps farmers to make better trading decisions. If farmers receive prices lower than the broadcasted prices from Farmerline, they may, for example, arrange that they should seek out other traders in future, negotiate more persuasively or try to improve the quality and staging of their produce.
In short, this access to the price information means that supply chains will stiffen up. Discarded farm produce will be reduced. Profits will increase. And farmers will benefit as they should.
Subsequent posts will look at the other factors.*