Improving smallholder farmers livelihood through technologies

Ghana’s economy is highly dependent on agriculture especially because of its contribution to foreign exchange earnings and provision of employment opportunities for a significant number of its population. The sector similarly plays a significant role in Ghana’s food security efforts. This perhaps explains why about 90 per cent of Ghana’s population is engaged in agriculture or agriculture related activities.

However, irrespective of the numerous opportunities that the agricultural sector provides, agriculture in Ghana is basically small scale. About 90 per cent of Ghana’s farmers are smallholder farmers who cultivate small parcels of land, usually about two acres with heavy reliance on conventional methods of farming, with little or no mechanization.

Over the years, one issue that many Ghanaian farmers have complained about is the incidence of pest infestation, diseases, and low crop yields whose effects have direct bearing on theirfinancial fortunes.

Various reasons have been assigned to the declining state of Ghana’s crop production which are lack of good agronomic practices, lack of improved seeds, incidence of pests and diseases, lack of adoption of modern technologies and solutions as well as low yields per hectare.

For instance, speaking at this year’s Agriculture and Technology exhibition held at the Accra International Conference Centre from Tuesday, March 23, 2022 to Friday, March 25, 2022, the Deputy Ministerof Food and Agriculture, AlhajiHardiTufeiru, charged Ghanaian farmers to adopt agricultural technologies and solutions to enable them to increase their production and productivity.

For him, it was only through the application of modern agricultural technologies and solutions (use of improved seeds, appropriate fertilizers, pest and disease control mechanisms) thatwould help farmers to protect their crops and maximize yields.

“As an emerging economy seeking to accelerate growth and ensure sustainable development, Ghana has no choice but to adopt modern technology and best practices from around the world to complement home-grown solutions for transforming its economy,”AlhajiTufeiru noted.

Food insecurity

Low crop yields directly affect the investments farmers make and also contribute to food insecurity in Ghana. About five per cent of the country’s population are food insecure and about two million people are vulnerable to becoming food insecure. This is according to a 2016 study titled: “Agriculture and Food Security in Ghana,” which was presented to the Lowa State University by Barnard Darfour and Kurt A. Rosentrater.

The effects of climate change including increasing irregular rainfall, flooding and droughts, are devastating agricultural production in many parts of the world, including Ghana. Therefore, cultivating enough food to feed the country’s increasing population remains a great challenge, if not an impossible one. 

According to the National Population Council (NPC), Ghana currently has a population of about 30.1 million people and on a yearly basis, Ghana adds about 700 hundred thousand people to its population. This means that more food is needed to feed the population.

The country has about five million farmers and smallholder farmers account for about 95per cent of this number. Most of them still rely on traditional methods of farming, such as using saved seeds from their previous seasons, and which can be highly susceptible to pest and diseases.

Bill Gates placed this issue in context in 2012, during a meeting of the International Fund for Agriculture Development at Rome in Italy.He stated: “If you care about the poorest, you care about agriculture. Investments in agriculture are the best weapons against hunger and poverty, and they have made life better for billions of people. The international agriculture community needs to be more innovative, coordinated, and focused to help poor farmers grow more. If we can do that, we can dramatically reduce suffering and build self-sufficiency.”

Science and agriculture

High yielding crop varieties are the result of the application of scientific tools that ensures seed quality and enhances the performance of seeds. The role of science in agricultural production is thereforecritical. One such scientific tool is biotechnology, a precise breeding technique through which desirable individual traits are copied from one source and introduced into crops to produce the enhanced traits in them.

The process is referred to as genetic engineering (GE) and the products are known as genetically modified (GM) or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Depending on the purpose for which the tool of biotechnology was applied, a GM crop could be resistant to pests, disease or drought among other things. For instance, pest resistance can drastically reduce infestation and reduce the use of chemical insecticides so that much enhanced yields are secured.

These GM seeds can be saved by the farmersfrom harvests over a period of time.  Other traits can be added using biotechnology so that the crop can withstand some of the adverse effects of climate change. For this reason, some scientists even claim that biotechnology or genetic engineering can help save indigenous foods.For instance, the worldwide science-based food security focused organisation, Alliance for Science, says that “Science-based agriculture can preserve critical indigenous foods, such as cowpea, banana, cassava, and common beans, while reducing the environmental impacts of farming.”

Supporting this claim with statistics, the organisation notes that: “On average, other genetically engineered crops have cut chemical pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yields by 22%, boosted farmer profits by 38%, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking 12 million cars off the road.”

While GM seeds can help resource-poor farmers produce more, its use is prohibited in some developing countries, including Ghana. Although Ghana has made significant gains in biotechnology research, the country is yet to commercialize a GM crop unlike neighboring Nigeria.

Why Biotechnology

Scientists appreciate how climate change is undermining the world’s food production systems and hence the need for Ghana and Africa toinclude the biotechnology approach to improving their crops.

A Senior Research Scientist with CSIR’s Science Technology and Research Institute (CSIR-STEPRI) and who also serves as the National Coordinator of OFAB Ghana, Dr. Richard Ampadu-Ameyaw explained that climate Change “is affecting water availability for plants, which in turn affects the nutritional quality of crops.”

In an interview, he said, biotechnology ensures that the nutritional content of a crop is retained and enhanced, and not destroyed by either climatic conditions or poor soil nutrients.

Dr. Ampadu-Ameyaw stressed that all that the scientists are doing “is using biotechnology to help solve the issue of food insecurity,” adding, “Scientists identify the major problems of crops and use biotechnology to address such issues.”

So, for him, “when scientists speak on biotechnology, they are speaking in the context of climate change. This is because it is the scientific tool of biotechnology that will contribute to solving climate change related crop production problems.”

He expressed the concern that agricultural outcome in Ghana continue to witness decline due to the lack of adoption of agricultural technologies, saying that the contributions from the agricultural sector to the GDP has been on the decline.

Quality seeds

Richard Egyir is the Programmes Manager of the NGO, Forests and Coastals. He is of the view that most of the players in the agricultural sector, particularly the smallholder farmers are poor or within the low income bracket, adding that “Most of them struggle to make a living from their toils.”

For him, “There are a number of reasons accounting for the poverty of most Ghanaian farmers. One of the principal reasons is that most Ghanaian farmers do not always get the expected harvest from their fields due to the poor seeds they cultivate.”

He said many Ghanaian farmers use seeds that are of low quality, thus leading to low yields and compounding their poverty levels.

ForMrEgyir, “Smallholder farmers are very important, especially when it comes to ensuring food security and sustainability in the country, because most of the vegetables we consume from the markets are produced by the smallholder farmers”.

The Managing Director of Callighana Company Ltd, a subsidiary of the global group UPL, Mr Bernard BuerteyOkutu, agrees with the position of MrEgyir. He states many Ghanaian farmers lack the technology and innovative solutions to improve their farming, noting that such a situation is leading to low production and productivity.

He said about 90 per cent of Ghanaian farmers were smallholder farmers and that such farmers as well as those into industrial or large-scale farming needed new technologies and agricultural solutions to optimize their work.

MrOkutunoted that it will take education to help Ghanaian farmers appreciate the need to switch from their conventional ways of farming to adopting new technologies such as the use of improved seeds.

As captured in the popular adage: “Garbage in, garbage out”, so every farmer reaps what he or she sows. This, therefore, simply implies that when a farmer employs the use of modern agricultural practices andtechnologies such as the use of GM seeds, it will help them to produce more with less effort and gain more from their sweat.

By Benedicta Gyimaah Folley

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