About 40 per cent of foreign currencies acquired through exports come from the sector.
Although agriculture is a key part of the country's economy, the structure of the sector is vulnerable because it is rain fed.
Droughts and other challenges of the weather pose risks for farmers relying on the rains to earn a living.
Under these harsh reality irrigation development offers the promise of greater food security and the promotion of development in the rural areas since it provides the platform for year-long agricultural production.
Despite the considerable potential for irrigation development, less than two per cent of the total cultivatable area in Ghana is irrigated.
Agricultural Development Company (AgDevCo), a not-for-profit distribution agricultural development company operating in sub-Saharan Africa, is set to reverse the trend.
AgDevCo has the mission to help farmers grow their profits to its maximum potential that improve access to goods and services to facilitate better yield and prices for their produce.
The company in partnership with governments in many African countries including, Zambia, Mozambique, Tanzania and Malawi are helping to build and grow farming businesses and to develop large irrigation projects for both small and large scale farmers.
It believes that profitable agriculture with strong links to markets is the best route out of poverty for the majority of Africa™s rural population.
AgDevCo develop projects which provide opportunity for large number of people living in rural Africa, to achieve higher incomes by stimulating the development of a profitable and sustainable agricultural sector.
After witnessing the successes chalked out in other African countries, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture invited the organisation to look at developing irrigated farming projects in the country.
After six months of feasibility studies, AgDevCo is developing a new project in the country at Tono, Navrongo in the Upper East Region to compliment and expand the services provided by the Irrigation Company of Upper Regions to promote the production of food crops by small scale farmers within organised and managed irrigation schemes.
In Tono, AgDevCo is developing a new irrigated farm to be cultivated by a commercial company and a large number of local farmers.
The facility is being supported by a rice mill, storage facilities, farming inputs, equipment and technical advice.
The project seeks to expand grain production by providing irrigation for farmers to grow aromatic rice and other crops such as maize, Sorghum and soya. It would include milling and marketing services to ensure that farmers get the best prices for their production.
AgDevCo embarked on a demonstration to test new and existing maize and sorghum varieties under irrigation and good agricultural practices in the dry season in the Tono area. Under the demonstration, 10 variety of maize from Panner, Pioneer, Savannah Agricultural Research Institute (SARI) and 13 other varieties outside Ghana were planted.
For sorghum, two local varieties from SARI and five imported varieties were planted.
Fertilizer was applied at a higher than recommended dose to demonstrate the full potential of the varieties. Agro-chemicals were also applied based on the knowledge of which ingredients were most effective in local areas.
Insecticide dressing was applied based on field observation and only when necessary.
Water was supplied through SIME Hidra Impact Drive overhead sprinklers and pumped directly from the water source with a diesel-powered pump. The sprinklers were adjusted throughout the crops growing cycle and a fine mist applied at germination and coarse droplets when the crops were grown out.
The rate of application was at 8-14 litres per square metre per- hour with a jet length option of 20-36 meters.
Water was applied three times per week for one to two hours each session, which resulted in a total of almost 900 millimetre of irrigation for the whole growing season. The high water consumption was the result of high evapotranspiration leading to high yields after the demonstration exercise.
Mr Yasser Toore, West Africa Director of AgDevCo at a farmers™ field day at the demonstration field indicated that his outfit had worked in partnership with scientist from the Crop Research Institute and SARI and had brought in seed varieties from Zimbabwe and South Africa to demonstrate their potential.
He said through the efforts of some leading scientist in the country and other pioneering seed companies- Agriserve and Wienco, great improvements had been made as farmers could now buy hybrid maize seeds that had the potential to provide six to eight tones of hectare from these companies.
Farmers, he said needed modern machinery for land preparation, ploughing, harvesting, milling as well as marketing services to sell their paddy produce at fair prices.
He expressed wonder why farmers in the area sell paddy for GHÂ˘50 Cedis per maxi bag while the same product is put up for sale three times more after it had been milled in Tema, Greater Accra Region.
In order to realise the potential of the area, Mr Toore said there was the need to develop a project that would expand irrigated grain production in the Tono area, adding that the project should be a Public Private Partnership to include a leading commercial farmer to partner with local farmers to provide locally appropriate and adopted seeds and technical assistance amongst other interventions to get the most out of the seeds.
He said in order to complement the efforts of farmers to develop sustainable agriculture production in the country, it was basic for government to ensure that hybrid seed varieties used by farmers were approved for sale in the commercial market to enable farmers to have adequate access to them.
Irrigation development in Ghana has been justified as a way to achieve food security, poverty reduction, and rural employment. This is specifically related to the Northern, Upper East and Upper West Regions, characterised by mono-modal highly variable rainfall distribution.
Mr Seth Terkpe, Minister of Finance in this year™s budget statement and economic policy indicated that the continuous introduction of technology to improve agricultural production remained the main focus of government policy intervention.
śThe key interventions are the adaptation of livestock production technologies, agricultural mechanisation, irrigation development, fertilizer subsidies, seed improvement, quality standardisation and the improvement of modern buffer stock management technologies,ť he added.
On irrigation development, Mr Terkpe indicated that 90 per cent of work on phase two of the rehabilitation works on the Tono Irrigation Scheme had been completed while 320 hectares have been added to the currently cropped area, thus putting into full operation, the 1,850hectares of land under the scheme.
The expected result, he said are increased productivity and output, incomes and export earnings, food security, supply of raw materials for value addition and rural development.
Dr Benedict Aligebam, a Research Fellow and Legume Agronomist at the University of Ghana, in an interview with the Ghana News Agency, said Tono area is a potential viable irrigation area hence the need to maximise the potential for large scale production.
śIf we are able to in very good management practices and get required varieties of seeds, we should be able to hit more than six tonnes per hectare with regards to the new varieties been brought in and that would lead to higher yields,ť he said.
He said the country is endowed with sufficient water resources for irrigation-based intensification and irrigation and offer sufficient opportunity for growth in agricultural production through it development.
Mr Daniel Syme, Deputy Upper East Regional Minister has noted that the role of agriculture in the socio-economic development of the country cannot be over emphasised as it serves as a source of foreign exchange and provides raw materials to feed local industries and offers employment to more than 70 per cent of the country™s population.
According to him, agriculture is a key component of the government™s economic development strategy and occupies a unique position in the country™s quest to attaining full middle income status.
He said government is committed to its policy on Public Private Partnership and sees the private sector as an active partner in the country™s development.
Mr Syme noted that the private sector is central in job creation and increasing government revenue through taxation, which ultimately funds social investment in the country.
He urged chiefs and opinion leaders in the catchment areas to support the initiative, saying śthe project if well-developed would not only offer employment to our people but also has the potential to transform the lives of people in the region and further attract investment and expertise to contribute to poverty reduction and local food securityť.
If farm inputs are made available on the open market and farmers are given assistance to obtain them, it would help increase their yield.
If most irrigated crops are covered by government™s current fertilizer subsidy policy all year round, it would go a long way to ensure that farmers engage in sustainable farming activities.
Most crops produced in the country are perishable, requiring special storage and transportation facilities.
The perishable nature of irrigated crops gives leverage to middlemen such as export agents, to influence prices.
With the provision of storage and transport facilities, the economic prospects of indigenous small-scale farmers in the Region and the country would step-up and ultimately enhance the country™s economic development.
A GNA feature by James Amoh Junior