A GNA Feature by Fatima Anafu-Astanga
Bolgatanga (UE) Jan. 31, GNA - The decision of the farmer to make food continuously available for the family becomes concrete and accomplished when everything end well after harvest.
For Mr Kofi Kawuponi, a farmer in Navrongo, things are not right if for many weeks he spent working on the farm, access to mechanic services such as combine harvester to harvest his rice has become a mirage.
His colleague, Madam Akua Wedana, who farms on that same stretch in the locality under the ICOUR scheme in Navrongo, has resorted to manual harvesting with her family, considering the time and the fact that all her rice farm is getting too dry coupled with the harmattan winds.
For her, though the services are heavily subsidised she said “I am unable to pay for the charges to obtain the service and even if I get the money, the harvester is far away in the community and we cannot tell when they will arrive to serve us”. She reiterated.
These farmer’s situation is bedevilled with lack of combine harvesters during the peak harvest season since two of the machines allocated to the rice fields were broken down on the farm and just at the point when the farmers need the services most to harvest their matured rice.
For 51-year old woman Wedana, who bends through- out the day with her knife slashing her rice fields, there cannot be a better time to save her family some income for the household since needs were waiting and she needs to quickly sell some of the produce to attend to them.
Speaking with the Ghana News Agency, Madam Wedana said she did not perceive such challenges of accessing mechanical services as a problem.“ I have to resort to harvesting manually with my family members knowing the drudgery and the consequences” She said stating how the chunk of the rice was shedding off due to the over dry nature of seeds.
Pre- harvest conditions are crucial to maintaining produce quality, but food spoilage at every harvest begin at the farm gates, where tons of food remain uncollected for a long time due to non-available transport, storage facilities, pests and processing.
For many farmers, the losses envisaged every year cannot be over stressed and the challenges related to harvesting do not pertain only to rice framers, but cut across vegetable, crops and even fishery in the upper East Region affecting even food placed in a plates for consumption in the household.
Agriculture has been the largest employment sector, but interventions in areas of protecting harvests to maintaining the best output continue to remain in the domain of farmers by either the use of traditional knowledge systems or improved technology.
Doing this improperly contribute increasingly to food losses annually and more especially with the lack of extension services.
Mr Sebastian Bagina, Manager at ICOUR in an interview in Navrongo with GNA, acknowledged the insufficiency of combine harvesters serving the rice farms.
He said about 10 of the harvesters were available but serving at various rice valleys in Gbelinbilsi in the Builsa district and Navrongo most of them being privately owned hence, farmers waiting for longer periods to receive their turn.
He however indicated that when all the farmers grow their rice well following all extension services, and harvest well, then the likelihood of getting good market is also assured with all things being equal.
The loss of the yields of farmers come in two-fold, and for the rice farmers like Wedana, and Kawuponi and others, the over dried rice seeds quickly shed and drop to the ground culminating into loss of some seeds and milled, most go broken affecting the market value of the produce.
Mr Charles Nyaabah, Project Officer of the Peasant Farmers Association, who spoke in an interview with the Ghana News Agency also spelt out some of the challenges in harvesting manually.
He said the action lead to beating down the produce and getting it mixed with stones when collected and come with different implications to the quantity and quality of the produce.
He explained that manual harvest using labour was high and also had impact on price of final produce, but eventually quality was compromised.
Mr Nyaaba indicated that though government subsidised cost of use of combine harvesters, it was still high for smallholder farmers which compelled other farmers to harvest manually with threats of bushfires that lead to increased spoilage.
Mr Francis Ennor, Upper East Regional Director of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) acknowledged the inadequacy of combine harvesters in the region and said the few in the region were unable to meet the demands of the farmers.
He however assured that government was bringing in user friendly smaller and simple manually operated tools for harvesting which could be managed by small holders to sow, plant and harvest and promised that the next farming season will be much of a relief.
He advised rice farmers who go into large scale production to get prepared and plan before production and urged them to scale down when they have no capacity and plans to put in place mechanical support. “We are hoping that the farmers will listen to our advice and will not over do things that continue to affect when bush fires begin”.
He said combined harvesters used during the season had challenges because of the heavy rainfalls received during the season which made using the combines difficult and as a result breaking down.
Mr Nyaaba said though his outfit’s role was to help farmers sell their produce at good prices, lack of reliable transportation to convey the produce to their destinations contributed to losing farm produce significantly.
He noted that currently in a bid to buy the needs for families, prices of the produce dropped with cowpea, which was sold at GH¢12 around the same time last year and now sold at GH¢7.00 at Sandema in the Builsa North District.
Despite this, he added that in the face of transport challenges, farmers were unable to send their produce to the destinations and point of sales, which was affecting the harvested produce by pests and stressed the implications of prices of the food stuff considering the distance, and other transport costs.
Speaking with an agent of AVNASH Industries Ghana Limited, an aggregator in an interview at the rice silos in Navrongo, the agent acknowledged that farmers who were still in the process of harvesting stand to lose a lot because the rice in the fields were too dry and sooner market for both milled rice and paddy considering the quality turned out.
Meanwhile, AVNASH, mills over 450 MT per day in their rice plant in Tamale in the Northern Region, but noted that rice being received there was not likely to meet demands of the plant, but were also not likely to compromise buying broken rice from the farmers.
Some policy measures of government of Ghana since 2013 sought to ensure post- harvest losses management and food security and these interventions were done through providing efficient extension services, information and handling of post- harvest facilities among others.
However, every year farmers and traders alike continue to be affected by post- harvest challenges. Though some action was in place by government to implement a nationwide buffer stock and warehousing system to protect farm produce and money due to pre-matured sales, the results were yet to benefit the small holder farmer.
Though the 2019 budget seek to leverage the Planting for food and Jobs (PFJs) and Rearing For Food and Jobs programmes and efforts in agriculture to reduce Ghana’s large food import, the contribution of the small holder farmer whose slam produce sustains the family is still unrecognised.
The Goal two of the Sustainable Development goals endears all stakeholders to end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.
Farmers need to spend on their needs, stock and save for their next planting and still have some food and money to care for their homes till the next planting season, however they are unable to ensure their produce is kept to sustain their families for continuous reliance on good feeding.
Speaking in an interview with Mr Emmanuel Wullingdool, a policy officer of the Ghana Trades and Livelihood Coalition, noted that warehouse system implemented by government was too centralised and favoured aggregators and people who bought large quantities of produce and needed to keep it in a warehouse.
He said small holder farmers need to store and delay sales and post- harvest challenges and added that though the PICS sacks used for storage of produce were good, the technology could be transferred for it to manufacture locally to sustain its use by the farmers.
He said traditional methods of storing existed for farmers to store organically, but they need to be supported and guided to do this in improved ways at very good temperature levels to ensure the shelve life of the produce.
Speaking on interventions GTLC provided in addressing post- harvest losses, he stated that his outfit continuously engaged District MOFA departments especially putting in internal plans to work towards post -harvest loss management and the sensitisation and awareness creation for farmers to understand the issues.
He said farmers needed to understand the impact and added that “the cost of post-harvest loss to the state, the farmers and effect on nutrition was key”. He said.
For organisations such as SNV, a Dutch Non- Governmental Organisation, ensuring that government and the private sector improved service provision by creating the enabling environment for people to have sustainable access to sufficient, affordable and nutritious food is their bedrock.
SNV’s intervention on food and nutrition security emphasises on sustainable nutrition for All (SN4A) with emphasis on gender and nutrition sensitive value chains and post- harvest loses and food safety.
The Organisation uses practical field experiences and local knowledge and work with credible research institutes such as IFPRI to develop and share experiences in a transparent and accessible way.
In moving agriculture beyond aid agriculture need to be sustainable to cushion the poor and called for development of the sector to embrace all stakeholders in the business.
That will continue to provide safety-net for the farmer to help limit wastage throughout the value chain
It is also recommended that more secured farm storage facilities be tailored into the warehousing system in Ghana for smallholders to save them from long queues and time to transport their produce and above all ensure good agricultural practices for all.