Ghana has once again honoured its heroic farmers and fishers for the arduous role they have played in quickening the pace of the nation's socio-economic development. With the growing unemployment situation and almost half of the economically active Ghanaian population engaged in agricultural and allied activities, the theme for this year’s celebration “Agriculture; A business response to economic growth” cannot be more appropriate. The theme accentuates the need to commercialise agriculture irrespective of scale and to promote it as a profitable and viable business venture. The timeworn notion that agriculture is just a way of life, a social sector or developmental activity is moribund. The sector should be seen as nothing but a business and a way to create wealth to improve lives. The importance of agriculture to the nation cannot be overemphasised. The sector contributes significantly to gross domestic product and is the primary source of income for rural populations. The sector is also a major source of foreign exchange and provides raw material for agro based industries.
In the three Regions of the North, an average of about 70 percent of the economically active population is engaged in agriculture. It is thus important that the sector is remodeled to adopt a commercial and business outlook. Efforts at improving profitability and outlook of agriculture should be underpinned by a revolution led by research and development to reduce the risk of yield variability and farmer education to adopt a new paradigm that sees agriculture as business. The first step in commercialising agriculture should be to institute measures to increase per unit yield through introduction of improved propagating materials, improving production methods and developing capacity of agricultural labour force. There is the need for researchers to breach existing scientific frontiers and introduce improved varieties and species that are not only high yielding but can also tolerate local adverse growth conditions. Research direction is also needed in the choice of appropriate sowing date, use of appropriate seed rate and stocking densities to give optimum target population, development of storage and drying technology to reduce post-harvest losses as well as development of simple but appropriate technology to minimise drudgery. Drudgery remains the most important reason why the youth shy away from agriculture. Optimizing the aforementioned simple local management practices to reduce as far as possible the extreme of stress and in particular choice of varieties and species that would show the highest resilience in the face of a given stress will help improve yield and hence farm income. Whilst the green revolution has increased the productivity of a few major crops, there is the need for researchers to assess and enhance the potential of the under-utilised local species and varieties that the country may have comparative advantage in producing by evaluating existing land races, varieties and species that are highly adapted to local low input type of agriculture, identify their agro-ecological requirements and marketing prospects and multiply them for large scale use. The primary agricultural sector could only be improved if a robust supporting system and infrastructure are created in the form of irrigation facilities, marketing infrastructure, rural road network improvement, efficient input supply system, cottage storage and processing facilities and the provision of reliable financial intermediation units. Since water stress is the most important limiting factor to crop production in the country, any effort at providing irrigation facilities would have a very positive impact. Provision of irrigation facilities is capital intensive and beyond the reach of many farmers. It is in this light that it would be prudent for the state to provide such facilities and charge farmers user-fees.
Indeed the fight to improve agricultural productivity and profitability should not be allowed to be determined primarily by acts of nature beyond human control but by prudent measures spearheaded by research. Pertinent as agricultural research is, it would not be able to achieve the optimum impact unless it is supported by a vibrant extension service directorate to take agricultural innovations and breakthroughs to farmers and fishers. The major role of the state in the new paradigm of seeing agriculture as a business should be to build adequate and reliable infrastructure and create an enabling environment by putting the right policies and regulations in place whilst allowing the private sector to lead. It is expected that an appreciable portion of the Ghana Infrastructural Fund would be channeled towards providing agricultural and social infrastructure instead of the usual slant of tokenism and patronage associated with support to agriculture. If farmers bury the subsistence mentality, the needed infrastructure is provided, yield is enhanced and drudgery is removed, agriculture will take its place as a respectable business in line with the good old Indian axiom “Supreme is farming, Mediocre is trade and Most lowly is service”.
Long Live Ghana- Long Live Ghanaian Farmers and Fishers .
By: Polycarp Kwame Akobeng, of the Agricultural Development Bank, Accra