Monday, October 31, 2011

The youth and agriculture

Map of ACP Countries
Recent efforts by the international development community have focused on getting the youth involved in nation building worldwide. It is therefore not surprising that the governments of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (the ACP countries) are drawing up programmes and calling on the youth to get involved in agriculture. In line with this, the Agriculture, Rural Development and Youth in the Information Society ( ARDYIS) has set up an initiative which aims at raising youth awareness and improving their capacity on agricultural and rural development issues in ACP countries using ICTs. 

Ghana, a member of the ACP countries, has been making great efforts at getting the youth involved in agriculture. It is worth noting that in our National Youth Policy which was launched in August 2010 provisions were made for the youth in this regard. Section 6.1.7 which touched on Youth in Modern Agriculture, the policy stated that in line with agriculture, the goal of the policy will be to promote youth participation in agriculture, through the following policy objectives: 
  • promotion of the participation of the youth in modern agriculture as a viable career opportunity for the youth and as an economic and business option. 
  • the provision of resources for the participation of the youth in modern agriculture.
Well thought and laid out! However this goal can not be realised if the challenges facing Ghanaian youth are not addressed as far as agriculture is concerned.

Lack of resources
Generally, the youth constitute that section of the population which is handicapped as far as assets are concerned. High youth unemployment rates have virtually left most youth with no jobs and no capital. A reasonable percentage of the youth in Ghana are still dependent in one way or the other on their parents, friends and other relatives. 

Lack of access to land
Time and time again, this problem has been hammered on in several literature. Cultural settings of land and property inheritance in many of these ACP countries sideline the youth, especially women. A quick chat with random youth while taking a walk in any Ghanaian town will reveal a ratio of land ownership favouring the aged and rich, much to the disadvantage of the youth. The youth are the same group who mostly do not have the means to acquire sizeable portions of land for farming.

Low returns
Majority of farmers in Ghana are smallholder farmers who do not make a lot of money from their business. This problem of low returns has driven away most youth from farming. The youth in most farming families therefore take up other opportunities to supplement family income. Farm sizes are shrinking because labour size is reducing and farmers also do not have the means to cultivate even the small land portions they have. As mentioned in an earlier post, Jayne et al. (2002) conclude that it will be increasingly difficult for farming alone to sustain the livelihoods of land-constrained households without substantial shifts in labour from agriculture to non-farm sectors.

High cost of farming
The cost of farm inputs and seedlings continues to be a burden on farmers and a hindrance to would-be ones. The cost of acquiring an arable land, whether on lease or outright conveyance is enough a stumbling block to the youth. Recently the government realised this in the cocoa industry and has put in place plans to distribute free cocoa seedlings within the next five years, as a measure to reduce the burden of farmers and would-be ones.

Perception of farming
Low returns of the small holder farmers, and other factors have gradually created a wrong perception that farming is a poor man's job in Ghana. Oh, so you are a farmer? This perception is changing especially among the educated youth. However, it will continue to be a reason for which there is youth migration form the farming communities to urban centers.

Educational system
For sometime the focus of the educational system been biased in favour of professions like medicine and accounting. The cut off grade for admitting students to study agriculture in senior high schools in Ghana has even been dropped further because people do not patronize it. In recent times there is much emphasis as well on the need for ICT. However, if the same emphasis can be placed on agriculture we can go a long way.

The youth need support. As our chief technical advisor to Ghana’s minister of food and agriculture, Samuel Kojo Dapaah, rightly put it, “Whether in developed or developing countries, agriculture needs support. Period.
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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Accra, Ghana - Circle floods in pictures

The rains started late yesterday and rained throughout the night. In certain parts of Accra, it rained till 5:30 this morning. While on my way to work, the presenter on the radio was reporting series of floods around town. I got to Circle around 7:30am. Almost everybody was walking; cars could not move. Water everywhere. I walked to the Odawna river, to the portion that runs under the bridge at Circle. I arrived some minutes after our president had left the place. People standing by told me four dead bodies that were being washed away had been picked up by the NADMO officials. I took these shots.

The small entrance to the Neoplan station destroyed

Sides of the bridge destroyed; people standing and watching as waste and dead animal  bodies float

One side of the bridge completely broken down

The Odawna overflowed the side walls. This was taken after the water level had subsided considerably 

Waste and waste and everywhere

This huge pile of waste must have contributed to the blockage under the bridge, causing the water overflow the walls

People searching through the pile of rubbish for phones and other goodies washed away 

Scenes like this call for a pragmatic approach the the plastic menace which has plagued this country

All the kiosks here (which were lined up along the wall) have been washed away. Only the urinal (cemented into the ground) remained

Dirty, muddy water bringing in more waste

Waste stuck under the bridge

The main Circle trotro station, completely abandoned. This is after the water level had gone down

Earlier in the morning, people were paying GHS1.00 to be carted across the water on peoples' backs around the Neoplan Station

This wreck and havoc occurs annually, and will continue to occur if we do not change our attitudes toward the environment. I'm sure the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) has by-laws regulating the dumping of refuse, but what happens to enforcement. People, shops and households keep dumping all sort of waste materials into the gutters and smaller streams that flow into the Odawna. Attitude, attitude, attitude, is everything.

Our elders say when you are advising the cat, don't forget to also advise the fish. I entreat our leaders to stop politicising everything in this country. Atta-Mills is touring the flooded areas, for what? To show solidarity as the leader of the country? Get the engineering and planning experts to implement good waste management policies and city plans, not politicians who don't know anything. Stop awarding contracts to contractors whom you know will provide the kickbacks. They cut down cost to pay the kickback and do shoddy work.

Let's change our #attitudes, get #green and protect Ghana's #environment.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

9 billion people by 2050; can we feed them?

On #WorldFoodDay which coincides with Blog Action Day 2011, #BAD11, it is only fair that we talk about food. Our population is increasing rapidly, but without a much needed corresponding increase in food production. While the UN estimates the world population would hit over 9 billion by 2050, food production is required to increase by over 70% of the 2006 levels meet this growing population.

It is therefore important that a critical look be taken at the current methodologies in food production, distribution, and consumption, especially in developing economies. Most of such economies have a greater percentage of their active labour force involved in agriculture. In Ghana, the percentage is around 56, while it is a whopping 70% in Mali. Within such economies, the majority of the farmers are smallholder farmers who do not have the might to stand against the challenges that confront them in their business. Among the many problems and challenges, these are dominant: inadequate access to land, lack of capital, and inadequate information and extension services. Crop failure, low yields and general food shortages are the resulting incidents. World over, this has created an unhealthy imbalance of food scarcity in the developing world and food over-abundance in the developed world.

Food production
Generally, in spite of the fact that emerging economies have the greater section of the labour force actively engaged in agriculture, food production is low. Most countries in Africa especially import food from other nations, even for commodities that are cultivated in their countries. The world is currently witnessing a food crisis in Somalia and it is interesting to note that most of the food aid is not from Africa.

Inadequate access to land
This problem exists mostly for women farmers who by the culture in some developing countries are marginalized as far as property is concerned. Customary laws of access to land are discriminatory in most cases. Whereas it may appear there is vast untouched land available for food production, the real situation is that this land either not suitable for farming purposes or that these  smallholder farmers do not have the means to acquire additional parcels of land or even cultivate the entire portion of their lands. Sometimes, there is a disconnect between those who own the land and those who are willing to enter into commercial food production. The rural poor usually have larger tracts of land but are unable to cultivate.

Lack of capital
Over time, the trend of low returns on the business of these smallholder farmers has created a poverty cycle that has left farmers with very small capital. Smallholder farmers generally not much educated and do not have the means to attract labourers or purchase farm inputs that could have improved their food production. The low returns have also driven the youth especially away from farming. Jayne et al. (2002) indicate that the ratio of land under crop cultivation to agricultural population has been shrinking gradually but consistently in Africa. Following from the issue of inadequate access to land, Jayne et al. (2002) conclude that the shrinking trend suggests that it will be increasingly difficult for farming alone to sustain the livelihoods of land-constrained households without substantial shifts in labour from agriculture to non-farm sectors. The cost of farm inputs and seedlings continues to be a burden on farmers and a hindrance to would-be ones.

To be able to feed 9 billion people, more capital must be injected into the agric sector. Ghana has been fortunate to have an Agricultural Development Bank, but its contributions have been insignificant. I believe it’s time private investors took the industry seriously as they have done for the ICT industry.

Lack of information and extension services
All these emerging countries have ministries with the sole responsibility of improving food production. In Ghana, the ideal ratio of extension agent to farmers should be about 400 to agents to 1500 farmers. The Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) in Ghana has indicated that only 56% of the entire agricultural operational areas are covered by extension services; and agent-farmer ratio is 1 to 1800. Smallholder farmers need information such as land preparation, planting, agro-chemical application, harvesting and storage techniques. Without such information they are able to manage their farms well and are either left with crop failures or low yields.

An Accenture report, commissioned by Vodafone, has indicated that a potential $138 billion addition to developing world farmers’ incomes would be achieved by 2020. “The report, ‘Connected Agriculture’, concludes that 80% of the potential $138 billion uplift in emerging market farmers' incomes will be derived from the growth of: 
  • mobile money transfer systems, such as Vodafone M-PESA, which provide farmers with the ability to exchange, save and borrow small amounts of capital as well as take out short-term insurance policies;
  • mobile information services providing detailed and localised weather forecasts, crop prices and resource management information; and
  • helpline services giving real-time guidance on issues such as pest control and the challenges linked to climate change, including water scarcity. 

Thus, the efforts of companies like Esoko must be fully welcomed by all. As Africa’s leading mobile market information exchange, the company enables farmers to receive commodity prices from different markets within the country the farmers are based. In Ghana alone, Esoko sends SMS alerts covering 38 markets. While delivering crop prices, and other great tools to the agro-business industry, the company is also working tirelessly at creating a helpline service as described by the Connected Agriculture report. There have been many success stories already reported about efforts of Esoko. Read one of them here.

Food Distribution
I really am not an expert on this subject, but sniffing around for information every now and then has only enlightened me about how poor developing economies do in this area.

In my last post I recollected my experience travelling through some rural farming communities in Ghana. As in many other African countries, I suppose, road networks to the main farming communities are the poorest. While inhabitants of the cities cry over shortage of food, farmers in the rural areas cry over their inability to send their produce to markets, due to bad transportation networks. The few traders who are able to go to these areas with their trucks and purchase from the farmers end up cheating the farmers; if they do not accept low prices, their goods will rot away. Either way, smallholder farmers only get poorer. If these economies would take development in complementary sectors of the nation's economy seriously, I’m pretty sure we can make some good gains against 2050, and most importantly, now! These concerted efforts between the private and public sectors of the economies of these emerging markets perhaps are the key ways through which we can achieve increases in food productivity.

Food consumption
And this is where we all like most. I love food, I’m sure you do too. In this area I can only talk about changing our attitudes and mind sets. I believe there is so much food waste going around in our homes and eating places. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) defines food waste as food losses occurring during the retail and final consumption stage due to the behavior of retailers and consumers – that is, the throwing away of food. “Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted, according to an FAO-commissioned study. According to the study, in developed countries much food – about 100 kilograms (220 lb) per person and year – is wasted at the consumption stage. In low-income countries, most loss occurs during production.

Planning or food purchases could reduce this problem. We should all know that that throwing food away needlessly is unacceptable, the study advised.  When you are throwing away food, think that someone somewhere is hungry. "Given the limited availability of natural resources, it is more effective to reduce food losses than increase food production in order to feed a growing world population". 

So on this #WorldFoodDay and #BAD11, I can only hope that by 2050 we can feed the world. But until then save #food and stay #green.
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