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February 14, 2012

AGRA project to improve farmer yields in Ghana begins to bear fruit

by James Karuga

Farmers in Tamale, Northern Ghana are beginning to enjoy the fruits of a three year breadbasket initiative launched in 2010, aimed at doubling yields, increasing the food security and incomes of around 250,000 smallholder farmers, and creating 15,000 jobs in agriculture-related sectors including agro-dealership, marketing, transport, and processing.

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) is supporting Ghana's Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) to implement the project at community level.

For example, farmers are being taught to plant crops for higher yields: in line and correctly spaced, rather than scattering them randomly. Farmers are also taught about manure, composting, appropriate fertilizers and the quantities to apply. Farmers involved in the initiative are required to have at least one acre of land in order to access credit facilities from the bank to acquire farm inputs, such as fertilizers and quality seed from agro-dealers.

AGRA acts as guarantor for loans and, at harvest, farmers pay for the inputs and services, like ploughing, by selling part of their yield to local traders or markets. Initially, during land preparation, AGRA also strikes a deal with local plough owners paying them directly, so they don't demand payment from farmers who can't afford the service.

When farmers harvest, but are unable to market their produce due to oversupply, they are able to pay off the loan initially advanced to them by giving AGRA part of their harvest, equivalent to the initial loan extended to them as inputs and services. If farmers get low yields and are unable to pay back the loan, either with crop or cash, AGRA doesn't demand payment.

By obtaining bank credit, with support from AGRA, farmers are able to acquire higher yielding non-subsidized seed than the indigenous, low yield varieties they traditionally grow. For example, according to one farmer, Obatampa, a new improved maize seed that's been crossbred with a local variety, yields three to four times more than local indigenous varieties, averaging twelve 90kg bags per acre. It is also fast maturing, taking 110 to 120 days compared to 150 days for local varieties.

To ensure farmers continue to have markets, AGRA is working with bodies…which have market linkages to various purchasing companies. They also provide warehouse facilities for farmer members lacking sufficient quality storage.

The initiative has suffered some setbacks. For instance, some subsidized fertilizer has been smuggled to neighboring Burkina Faso and poor feeder roads are delaying timely delivery of fertilizers.

full article…New Agriculturalist

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