GNA Feature by Elizabeth Kankam-Boadu
Accra, Feb 28, GNA - Planting for Food and Jobs, is one of the ruling government’s flagship initiatives soon after it took the reins of power. It seeks to create food security by producing raw materials to feed agro-processing industries, while creating jobs, and wealth in the process.
Two years into its operations, the PFJ, which focuses on delivering improved seeds, fertilizers, (at 50 per cent government) subsidy, technical knowledge and provision of equipment, and extension services, is already chalking remarkable successes.
The programme is also a government safety net, geared at creating the enabling environment for the small- holder farmer, who is at the centre of it, to raise on-farm productivity and take advantage of off- farm agribusiness opportunities, which will lead to the enhancement of livelihoods.
Asante Effiduase Kroye Farmers’ Cooperatives Union
The Asante Effiduase Kroye Farmers’ Cooperatives Union, a group of small- holder farmers in the Sekyere East District of the Ashanti Region, who are into the cultivation of food crops such as; oil palm, vegetables, plantain, cassava, maize, cocoa and among others, is already achieving amazing outcomes after implementing PFJ and its chain of components.
That dovetails into One District, One Factory (1D1F), through to Planting for Export and Rural Development (PERD), agro-processing or value addition, with the resultant employment of about 1, 200 youth in the area.
The farmers’ union is already reaping bumper harvests not in food crops alone, but in huge returns on their investments, which in itself is a living example profiling agriculture as a viable business venture in Ghana.
They are currently edging towards building an agro-processing factory, which would add value to its bumper harvests, both for local consumption and exports.
Elder Enoch Akoto, spokesman and secretary of the Union says one acre of land has already been acquired for the construction of the factory and training school, which will see the Union producing massively for both exports and subsistence - a step that launches the union into the PERD component of PFJ.
He said it is also a move to hand down food processing skills to the youth to boost their incomes and make agriculture attractive to them.
The good work of the Kroye farmers’ Union, has already received high marks from Nana Adu Ameyaw II, chief of Effiduase and the queen, Nana Konadu Yiadom I, both patrons, have consequently donated to the Union a-14 acre land to expand the cultivation of plantain and cassava.
Bumper harvest and value chain addition
Leveraging PFJ’s component of building partnerships for sponsorship with private sector development institutions, this group of farmers numbering in excess of 200, through the help of agricultural extension officers and a collaboration between the BUSAC and the Kumasi Institute of Tropical Agriculture, are now adding value to their farm produce through agro-processing.
Eder Akoto said most of the farmers previously cultivating 5-6 acres each for plantain and cassava, have expanded the acreage to 16. Per acre yield which stood at 3 tons for each of the crops, has now scaled up to 3 tons.
The visibly excited Elder Akoto said “we are no longer bearing transport costs to send our harvests to find market in Kumasi, where we don’t even get good prices - the market queens buy them very cheap. We are processing almost half of the quantity of our produce and this has maximised profits a great deal”, he said with a smile.
BUSAC FUND/KITA Training
The collaborative effort by the Institute of Tropical Agriculture (KITA) and Business Advocacy Fund (BUSAC), has been an invaluable help.
The farmers have been equipped with the knowledge on how to obtain higher per hectare yields from the cultivation of plantain and cassava, with KITA, providing technical consultancy services under the agreement has already facilitated the capacity building training for not less than 180 farmers in food –processing, to add value to the food glut.
Through that, it has also addressed post-harvest losses.
The Business Sector Advocacy Challenge (BUSAC) Fund, focused on private sector development, provided about GH¢52,000.00 to support their training.
Value added food brands
Last year’s increased yield, has taken them to the value addition level, where they have now ventured into the food processing, preparation, branding and packaging of assorted fortified gari -coming in different varieties.
The brands have been fortified with soyabean instead of milk, peanut, ginger and coconut, both to improve the nutritional value and provide variety in taste.
The other range of the hygienically packaged food brands are; the natural fufu flour; that is the blended plantain and cassava flour, all plantain flour, as well as fried plantain and cocoyam chips.
This is just an initial step - a fore shadow of a booming business for the farmers and the youth in the area in the not-too-distant future in view of the potential for the vast market opportunities that exists both on the international and local scene for these farmers.
According to Elder Duku, the farmers were producing for instance fried plantain chips on a large scale for women, even outside the area to buy in bulk for sale. It has also become the “saviour” for teenage mothers in the District, who were finding life difficult. They are now gradually getting out of poverty due to this business.
These food items, neatly packaged, with no food additives, has numerous advantages cutting across, health, convenience and easy portability. These days stampeding to meet deadlines and the accompanying stress, makes convenient cooking of healthy foods, a preferred choice. They could be prepared with no hassle or waste of time.
The gari varieties can enjoy high patronage from students at all levels, while the plantain, for its high nutritional value as a lowcalorie food, with no fat, no cholesterol, low saturated fat but high in potassium and other healthy nutrients, would be patronised by diet watchers, especially diabetics.
The farmers are considering using the plantain sucker multiplication technology acquired from KITA’s training, to take advantage of the business potential in the Cocoa Swollen Shoot Control Programme, being implemented by Cocoa Health and Extension Division (CHED) of the Cocoa Board (COCOBOD).
Under the project, CHED is outsourcing contractors in the supply of planting suckers to help rehabilitate or replant cocoa farms that have been destroyed due to swollen shoot infestation.
The re-planted farms need to be inter-cropped with plantain to provide shade for the newly planted cocoa seedlings.
Notwithstanding the huge market potential and the viability of this business, the farmers are saddled with financial constraints.
They lack funds to start the construction of a factory and installations, processing machines, thereby compelling them to carry their food produce to KITA in Kumasi, where they do the drying and milling. This inevitably adds on cost.
Additionally, they need assistance by way of training to help them to develop a business plan to help market their produce.