The Future of Agriculture – Let’s move from production to productivity

The challenges in the agriculture sector of Ghana has been outlined and discussed extensively in articles, speeches, reports, budget statements amongst others and efforts have been made to proffer solutions aimed at addressing same. Any attempt to relist these challenges and interventions either from government, private sector, donor agencies etc. will not serve any unique purpose. The potential of Agriculture to impact our national development in the form of real GDP contribution, job creation, wealth creation and supporting industry cannot be underestimated. Even in its current form, we are all beneficiaries of its contribution solely because we eat every day to survive. The quest as a nation to create the conditions favorable to move Agriculture to new levels like other nations even in Africa – Kenya and South Africa is commendable. Whilst we embark on these new initiatives, we must take stock of past ones. We cannot entirely blame the failures or otherwise of past government interventions on ‘implementation’. We need to begin to ask ourselves, what did we implement to achieve what purpose? What was the focus/goal of these interventions – to increase production or increase productivity? etc.  On doing this, we will realized we had issues with planning too. As a practicing farmer, I have observed that real challenge with any intervention is the goal to be achieved post implementation.  Invariably, focus/goal(s) over the years have been about increasing production at the expense of productivity. The production agenda which focuses on increasing the number of persons in production, the number of acres put under production among others have taken center stage. Everyone is interested in the number of acres one is producing than what yields are coming out of such productions. Permit me to use the examples of the National Service Scheme maize production activities for 2017. “NSS Cultivates 1,650 acres of Maize” is a headline you should be a familiar with. This love for production agenda is more importantly reflected in the way we run our National Best Farmer Award Scheme. To win the coveted prize, you may need X number of acres of cocoa, rice, maize etc. in addition to some number of livestock. It has become a competition which rewards the farmer with the largest farm land under cultivation. In the days ahead, the 2017 National Best Farmer will be honored. Pay particular attention to the basis of the award and you will agree with me we need to change the narrative from production to productivity.

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What is productivity in this regard? Ordinarily, productivity remains a comparative assessment of outcomes or outputs. It’s a measure of how one has efficiently and effectively used the available resource to derive a certain level of result. In the Agriculture sector, to be productive means to derive the maximum potential yield using available resources in the production of a crop/livestock over a period of time. It is a discussion of how best you have utilized land, inputs, technical advice etc. to get the yields per crop. In this equation, what is material is not the number of acres you may have put under production but what really came out of the production as yields. In the example of maize production in Ghana, potential yield per hectare for most varieties is an average of 5ton per ha. This implies that when you cultivate 10 acres of maize, you should be getting not less than 400bags (bagged 50kg). However, the average farmer gets less than 150 bags in most cases. It emphasizes the point that, we do not need to focus on increased production through increased number of acres under production but we must begin to focus on deriving productivity from the existing acres under production. Our current farmland size without any further development if maximized to achieve the potential productivity per crop can guarantee us food security, meet export demands among others. However, several factors account for this wide variations in Ghana’s production output.  Significant investments have been or are being made to reduce the impact of some of these challenges – investments into mechanization through the provision of subsidized tractors, irrigation facilities like one village one dam, provision of certified seeds and fertilizers under the Planting for Food and Jobs etc. These investments are well intended and necessary going forward. Nonetheless, the greatest game changer is ‘technical know-how’. Technical know-how on when to plant, agronomy practices, pest and insect management and control, weed control, harvesting and post-harvest management among others are in limited supply. If you get the opportunity to visit any farm being managed by a foreigner either as a farm manager, agronomist or consultant, you will appreciate the lack of expertise available locally. It is the reason why farmers will continue to record less than 2ton per hectare for maize whilst foreign owned farms record 7ton per hectare (with potential to achieve more) producing under rain-fed irrigation systems. I dare to say, as a nation we do not currently have the right technical know-how available to support our agriculture growth agenda. It is true we have agriculture colleges, universities etc. producing on a yearly basis agriculture sector support staff either as extension officers, agronomists amongst others. There is a lot more to be done to bring the products of these institutions to the levels expected. The curriculum, practical experience during school, internship opportunities etc. must be reviewed. Government, donor agencies must begin to focus on how to upgrade skills either through improvements or upgrades in the existing agriculture training facilities, secondments in specialized institutions outside Ghana, grants to support the placement of experts in farming communities or farms over specified periods to aid knowledge transfers etc. The availability of right technical expertise is paramount to helping move from production to productivity. Technical-know is the difference to maximizing the available resources we have – land, government/private sector interventions in the form of provision of certified seeds, fertilizers, irrigation facilities etc. Let’s deal with technical know-how and we do not have to invest into putting additional lands under production to be able to feed ourselves and become a net export of food. Without a critical attention to this, all investments in agriculture will only ensure production without productivity.
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By Richard Nunekpeku The writer is the Chief Farmer of Anyako Farms Limited [email protected]]]>