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Opinions of Friday, 24 January 2020

Columnist: Bajin D. Pobia

We can only sell what we can carry

Getting farm produce to market centres is a hindrance to food crops production among small-scale farmers in Ghana.

They can only sell what they can carry to market centres. Those who can’t carry the produce, will sell it cheaply to middlemen.

The synopsis

Mrs Salimatu Yinusa, 45, gets up at 0500 hours every market day. In fact, she is always awake long before dawn, tossing about restlessly, and waiting for the first cock crow in her village of Yala No1, a community in the Wa East Region of the Upper West Region.

After breakfast, she and her children sort the cassava and yam to be taken to the market that day.

About 20 tubers (roots) of yams and 20 of cassava are tightly arranged in a large basin or hollowed-out gourd, and tied together with strong rope. Mrs Yinusa then folds a piece of cloth, put it on her head to serve as a head pad or cushion and sends for Latifu, her husband.

Latifu comes out of his room, stretches, and with the help of the children lifts the basin or gourd weighing about 35 kilogrammes, to Salimatu’s head.
She then begins the five-kilometre trek to the banks of Kulung River, which cuts off her village from direct and easy access to outside world.

The road leading to the Kulung River is crowded with women, all going to market carrying their wares on their heads.

About an hour after setting out, Mrs. Yinusa and the others reach the Kulung River, set down their loads to catch their breath and hold lively discussions as they wait for canoes to take them across.

Duration of trip

The trip takes about 20 minutes and cost GH 3.00. Most of the canoes are old and rickety. Almost all of them leak, and the passengers take turns bailing out water with a small bowl and risking their lives on boats without life jackets.

When they get to the other side, the women unload their goods in readiness for the three kilometre walk to Ambalara River and wait for same type of canoes to cross for a fee of GH¢2.00.

Once again the traders with each other’s help-transfer their loads to their heads and begin the long trek. Even the strongest now move wearily as the day’s exertion begins to take its toll. After standing under the scorching sun for another hour, Mrs Yinusa finally catches a ride in the back of a lorry from Yaayuongbe to Katuo. The driver charges GH¢5.00 cedis per passenger.

There are no stalls at the Katuo market and the traders, especially those from the rural areas, must sell their wares under the burning tropical sun.
Finally, at about 1700 hours., Mrs Yinusa and the other traders from Yala No 1 set out back home. By the time they get back, it is 1900 hours depending on the time their wares are sold to traders from Wa. Mrs. Yinusa still has to prepare a meal for her children.

Mrs. Yinusa’s husband says the major problem faced by his village today is lack of transportation.

He will like to see a major highway built linking Wa- Bulenga - Yala No1 through to Tantale in the West Mamprusi to Walewale and Tamale. If this is done it will help us get access to markets.

Access Roads?

Farmers throughout Wa East District have long recognised the importance of good transport routes between rural areas and city markets,without which, farmers are unable to get their crops to market.

Successfully getting produce to market involves more than passable roads, however, farmers need affordable and available means of transport on these roads, as well as storage facilities to preserve their produce-out of the rain and fluctuating temperatures until such transport can be found.

From the small village farmer who must walk to market with her produce on her head, the issue of getting produce to market is crucial. The individual farmer’s livelihood depends, as does the country’s prosperity, on good and solid infrastructure.

“We can only sell what we can carry”:

The lack of transportation limits the quantities each farmer can deliver to the market since “we can only sell the quantities we can carry on our heads”, says Mrs Yinusa. When there are no good roads, no storage facilities and no means of transport to carry food crops from the farm gates to the marketing centres, then there is a serious problem. Without proper infrastructure, all efforts to get the small-scale farmer to increase output will come to zero.

The difficulties involved in reaching the market faced by Mrs. Yinusa at Yala No.1 and the other rural farmers in the districts are also felt on the national level.

For example, although large quantities of maize are harvested, several bags of maize are ruined by rain during the marketing period, September to December. Several millions bags of spoiled grains are a lot in country of 30 million population that is striving to produce enough food to feed itself and to export grain to earn vital foreign exchange.

Foreign exchange crunch:

In Ghana the governments has made monumental efforts to extend infrastructure and marketing facilities to peasant farmers since independence. But small scale farmers are still at a disadvantage compared to their counterparts in commercial farming.

The fact that they don’t own their own vehicles, that they are served by worse roads and are, on average, still farther away from marketing facilities, means that transport cost takes 15 per cent of small-scale farmers’ budgets, compared to 5 percent for large-scale farmers’.

Ghana like other countries, has a foreign exchange shortage, which hits small-scale farmers by putting a tight squeeze on the import-dependent transport sector. The situation jeopardised the marketing of last year’s harvest.

Marketing depots make a difference:

In Ghana, farmers are responsible for transporting their produce to depots. Better access to buying centres will reduce farmers transport expenses.

This will not only reduce the market price of farmers produce, but will increase their margin of profit, allowing them to modernise and expand.
Marketing depots and buying centres, however, are still not as common as many will like.

Majority of farmers must still get their own produce to markets. In order to do this, a farmer must have an inexpensive and readily available means of getting there, and also good roads on which to travel.

Many farming communities in the Wa East District are always completely cut off for about four months every year by the flooding rivers such as the Kulpawn, and numerous smaller rivers and streams located across the district.

Even though farmers here produce a lot of needed grains, there are few bridges and only poor feeder roads connecting them to the outside world.

Ghana’s national haulage effort:

The problem of getting all its produce safely to market has dogged Ghana for many a harvest season. The resultant crop wastage has forced the government for the past years to import maize to supplement the shortfall. The diversion of much-needed foreign exchange to these imports has robbed the country of funds that might have been used to buy spare parts, machinery and raw materials to run industries or to build roads.

Governments take action:

Many governments are taking stock of the effect, poor infrastructure is having on their economies. Many are working hard to improve agricultural infrastructure despite slim finances and bloated budget deficits.

In the wake of its monstrous maize loss last year, Ghana must rollout a national plan to construct holding depots closer to remote farming communities, develop ox-cart programme to assist farmers in getting their crops to these depots, and concentrate national road upkeep on routes connecting the depots to tarmac roads.

There should be development plan targets road improvement in rural areas specifically “to enable farmers to get their produce to urban markets smoothly.

The country was unequipped to get 2018 tremendous maize harvest to markets before the rains ruined some of the grain. This calls for an all-out effort to get every bag of maize moved from rural depots to proper storage centres by December 15.

Private transporters in Ghana should be primed to play a key role in this effort, but faced many operational problems, such as aging trucks and lack of spare parts.

This only compounded the farmers’ problems in getting their produce to market inexpensively before it was too late.

That September, there should be national dialogue and government must sign memorandum of understanding between government and private transport unions to ban the Ghanaian truckers from working outside the country until the maize haulage was completed.

The government should also ensure that it sends military trucks and tractors to haul millions of bags of maize lying uncollected in rural depots.
It is a recognised fact that small-scale farmers in Ghana are the backbone and the hope of any meaningful increase in food production.

The story of the development of the agricultural sector in Ghana cannot be complete without the acknowledgment of the crucial role of the communal and small-scale farmers.

Women also play vital roles in food production and government needs to design policies, programmes and projects that will address the challenges facing small-scale farmers to enable them transport their produce to market centres to improve livelihoods and contribute effectively to national incomes, and bring an end to hunger.

This writer believes that about 80 percent of rural poverty would have been reduced if feeder roads, link roads, and vibrant transport systems were put in place to support small-scale farmers to haul their farm produce to market centres.

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