Business News of Saturday, 9 March 2013

Source: B&FT

Grass-cutter farmers call for support

Sources of Ghana’s animal protein are mainly fish, livestock and bush-meat. Of the estimated national meat requirement of about 200,000 metric tonnes per year, the bulk is imported.

This highlights the need to develop other sources of acceptable meat to supplement traditional livestock.

It is an undeniable fact that grass-cutter meat is a delicacy in Ghana, since it has high protein content and low cholesterol level as compared to beef and goat meat. Therefore, it would not be out of place if steps are taken to develop grass-cutter farming to make it another source of animal protein as well as a viable venture to help eradicate extreme poverty in the country.

Notwithstanding the potentials of grass-cutter rearing, very little has been done over the years to domesticate grass-cutter as the animal face extinction in the wild, said Kwasi Afena, Chairman of the Brong Ahafo Grasscutter Farmers Association (BAGFA) – further saying lack of financial support is the major hindrance to domestication of grass-cutter in the country.

“Elsewhere, in Benin -- the leading producer of grass-cutter in the world -- Government assists prospective grass-cutter farmers with a grant equivalent to GH¢50,000 (per head) with 2% interest rate. This among other things has immensely energised the sector; one farmer can house about 7,000 animals -- but here in Ghana, averagely farmers can only keep 150 grass-cutters,” he told the B&FT.

Sources say commercialisation of domestic grass-cutter in Benin is an initiative of one Dr. Mensah, a Ghanaian. According to reports, he started the project here in Ghana but the needed support was not forthcoming. This compelled him to move to Benin, where his initiative was warmly received and supported; thus grass-cutter rearing is a thriving business in that country.

He said the cost of housing and feeding domestic grass-cutters is above the reach of an average farmer in Ghana. “We don’t have the financial capacity to feed our animals with pellets (approved exotic feed), so currently we mostly rely on grass from the wild -- which is apparently dying out as a result of rampant bushfires,” he lamented.

The grass-cutter farmer also mentioned lack of veterinary services as another impediment for the sector. He said unlike Benin, where there is a sub-sector under the Ministry of Agriculture with specialised veterinary officers in charge of grass-cutter farming, Ghanaian farmers have to contend with the general knowledge and lateral thinking of veterinary officers.

These and many challenges, he said, are defeating their vision to produce grass-cutter on a large-scale for domestic use and export. Mr. Afena also revealed that the farmers also have a vision to process grass-cutter meat in tin-cans for long-span preservation, and therefore called on government to pay attention to the sector as a vehicle that could help vitalise and diversify the country’s economy.

Checks have revealed that grass-cutter farming in the Brong Ahafo Region is more or less a preserve of the aged. Due to the sector’s unattractiveness, the few youth who were engaged in it have left to join more lucrative activities. Currently, a grass-cutter sells at around GH¢80.00 in the Region.