Business News of Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Source: B&FT

Farmers seek improvement in farmer extension ratio

The Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana (PFAG) and SEND Ghana, a policy, research and advocacy organisation, are jointly undertaking an advocacy programme aimed at drawing Government’s attention to the huge gap between the number of agric extension officers in the country and the number of farmers they have to serve.

Research suggests that currently there is only one Agricultural Extension Agent to about 1,300 farmers in the country. The situation is said to be even worse for some districts of the Brong Ahafo and Northern Regions, where one Extension Agent is deployed to offer services to over three thousand farmers.

“The few Extension Agents are also faced with challenges such as lack of incentives, especially for those working in very deprived communities and districts,” said Daniel Alotey of SEND Ghana at an inception meeting of the advocacy programme geared toward getting Government to commit more resources to training extension officers and deploying them to serve farmers.

“Poor access to extension services has led to poor agronomic practices, poor post-harvest management, inefficient use of inputs, over-use of pesticides, low adaptive capacity for use of research and technology and other information that could help increase productivity,” he said.

The two organisations have received an amount of US$80,000 from Trust Africa to undertake the project over a two-year period.

Activities to be undertaken under the project include media campaigns for mass public education on agricultural extension, national stakeholder workshops on agric extension and financing, engagement of policy-makers, among others.

“It is a campaign, so along the line we will organise meetings with the Parliamentary Select Committee on Food and Agriculture. We want the policy issues to be addressed at that level and also the ministry itself,” Daniel Alotey said.

The National President of the Peasant Farmers Association, Mohammed Adam Nashiru, said laudable Government projects like fertiliser and input subsidies will come to naught if agric extension agents, who serve as a link between the ministry and farmers, are not effectively deployed.

“As you are aware, throughout Ghana we have only four agricultural training colleges and then one veterinary college, which some of us describe as woefully inadequate looking at the farmer population and the size of this country.”

The number of farmers, he said, is an “elephant load” for the limited number of extension officers.

“You and I know very well that even if you are a robot, with this kind of load you cannot perform. On this note, the two organisations are calling on Government to consider as a matter of urgency the expansion of agricultural training colleges throughout the country -- at least one in every region,” he said.

Graduates from such colleges, he added, should be put under salary schemes like other professionals, since a lot of them are poorly remunerated and “frustrated”.

A recent survey conducted by PFAG indicates that only about 10% of the country’s largely uneducated farmers have access to extension services, with women farmers being the wors off.

The situation of women is such that while a lot of them are not comfortable with male extension officers following them to their farms, the rigorous nature of providing extension services also puts off women extension officers.

A thirty percent quota exists for women extension officers at agric training colleges, but it is said they are not filling it.