The case of citrus farmers in Assin area of the Central Region
"A soldier walks on his stomach", so the popular adage goes. Similarly, "a hungry man is an angry man". The computation of these two noble sayings goes to conclude that farming is the strength of almost every nation on the earth regardless of their status quo, of either being a developed, or, a developing nation. It is however harrowing to notice the lack of interest in farming by the Ghanaian youth with the covert disrespect for farmers by governments who have over the years paid only lip service to these farmers without helping them make any meaningful gains with the exception of a few who happen to produce cocoa especially.
The backbone of the African economy in general, and that of Ghana in particular, is agriculture. Agriculture accounts for about 30 per cent of the nation's GDP though a large chunk of it is from cocoa to the neglect of other crops especially the abundant citrus in the country which can equally fetch the nations millions of dollars if proper attention is accorded it.
The Ghanaian farmer will appreciate a subsidy on their farming equipment and the facilitation to the market for their produce than assisting in non-beneficial public holiday (National Farmers’ Day). In the absence of capital intensive or mechanised farming in Ghana, our old stumped subsistence farmers are able to produce almost enough to feed the nation. However, their aspiration to better their lives through farming always hits the rocks. In a year of abundant produce resulting from favourable weather conditions, the Ghanaian food stuff farmer runs a heavy financial loss let alone breaking even or making any profit. This is the sad predicament of farmers. We cannot find buyers who will even be ready to offer a purchasing price far below the production cost. The produce goes rotten without any form of compensation from any quarters to the farmers.
For citrus farmers in the Assin area of the Central Region overabundance is not a gift, but a burden. The Burkinabes, who were the only vibrant external market for their citrus have, for strange reasons, been stopped from coming to Ghana to purchase the oranges. Since then, the Ghanaian market is so saturated with oranges that nobody buys them any longer until lately (which is good news). The Ivorians and Malians have started coming to buy some of the oranges while local fruit juice manufacturing companies (who are struggling to operate at full capacity due to high cost of production) also purchase some. The sad news is farmers still gets about 30% of their citrus going waste because these marketing avenues are not enough to absorb all the oranges harvested every season. For nearly the GHC 9,000 annual expenditure on ones' farm paying the workers’ wages and buying insecticides and herbicides if in the end there is not a pesewa in return, the person is sure to go ballistic. This is why citrus farmers in particular and Ghanaian farmers in general are calling for pragmatic approach by various stakeholders in solving their myriad of problems, marketing being particular.
The citrus farmers have of recent years become victims of the policies of government which were meant for their good. A classic example is the Ghana School Feeding Programme (GSFP). The school feeding programme is an initiative of the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) Pillar III and part of government’s efforts to attain the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) One and Two, which seek to eliminate extreme hunger, poverty and achieve universal basic education. The programme commenced in 2006 with support from the Dutch Government to reduce poverty in deprived communities for Ghana. Though the main idea was to provide market for local farmers in the communities where the programme operates, this has not been the case for most commodity groups since most caterers buy their supplies from other parts of the country to prepare meals for the school children.
The issue is especially worrying in the Assin area where the caterers could have bought citrus from the farmers. These caterers either do not buy the oranges at all for the school children or rather buy from the market women, who do not necessarily buy from farmers in the Assin area, at a higher cost to the detriment for the local farmers. This defeats the very purpose of the GSFP.
A research conducted by Citrus Growers and Marketing Association of Ghana (CIGMAG – Assin Chapter) with funding from the Business Sector Advocacy Challenge (BUSAC) Fund indicated that most stakeholders in the GSFP in the Assin area approve of the provision of citrus compared to other fruits (such as banana and pineapple) for pupils because of its abundance in the area and its cheaper cost in relation to other fruits stated above. The only bottleneck as the captured by the research was funding. The programme handlers contend the current funding (Gh40p/head, tax inclusive) makes it virtually impossible to add citrus to the meal though I am tempted to disagree with them to some extent.
Let consider the current market price of GH¢5.00 for 100 oranges (which translates to Gh5p/orange). Can someone tell me it is impossible to include citrus in the meal of school children under the programme in the country? Absolutely not! I believe these farmers will be more than willing to cut down the price knowing very well that this is a viable market for their produce which goes to waste every season.
I strongly suggest that government takes a second look at the programme to remove all bottlenecks that militate against providing market for produce of local farmers especially citrus. Such bottlenecks include inadequate funding and lack of monitoring to ensure caterers buy from local farmer in the areas they operate. I believe the fortunes of farmer across the country would change if remedies are found for these bottlenecks.
As a long term approach I suggest whatever problem that culminated in the stopping of the Burkinabes from coming into Ghana to trade in oranges is re-examined. There could be an effective way of dealing with the problem other than a total ban where the farmers are made to suffer such financial losses without any sort of compensation from the government. We need all marketing avenues that would auger well for these farmers. It is sad to note that some farmers have either abandoned their farms or started chopping down their citrus crops to plant palm in their stead.
The citrus farmers need more factories built in the country to guarantee them an assurance that their efforts will not be in vain. The Ghanaian farmers need subsidies. They need compensation. They desire silos and other storage facilities built for the storage of their cereals, citrus and other agricultural produce. We need our scientists to come up with practical solutions to our food insecurity and to push mother Ghana forward.
Felix Appiah-Ankam / CIGMAG – Assin, Central region email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org