Economic hardships force farmers to shift from staple foods to tree crops

Edward Kareweh,
Economics Food Security

The high cost of general agriculture production is fuelling a gradual shift from the cultivation of staple foods to tree crops among smallholder farmers, the General Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU) has said.

The Union said most of its members were gradually moving away from the cultivation of maize, rice, beans, and other staples to cashew production.

The GAWU is made up of about 60,000 members, comprising smallholder farmers, and formal and informal agricultural workers along the value chain.

In an interview with the Ghana News Agency, Mr Edward Kareweh, the General Secretary of GAWU, said many farmers had also reduced the sizes of their farms due to the rising cost of farm inputs such as fertilisers, pesticides and general farm services.

He cautioned that the shift to tree crops could threaten the country’s food security systems in the near future if urgent action were not taken to encourage farmers to expand their cultivation of staple foods to meet demand.

“In 2022, the cost of fertiliser alone quadrupled compared to prices in 2021. The cost of tractor, combine services, pesticides, land preparation, and other essential inputs also went up. So, farmers are struggling and for that matter they are exploring alternative ways to survive.” Mr Kareweh said.

“In the Bono Region, there is a growing change to tree crops like cashew. Lands that were used for maize production are now being used for cashew production…if agriculture production suffers and the staple areas are okay, the effect on food security and food prices would be minimal,” he added.

Ahead of the 2022 crop season, the Government reduced the subsidy on chemical fertilisers from 38 per cent (in 2021) to 15 per cent, which meant that farmers had to pay more for the commodity.

A bag of fertiliser which was selling at an average GHS250 in 2021 shot up to about GHS400 by the middle of 2022.
Mr Kareweh described last year’s season as “a difficult year” for farmers, saying that many of them could not apply fertilisers to their farms on time, leading to low yields.

He said the heavy rains in the Bono regions as well as the spillage of the Bagre Dam also flooded large swathes of farmland, which reduced the income of farmers in the affected areas.

The agriculture sector, which grew at 8.4 per cent in 2021, was projected to grow at 0.7 per cent by the end of 2022.
In the 2023 Budget Statement and Economic Policy, the Government outlined a number of policies for the agriculture sector, including an investment of GHS50m to augment agriculture value chain; promotion of local production and use of organic fertiliser, and the extension of $400m agricultural insurance to farmers.

Mr Kareweh said GAWU was not confident that agriculture sector would perform better this year because the structural challenges affecting the sector, including high cost of farm inputs had not been addressed.

He urged the Government to conduct a comprehensive audit of the sector as well as policies that had been implemented over the years to diagnose the magnitude of the challenges in the sector.

“We also need to engage the real stakeholders in the sector to understand the problem and find ways to resolve them.” Mr Kareweh said.

The average share of the agriculture sector to Ghana’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased from 19.1 per cent in the first half of 2020 to 21.3 per cent for the same period in 2021.

The sector employs about 60 per cent of the population and accounts for 65 per cent of the country’s land area.

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