He said investments into irrigation would help transform the large irrigable lands into food baskets for the country and create more sustainable agricultural-based jobs.
According to him, the relevance of irrigation in Ghana cannot be downplayed, looking at the effects of climate change on the rainfall pattern.
Beruta-Benee made these assertions during an interview at Aveyime, 84 km east of the capital, on Friday, May 6, 2016, when he visited the irrigation project of China Geo Construction.
He said it was important for the country to invest in irrigation so that “the water that we are able to harness on our irrigation schemes or reservoirs on our irrigation schemes and rivers would be utilized for all-year-round farming”.
Ghana has a total area of 1.9 million hectares of irrigable land across the country with only 29,000 of this land area irrigated, as the state supported irrigated portions total about 10,000 hectares while privately owned ones account for 19,000 hectares.
The rains failed in 2015, bringing food production down while the country’s performance in its main cash crop, cocoa, also fell to 740,000 metric tons, a drop from a near 900,000 metric tons in the previous year.
One major difficulty most irrigation centers face in Ghana is the issue of high energy tariffs which has hit the whole country as a result of the full cost recovery adopted for utilities in the country.
Irrigation centers have been put on Special Load Tariff (SLT), making them pay high tariffs for power even when they are not working.
“Electricity tariff is a crucial issue in the sense that those schemes where we have to use electricity to lift the water, the tariff is so high per month. It is not a social tariff. Not subsidized by government. It is a commercial tariff. And it is so high that farmers are not able to afford,” Beruta-Benee told Xinhua.
China Geo engineering Company has been working with GIDA and the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) to convert some of the electric pumps into solar powered ones to reduce the cost of farming for the poor farmers.
The Operations Director commended the Chinese engineering firm for their gesture, adding that the department had been working under the system of Public Private Partnerships (PPP) with companies or individuals that are prepared to collaborate with the department in the operation, maintenance and management of its irrigation systems.
“So, if China Geo is able to make headway with this solar energy to power our pumps, I think it is a plus for us in the sense that it is going to reduce the cost of production and therefore we will support them to convert all our pumps on those schemes into solar powered pumps,” he pledged.
Willington Kwame Havor, Chairman of the Aveyime Cooperative Irrigation Rice Farmers Cooperative and Marketing Society, lamented that the cost of electricity for their pumps was a major drawback on their ability to earn descent living from farming.
In addition to that, he said a lot of the irrigable land that was allocated to them since 1960 had been encroached upon, leaving just about 63, hectares on which about 100 farmers eke out their living.
The Aveyime irrigation system was established in 1960 under Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, but the system collapsed in the 1990s and was revamped in 2010.
“Some farmers have half-acre plots which cannot sustain their families and after every harvest the margins that we receive cannot sustain any family, let alone cater for their children’s education,” Havor lamented.
More people in the community are unemployed, and the chairman said these people were willing to go into farming, but the conditions of the cooperative rice farmers did not encourage the youth to take up farming for their livelihood.
However, all is not lost, because China Geo says it is ready to partner the government in supporting farmers with solar panels at the irrigation centers where power is needed for their pumps as well as support with research and development of general agriculture in the country.
Sun Liang, Agriculture Researcher at the Chinese engineering firm, told the media that the company established the Harvest Farm at Aveyime as an integrated farm; with poultry and livestock; vegetables; aqua-culture including tilapia to use as a research center.
“We are doing research to make the farmers benefit. We will receive experts from China and they will stay inside our farm. We will give them accommodation, transportation, food and everything, while the experts stay here; they can use our facilities to research and teach the technology to the farmers,” Sun disclosed.
He added: “Then the Chinese vegetable we are doing here and the tilapia, this is integrated and every phase we are doing, when the experts come, they will use the conditions created with their technology and knowledge and then they can help the farmers.” Enditem.