Agriculture remains the mainstay of many economies in the world. This view is further strengthened with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, a major challenge is a limited access to the use of mechanization in the production process.
Rudimentary tools such as the hoe and cutlass are still used as the main tools for land clearing, ploughing and sowing. The hoe has been used in land preparation for centuries. It makes one to wonder, when will the hoe be in the museum and give way for full-scale mechanization of agriculture?
The Situation of Agriculture Mechanization in Ghana
The vision for Ghana’s Agriculture is to have modernised agriculture culminating in a structurally transformed economy and evident in food security, employment opportunities and reduced poverty. Therefore, one cannot talk of a modernized Agriculture without the use of modern implements for land preparation, clearing, ploughing among others.
Agriculture Mechanisation is far from being a reality in Ghana. The country’s tractor to farmer ratio stood at 1:1,500 as at 2016 according to a working paper entitled “Mapping current incentives and investment in Ghana’s Agriculture _Lessons for private climate finance” by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI).
The African Union in the latter part of 2019 launched a programme in Burkina Faso to symbolically banish the hoe to a museum and usher in the era of mechanization. Ghana’s Ministry of Women and Children affairs represented the president of Ghana to show Ghana’s commitment to such.
Over the years, though attempts have been made by Ghana’s Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) to establish Agriculture Mechanization Services Enterprise Centers (AMSECs), it has not adequately addressed the problem. Most of these AMSECs has collapsed and others too small to serve the demands.
Many farmers, especially female smallholder farmers are unable to access mechanization services for their farms from land preparation to harvest. Those that get it are not able to get them at the appropriate time. Consequently, the majority of smallholder farmers in the food crop sub-sector are still relying on the use of the hoe and cutlass for land preparation purposes.
Aside the limited number of implements available, the appropriateness of these equipment is in question. The implements provided are not location-specific. For example, whereas some places in northern Ghana may require small handheld equipment, big and heavy tractors are in use and thereby destroying the soil in the process. Power tillers and other handheld equipment could be deployed to provide the services in place these heavy.
Poor ploughing from untrained services providers is yet another challenge. Some operators of tractor and other mechanization equipment have little or no training and hence are not able to operate them properly. They end up destroying the farms as well as the equipment that they use.
In instances where these mechanization services are available, the prices are high hence making them inaccessible. Poor smallholder farmers are most affected as they are not able to access these vital services to improve on their farm work. This further weakens their productive capacities.
Many farmers do not also get these services on time. The Northern parts of Ghana have a short raining season period spanning June- October. Therefore, the windows of farming are very limited. They require most services in a timely manner. But most often they are not able to get these services in a timely manner.
Effect of low mechanization
The current situation of low mechanization poses serious challenges to the overall development of the Agriculture sector, especially the crops sub-sector. It has rendered the vision of a modernized agriculture to remain just a vision. The sector’s contribution to the GDP of the country could continue to decline if nothing is done to mechanize the sector.
A major effect of the inadequate mechanization services is the increased drudgery in farming. The amount of physical strength required for farming comes with all kinds of negative effect on farmers. Some of these negative effects could lead to other health implications like body pains, aches and even death.
Another is the unattractiveness of the sector to the youth. This should be a cause for concern as there is an increasing aged-farmer population in Ghana. This does not augur well for the future of farming. This is happening at a time many youths complain they have no work to do as they do not find farming attractive enough for them.
High production cost is yet another challenge of the low mechanisation. The cost of hiring manual labour is high compared to the use of mechanization services. The cost production could be reduced if farmers had access to mechanization services.
Low production is yet another challenge with respect to the inadequacy of mechanization services. Farmers’ capacity to produce more is reduced as most of them lack basic equipment to ramp up their production. This comes with other negative consequences such as low incomes, food insecurity, high food prices among others.
Recommendation and way forward
The first step towards improving mechanization is strengthening farmer groups. By this, farmer groups could be strengthened and empowered to acquire farm implements. In a group form, it will be easier for them to acquire such implements such as tractors, reapers, power tillers, threshers and milling machines among others and better scheme put in place for recovery.
Another is quality data for mechanization purpose. It is important to know the type of soil, the depth of the topsoil, the acreage, the farm size, the type of crop, the locations among others for targeting. This is important for any policy decisions in the purchase and allocation of tractors.
Assembly of tractors in the medium to long term could be a more sustainable way of addressing the shortfall in mechanization service delivery in the country. Assembly plants could be located at vantage points across the country for the purpose of meeting local demand.
Refresher and ongoing training could be organized for operators on a yearly basis to make more skilled in operating these implements. This will reduce the incidence of machine breakdown among others.
Finally, strong private sector participation is required. Government alone cannot do it. But with the right policy environment, it can ensure that farmers are well serviced. Private sector operators like Trotro Tractor (TT) Ltd could be engaged by the government to scale up their services to underserved communities. A strong public-private partnership would go a long way to ensure that no one is left behind in the process.
In conclusion, the hoe has long been used for farming purposes for centuries. But given the need for farming to move from subsistence to business, there is the need for strong mechanization. COVID-19 pandemic has shown the need for the country to work towards achieving food sufficiency, the hoe certainly is not the tool to lead in this process. Its place is the museum and should give way to the modernization of Agriculture through mechanization.
This article was written by Emmanuel Wullo Wullingdool, Policy Advocate and Consultant in Agriculture and Trade Services – 0249731699/0209029868 – [email protected]