Poor agronomic practices; bane of Ghana’s vegetable sector

vegeThe low standard of agricultural practices among many Ghanaian vegetable farmers, culminating in the weak showings of the local vegetable sector and, by extension, spurring the rise of vegetable import into the country, accounts for the sluggish growth of the sector, some stakeholders have said.

‘Knowledge and skills of vegetable production, both greenhouse and open field, are still relatively rudimentary in Ghana. This is demonstrated by the low yields per hector. For example tomato yields have remained steady for the last decade at 6t/ha, while Kenyan farmers produce 22 t/ha and neighboring Burkinabe farmers 9t/ha,’ according to a 2013 report from the Food and Agricultural Organization.

It further said that ‘partly this has to do with the inputs available, partly with the agronomic practices. Observations include the limited use of adequate irrigation of water quality; specialized fertilizers (K, Ca/Mg, micronutrients); proper plant protection (chemicals) and crop rotation.’

At a recent ‘Business Platform Meeting Agenda’ organized by GhanaVeg, on the theme “Competitiveness in Ghana’s Vegetable Sector,” Managing Director of Agri-Commercial Services Limited (ACSL), Mr. Kwabena Adu-Gyaqmfi, affirmed that lack of training of vegetable producers has been a major setback of the sector.

He observed that the training for vegetable farmers has not been adequate despite the growing demand for ‘quality’ vegetables.

He explained that this development has been the cause of the performance of the local vegetable sector, which has led to increase in local preference for imported vegetables and vegetable products.

Although vegetable consumption, among Ghanaians, is considered as relatively small, as compared to other countries in the Sub-region, available statistics indicates that it is expanding rapidly.

‘Apart from local vegetables the most important vegetables are tomatoes, pepper, both sweet and hot chillies, onions and okra. Especially, the market for tomatoes and peppers has boomed recently.

Tomato production in particular has increased significantly in the last five years, almost doubling from 176,000 tonnes in 2006 to 340,000 in 2011. In the overall production of crop and livestock products, vegetable represent a value around US$675 million out of a total of US$6.4 billion.

Other records also show that both fresh and dry onion imports from Togo and Burkina Faso are high amounting to more than US$120 million for Accra and Kumasi markets alone.

Despite the issue of lack of funds to address many economic challenges the country faces, millions of dollars continues to be ‘invested’ into other economies on annual basis through the importation of vegetables and vegetable products estimated at $15 million per annum.

For instance the import of onions shallots, fresh/chilled, alone, at the end of 2011, stood at $13,411,628.

In the case of tomato, Ghana produce about 510,000 metric tonnes of tomatoes yearly while importing up to 84,000 metric tonnes per year from neigbouring countries along with 27,000 metric tonnes of processed tomatoes from Europe, according to the Ghana national Tomato Producers Federation.

To help address this lack of technical know-how among vegetable farmers, against the efforts of organizations such as GhanaVeg, to enhance the sector, Mr. Adu-Gyaqmfi, suggested among other things the revision of the curriculum of Colleges of Agric and universities, where extension officers are trained, to include hands-on apprenticeship training.

He said this to a greater extent will help to address issues of post harvest losses and other poor agronomic practices which affect the growth of the sector.

He was also optimistic that the development will contribute significantly to reduce the rising vegetable import and thereby retaining such funds to boost the growth of the local economy.

Similarly, the Ashanti Regional Director of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA), Mr. Joseph Yang Faalong, said the huge potential that exists in the agriculture sector can be exploited to address the rising employment deficit in the country.

He identified that Ghana, unlike some of her neighbouring countries in the Sub-region, has a big potential in the vegetable export sector. He noted that the advantages that exist in the agric can be leveraged to change the fortunes of the country by promoting the vegetable sector.

He thus called for the youth to be involvement in agriculture and urged the National Service Secretariat to consider posting some of its Service Persons to the sector to enter into greenhouse vegetable farming.

Senior Business Advisor and Programme Leader of GhanaVeg, Mrs. Sheila Assibey-Yeboah, reiterated the commitment of GhanaVeg to contribute to enhance the local vegetable sector, through its programmes and activities, and partnership with MoFA and other stakeholders.

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