Effectively engaging smallholder farmers in profitable production, public-private partnerships with a value chain approach has proven a promising track. The Ghana Grains Partnership (GGP) is an innovative example of a scalable model for improving agricultural productivity and enhancing rural livelihoods. By offering vital inputs and facilitating a market for the crops, the partnership increases local food production, food security and smallholders’ income levels.
Agriculture remains a backbone of Ghanaian society; yet, agricultural sustainability remains low, largely due to depleted soils and low productivity. Although the absolute number of poor people has fallen as a result of consistent economic growth, one third of Ghanaians still live below the poverty line. Furthermore, the prevalence of poverty in the arid north is twice as high as in the south, and the great majority of growers are smallholders producing at subsistence level.
According to Dr. James Mantent Kombiok, “Soil depletion is an epidemic” in Northern Ghana. Kombiok, a crop scientist with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), says poor soil fertility is the major problem: “Without fertilizer the soil will have no nutrients; without fertilizer no cereals can be produced here.”
Low agricultural productivity – and profitability – is the main challenge facing food production in large parts of Africa. Although output has increased in Ghana, this is mainly due to farmland expansion rather than improved productivity. Ghana’s Ministry for Food and Agriculture concedes that yields for most crops are typically 20–60% below levels achievable with the use of available technologies.
A major obstacle facing smallholders is the inadequate access to high-quality, yet affordable agricultural inputs – and application knowledge. Accessibility has to do with physical availability as well as financial means to procure the inputs.
In 2008, the global crop nutrition producer Yara and the local inputs provider Wienco initiated the GGP, a public-private partnership working to improve the efficiency of the maize value chain in Northern Ghana. Building on existing studies of commodity value chains, the partners explored the potential of a novel approach, catalyzing the establishment of a farmers’ association – Masara N’Arziki (‘Maize for Prosperity’ in Hausa). Entering 2013, more than 8,000 farmers had joined, having seen yield levels triple compared to the average.
Masara acts on behalf of its members, purchasing inputs and selling the crops, while the GGP provides seeds and fertilizers on affordable credit terms, as well as storage and transport facilities – helping to reduce losses and increase profits. Thus, the risk for the individual farmer is reduced, as is the threshold for investing in improved technologies. Luuc Smits, Masara General Manager explains that “All the partners involved, like the suppliers and the farmers themselves, are in this model equally. Everybody understands that the success of one is success for everyone.”
Through the partnership, Yara offers its agronomic advice by inviting smallholders to Crop Clinics, sharing its crop-specific knowledge. Experience with local conditions have been gained from field trials, and are shared through practical demonstrations and discussions. One on the smallholders having taken advantage of program, Mohammadu Nindow of Duyin village explains that inputs and advice have raised yields and increased income – and improved livelihood. He is also encouraged by environmental impacts: “We can see the root go down and get strong. Even with heavy rain it will not cause erosion, but tie the ground. It supports the environment of the land.”
Based on studies of Ghanaian maize value chains, it has been estimated that value may be added through efficiency gains, from improved seeds and fertilizer use and reduced losses. Consequently, warehouses constitute a main component of the GGP, reducing product losses and increasing incomes, also because farmers do not need to sell when market prices are at their lowest.
“The value chain is the key,” says Yara country manager Mehdi Saint-André. As is the intrinsic business approach: “The GGP is a viable business model, able to tackle the smallholders’ challenges.” Among the challenges facing the model, are – in addition to those created by nature – the lack of coordination between agricultural development projects in the region, lacking group cohesion, and the low level of literacy amongst smallholders. The latter is addressed through the development of education in practical and innovative ways, bringing knowledge to the farmgate; the first are met though partnerships and coordination.
“The Ghana Grains Partnership is a wonderful model for agricultural development,” states Emmanuel Asante Krobea. The Director of Crop Services with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture hails the GGP as the way to address the critical challenge of productivity, wanting the model to be scaled up.
Through the Grow Africa partnership platform, building on the experiences with the GGP, Yara has committed to explore the opportunities for a rice value chain in Ghana and in neighboring Burkina Faso.