A mango growers association in Ghana is using ICTs to address the challenges affecting their livelihoods.
The Volta Mango Growers Association (VOMAGA) is a legally registered dynamic cooperative of smallholder mango producers in Fodzoku, a rural community in the Volta region of Ghana. Fodzoku is a farming and fishing resettlement community along the banks of Lake Volta with a population of about 6,000. The community has a vast plot of arable land suitable for cultivating mangoes and vegetables. Land ownership in the community and plot allocation among family farmers has always been a challenge. Climate change has affected the soil and groundwater retention, and what’s more, these family farmers have to meet certification requirements for the export of their mango produce to international markets.
Members of the VOMAGA cooperative have started to use ICT tools to address some of these constraints and enhance their living conditions. These tools include GPS and GIS technology and soil-testing kits, and there are plans to use agro-meteorological services in the future and smart ICT-based technologies to package this weather, water and crop-related data to better inform the cooperative’s decision making.
Use of ICTs by mango farmers
Volta is the most easterly region of Ghana and shares a border with Togo on its eastern side and with the Volta River and Lake Volta on the western side. It has lush vegetation and is relatively mountainous. Agriculture plays a vital role in the region’s socio-economic development. The region’s economy is mainly rural and agricultural, employing about 74% of the economically active population.
The horticultural sector in Ghana has emerged as a vital sector for the economy following the diversification of the country’s export base. Mango, pineapple, papaya, fresh chillies and bananas are some of the products that are mainly exported to European markets. The VOMAGA cooperative is trying to actively participate in this rewarding industry, but it faces the challenge of meeting mango export certification requirements. In addition, farmers in the cooperative are struggling against poor production planning and are having difficulty establishing the spatial locations and concentration of their respective farms required for traceability and documentation.
It is crucial that members of VOMAGA become organic or GlobalG.A.P. certified in order to enhance their competitiveness on the local and international markets. Certification, however, requires that their fields and orchards are clearly identifiable. In Africa this is usually done via GPS references. So they have to have their farms mapped to obtain the required geo-references.
Even though farmers in the VOMAGA cooperative have been rather slow to adopt ICTs, they have now been widely accepted and their use is spreading. Indigenous technologies and local innovations do continue to play a vital role in the operation of their farms, however. One could say that modern technology is acting as a propeller for productivity as it addresses some of the specific constraints mentioned earlier. The use of GPS and GIS technology are useful tools that enable farmers in the cooperative to meet export certification requirements more easily. With support from the Market-Oriented Agriculture Programme, which is funded by the German development cooperation agency GIZ, these farmers have been trained to use specific devises, such as the Trimble Juno 3B Handheld GPS device and the TerraSync mobile application (see box) for farm GPS mapping (collection of geo-reference farm data). Syecomp Business Services Ltd, a market leader in the use of GPS applications in Ghana, was contracted to provide on-field technical training and assessment.
Member farmers of VOMAGA were given an intensive one-day training course in the use of the Trimble Juno 3B device and its software. The training involved a presentation on the theory of GPS mapping of farms, an explanation of the general features of the Trimble Juno 3B device, an overview of the TerraSync software interface and a demonstration of what the device can do for farmers. The training was immediately followed by on-field practice. Farmers were taken to mango farms where they were shown how to conduct field boundary mapping. Relevant farm features, such as farmhouses, farm equipment and streams were captured with the integrated digital camera. Farm information, such as farm size, GPS coordinates, shapes, elevation and other features were presented via the TerraSync application in real-time on the field.
All this data needed further processing, however, so it was submitted to Syecomp Business Services Ltd for that purpose. Syecomp produced maps, indicative geo-references of farms and other relevant outputs for farm documentation for each farmer in the VOMAGA cooperative.
These farmers felt empowered using such technologies themselves to solve some of their challenges.
Impact of these ICTs
Ghana’s main destination market for fresh produce exports is the European market. There is exciting interest from other growing markets in the Middle East and the Eastern Asia. Most buyers from these markets require GlobalG.A.P. certification from producers. The use of GPS and GIS technology is a step towards helping VOMAGA meet these export requirements for their produce. Unique codes are assigned to each farm during GPS mapping, and farmers also collect additional information, such as crop-specific production data, agronomic practices, and plot and farm history.
GPS mapping of farms provides exact farm measurements, which prevents farmers from over- or underestimating the size of their farm plots used to cultivate mango in the community. As a result, farmers can now plan their farm production needs much more effectively and generate yield forecasts for their farms and avoid paying too much for farm labour and agri-input services. This has had a positive impact on the productivity and revenue of farmers in VOMAGA.
The adoption of GPS mapping technology has also helped the cooperative determine the gross margin of their farm produce so it can conduct comparative assessments. It has also resulted in a host of other benefits, such as transparency regarding crop volumes under production and easier logistic planning between mango farmers and buyers.
Climate change, water scarcity and food security are beginning to have negative impact on the mango farms belonging to the VOMAGA cooperative. Even in seasons of abundant rainfall, the farmers still lack the appropriate scientific knowledge on weather, soil, water and crop-related conditions to successfully deal with climate variation. The cooperative has been making plans to use satellite and remote sensing data to assist member farmers in their decision making. Specifically, it concerns an agro-meteorological information service powered by the web and through text messaging in close partnership with Syecomp Business Services Ltd.
The implementation of this plan will be based on farm GPS data collected from each individual farm and plot. The idea is to use the tool to monitor plot-specific information from satellite measurements. So rather than provide very general data on plant growth, water availability in soil and the nature of the soil, for example, the tool will provide plant, water, and weather-specific information.
In the future, several steps need to be taken to further improve the situation of family farmers such as those in the VOMAGA cooperative. First, national policies need to be geared towards supporting family farmers and smallholder farmers in their attempt to adopt productive ICT-based technologies. Second, there should be an overall assessment of ICT deployment in the agricultural sectors of specific countries so comparative assessments can be conducted. And finally, we need targeted investment support from private companies for the development of innovative tools to address specific constraints in rural agricultural sectors, such as the Fodzoku community in Ghana.
Trimble Juno 3B is an economical rugged IP54 handheld computer that includes GPS and a digital camera. It uses the Windows professional operating system and has a 3.5” screen. It can store up to 2GB of data and has a memory card slot as well. The GPS has an accuracy of two to five metres. Trimble Juno is especially useful for taking field records and conducting field boundary mapping activities. The TerraSync software is designed for collecting and updating geographical data on a field computer. Once installed on the Trimble Juno 3B handheld device, it can help boost farm productivity.
The TerraSync software is arranged in five sections:
- a Map section;
- a Data section;
- a Navigation section;
- a Status section; and
- a Setup section.