The added value of technology

Ghanaian farmers use mapping technology to improve market links

George T-M. Kwadzo

A project using GPS data connected Ghanaian farmers to new buyers and export markets, and improved the value chain for a range of commodities in the country.

Ghanaian agricultural businesses have many of the key requirements to compete in the global marketplace. The country has a stable government, a favourable growing climate, and good logistical connections – with two accessible seaports and a direct air service to nearby European and Middle Eastern markets. But to compete globally, exporting businesses need to have a precise understanding of their supply bases if they are to deliver the right amount of produce, on time, at the right volume and be able to trace their goods all the way back to their source.

Although agriculture accounts for 35% of the country’s gross domestic product, poorly integrated value chains limited Ghana’s export growth. The sector lacked competitiveness. There was minimal investment in technology and little modernisation of the supply processes. Fewer buyers on the market increased supplier competition, and tougher rules on food quality and safety put extra pressure on producers.

Most of Ghana’s agricultural produce is grown by a large number of smallholder farmers, which makes it difficult to trace the entire line of supply back to the original producer. These small-scale farmers are often far removed from the final marketplace and the consumers, and can lack knowledge of processes and people involved in the value chain. This makes exporters wary of dealing with smallholder farmers, seeing them as unreliable, their produce unsafe and of varying quality.

In an effort to promote growth by increasing productivity, the Trade and Investment Programme for a Competitive Export Economy (TIPCEE) focused on developing stronger links between producers and markets. Between 2004 and 2009, TIPCEE and its partners used GPS technology and GIS software to establish the locations of these smallholder farms, and gather data on their crops in order to integrate them into the supply chain to promote precision and traceability.

The project was set up to support farmers, export businesses, government departments and related agencies to document, manage and monitor distributed production systems. The results were used to develop an objective standard for traceability systems and guide production planning, harvesting, post-harvest treatment and export programmes. This would help farmers meet the global good agricultural practice (GlobalGAP) standards necessary to enter the lucrative European Union and West Africa regional supermarket supply chains.

TIPCEE trained field officers, mostly agricultural extension officers, to use GPS receivers in the course of their routine work. When they visited farms, they noted the exact coordinates of the crops, along with the size of the farms and other relevant details. The team recorded data from more than 3,500 farms growing crops such as pineapple, mango, cashew, citrus, and papaya. They then produced maps to display the concentration of farms, their sizes, and the total acreage under cultivation. The status of crops and their locations were also used for planning, monitoring and scouting purposes, as well as for informing industry and buyers about potential sources of supply.

The whole process initially required the setting up of computer hardware and software, and the training of extension officers and others to efficiently capture, update, analyse and present the data. Along with the farm location data, the traceability system needed information on crops, associated climate and soil data and pest and pathology details, all of which can be incorporated into a single database. Industry and agricultural extension services could also use this information to monitor the effects of cultivation on the availability of cropland. More importantly, they could monitor the volume of crop production under specific sets of inputs and farming methods, crop yields, and areas under cultivation. Agricultural associations could also use the data for managing memberships.

Integration

GPS coordinates act like an address for the farmers, and show buyers, exporters, and certification bodies exactly where farms and farmers associations are located – literally putting farmers on the world trade map. The GIS information reveals exactly how much land they are cultivating, and provides the farmers with information to calculate the correct amount of seeds to buy, the number of labourers they need to hire, per-acre or per-plot costs, and even the projected harvest. Such precise data promotes transparency and confidence in the farmers, and provides important information to bank and microfinance institutions when considering loan applications.

The project looked at who was already growing which crop, what university studies or other research existed on it, which companies could use the produce, and whether the market was expanding or changing. Some crops would face well-established competitors, while others could replace imports from neighbouring countries. The team looked for specific commodities that could fill market demand and areas where Ghanaian products would have a competitive advantage.

In the end, the project focused on six export commodities and five products for domestic and regional markets. Each value chain was different, and not all were at the same stage of development. This meant examining each link in a chain and identifying the best ways to strengthen it. All activities were geared towards improving the competitiveness of both smallholders and associated businesses and integrating them within value chains.

TIPCEE worked with farmers in selected subsectors, educating them about each link of their commodity’s value chain, starting with their choice of seed and ending with the domestic or foreign consumer. The project trained more than 100,000 farmers in cultivation techniques designed to enhance their particular crop and its marketability.

These improved practices spanned the entire production cycle, including seed selection, site preparation, nursery development, planting, integrated pest management and pesticide handling, fertiliser application, weed control, pruning (tree crops), harvesting, packaging, transportation, and short-term storage. After receiving training, lead farmers conducted field days, explaining their successful practices and showing demonstration plots to neighbouring farmers.

Standardisation

TIPCEE also worked with the Ghana Standards Board to develop norms and standards for three varieties of pineapple and mango, two varieties of papaya, two types of medicinal plant, cashew, orange, and okra. The project produced posters to illustrate the required standards, distributed them to farmers and posted them at warehouses and other common meeting points.

For example, TIPCEE worked with the Integrated Tamale Fruit Company, an organic mango exporter that works with more than 1,300 farmers from the Organic Mango Outgrowers Association, to establish and disseminate appropriate production practices. The company adopted GIS technology for monitoring and traceability with technical assistance from TIPCEE, and now manages its own platform and database.

To improve standards for all Ghanaian mangoes, the company worked with TIPCEE and the Ghana Standards Board to sponsor the printing of mango ‘norms and standards’ posters. The team also helped the company prepare training materials for fair trade organic production, as one of the buyers needed fruit with that certification.

By introducing GIS to the agricultural sector in Ghana and mapping farms, TIPCEE gave producers greater visibility to dealers in farm inputs and credit services and provided valuable information for infrastructure development. Government departments can use the data when considering road building, cell phone network development and irrigation system installation.

After five years, project evaluations show that the selected value chains are stronger, farmers are more knowledgeable about the markets, and the legal and regulatory environment for agriculture is more open to the needs of the private sector.

Through improving communications along the value chain, small-scale farmers saw that they could substantially increase yields to earn more money or even produce for export, and recognised the part they had to play in the development of the country’s agro-industry. Processors and exporters meanwhile were persuaded that they could trust farmers to meet their needs. Those producers and businesses that participated in the project are now confident that Ghanaian agricultural products can compete in international and regional markets.

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George T-M. Kwadzo is a lecturer in agricultural economics and agribusiness at the University of Ghana, Legon.

26 August 2011

Copyright © 2014, CTA. Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (ACP-EU)