Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy in Ghana, with more than half of the labour force in the country earning income from agriculture. Despite this, Ghana is classified as a food-deficit country and more than one in five Ghanaian children suffer from chronic malnutrition. Part of the problem is that Ghana’s small-scale farmers under-invest in their farms and lack the support to adopt technologies that could increase productivity and nutrition.
From 2015 to 2016, Farm Radio International worked with the Grameen Foundation and Digital Green to increase food security for small-scale farmers Ghana through the AgroTech project, using a scalable, integrated suite of ICT-based services (including radio, mobile apps, and text and voice messaging) to cost-effectively drive behaviour change and help Ghanaian farmers increase their yields. Together with our local partner radio stations, we developed interactive radio programs to help 200,000 farming households in the Ashanti, Brong Ahafo, Central, Eastern and Volta regions learn about, evaluate, and put into practice new technologies to improve their results farming six target crops: maize, rice, soybean, cassava, yam, and cowpeas and improve nutrition in their communities.
Here are stories from just some of the farmers who benefited from this project.
Jenet Owufugg (left, age 32), Susuana Nyarleo (middle, age 56), and Saah Olivea (right, age 41) farm maize on one to two acre farms in a remote village near Techiman, Ghana. Leaders in their community, all three women have made significant improvements to their farms and livelihoods since listening to the AgroTech radio program.
Jenet, who has 20 years of farming experience, used to plant “all over the place,” but learned to plants in rows, which is yielding good results. “We haven’t done the harvesting yet,” she says, “but we are anticipating a much higher yield than in the previous years. It’s going to help us with our expenses, especially when it comes to paying school fees and hospital bills. This year’s yield will go a long way.”
Previously, Jenet would farm three to four acres and get about five bags of maize in total. She is now farming just one acre and is expecting to get more than five bags from a fraction of the land she used to farm. Similarly, Susuana, who has been farming for 25 years, now knows it is not the size of the farm that gives the yield, but rather the way she plants.
Saah, who has farmed maize for the past five years, says that she is now better able to manage her field, especially when it comes to applying fertilizer. “Before the program, I would farm a very big [piece of] land without it, but it was no use. But now I just feel very happy. All three of us do,” she added.
Peter Bongkumum studies education and farms a five-acre plot of land near Techiman. He says he now loves to spend his leisure time on his farm taking pictures of his plants.
“If you go into the gallery on my phone, it is full of images of my farm,” he proudly says.
Peter started applying the lessons he learned through the Agrotech program to his farm this year, changing many of his previous habits. He now practices row planting and also applied fertilizer, something he never did before, and has also reduced the number of seeds he puts in a hole, making his practices cheaper and more efficient.
“I am very happy and very proud of myself and my farm,” he adds. “I’m using the higher yield and income to pay my school fees, as I am doing an online learning course on education.”
Peter hopes to continue learning through radio programs in the future. He says he would like to see the programs expanded to yam and other crops, so he can diversify his knowledge and farm, while he himself plans to do a better job of networking and passing on what he learned to other farmers by word of mouth.
Okoku Masoue is a 43-year-old maize farmer with 10 years of experience living in a small community near Techiman, Ghana. He says he is now always happy whenever he goes to his one-acre farm.
“I have learned row planting, seed numbers and quality, and even applying fertilizer this year,” he says. “I used to think that the bigger the size of your farm, the higher the yield. But not I know that it is not about the size of the farm. Now I’m farming only one acre, but I can confidently say that the yield from that one acre will be higher than the previous years farming multiple acres.”
Higher yield means higher income for people like Mr. Masoue, and as a result he has also been advising farmers beside his own land using traditional methods to tune into the radio program and implement the techniques he has been practicing.
“I am always happy whenever I now go to the farm. Looking towards the future, I would like to expand my crops and expand my farm,” he adds.
Joseph Juina is an award-winning farmer with 15 years of experience. The 46-year-old is based near Techiman, Ghana, and he says he really learned that farming is about quality rather than quantity. He currently farms five acres of his 10-acre land, using lessons learned from the Agrotech radio program.
He says he was previously not planting in rows and placed 4-5 seeds in one hole, as opposed to the new one-one or two-two method he has been taught.
He plans to expand these new practices to the entire farm starting next season in March 2017.
“This time around I’m getting a better yield on half of the land, the five acres, than I did previously by farming the full 10 acres. Unbelievable,” he explains.
Mr. Juina, who won a best farmer award the previous year, says the higher yield directly improves his and his family’s life. For example, he can now easily pay his child’s school fees.
Adjoa Kuma, a farmer of maize from Beniankije near Kintampo, Ghana, has been farming her three-acre land for the past five years with limited success – until she started listening to the Agrotech radio program.
“I have not harvested yet, but it is clear I will get many more bags of maize and more money to put towards my family and health with this year’s yield,” Ms. Kuma says.
She explains that the teachings she has heard on the radio programs are better than the old methods she was using – initially, for example, she just planted maize but didn’t apply any fertilizer.
Now, however, she is planting her maize in rows and is applying the fertilizer, especially building on the lessons she learned about agro-chemicals.
“My maize is now growing very well and my corn is much bigger than in previous years. It’s much better than in the years before. I’m able to sell. I will use it in taking care of my children,” she adds.
Her advice to other farmers is to listen to the AgroTech radio program, promising that if they apply everything they will learn on the program, they will be able to improve their farming.
The AgroTech project was made possible through USAID’s New Alliance ICT Extension Challenge Fund, a component of the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition.
Launched in 2012 at the G-8 Summit, the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition is a partnership that contributes to the African Union’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP). It aims to address constraints that prevent smallholder farmers, especially women, from increasing their output. The New Alliance ICT Extension Challenge Fund focuses on contributing to this goal by supporting financially sustainable ICT-enabled extension services to help reach more farmers so they adopt new techniques that can increase their productivity.
In Ghana, the CAADP has set a goal of increasing yields of cassava, maize, rice, soybean, and yam by 50 percent and cowpea by 25 percent by 2015.