Waking up at cockcrow every dawn for him is not a choice, but a matter of survival. Even in the 21st century, he is still a bosom friend of the hoe and cutlass by circumstances.
Though, a very hard working man, he is highly challenged with the difficulty of producing to meet family consumption needs through the hoe and cutlass way.
Producing enough for the market to meet family income needs is a nightmare that has taken the best part of his sleep since he assumed responsibility of providing for his family.
That is the story of Oscar Dong, a 45-year-old smallholder farmer from Guo, a farming community in the Wa West District of the Upper West Region.
With a family size of six, Oscar Dong will have to manage with the 220 tubers of yam, six bags of maize, one bag of beans and one and a half bags of millet he got from his about six acres of farm land.
“This is already not adequate to sustain my family till the next harvesting season, let alone talking of sending some to the market to sell for income”, he lamented.
Oscar Dong’s inability to produce enough to meet his family consumption and income needs through the hoe and cutlass way is not really his biggest headache, but the significant quantities wasted to a monster known as Post Harvest Losses (PHLs).
He often observed with worry as he loses his grains to inappropriate means of harvesting, threshing, winnowing and storage as well as poor market prices.
Lack of an appropriate storage facility compelled him to compete with rodents for his little tubers of yam. These rodents according to him often have the better part of his yam.
“Sometimes, when I store my grains, they get rotten in the sacks”, he said and attributed it to the too much heat in his bed room where he stored the grains in sacks.
“Each year this happen to me, my fate and that of my family is always left in the cruel hands of hunger”, he further lamented.
There are thousands of smallholder farmers that are in similar situations or are even in worse situations in the Wa West District and the Upper West Region by extension.
A World Food Programme (WFP) 2012 Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis Report indicates that 1.4 per cent of the total population of the Upper West Region is severely food insecure and 22.3 per cent are moderately food insecure while 76.3 percent are said to be food secured.
Studies by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), suggests that Ghana loses over US$400 million annually to PHLs. The impact is mainly in cereals (maize, rice), roots and tubers (cassava, yam) and other crops.
According to the CSIR, the situation is widespread across Ghana.
Again, Ghana loses about 318,514 tonnes of maize annually to post-harvest losses according to a 2016 study by Dr Bruno Tran, an expert in PHLs management with the Africa PHLs Information System (APHLIS).
This figure represents 18 per cent of the country’s annual maize production and Northern Region is the largest contributor with 20,411 tonnes annually followed by Upper East Region and Volta Region which also contributes 13,000 tonnes and 8,983 tonnes respectively.
Upper West, Brong Ahafo and Central Regions are the least contributors with 778 tonnes, 734 tonnes and 636 tonnes respectively. According to Dr Tran most of the maize is lost because the farmers fail to dry it thoroughly before storage.
The study further revealed that major crops in the region that suffer post-harvest losses include; maize, sorghum, rice, groundnuts, cowpea, vegetables (tomato, okra and green leaves) and yam.
According to the survey “These produce are therefore sold immediately after harvest and in the circumstance farmers earned little”.
Another study on PHLs of maize along the chain in the Sissala East and Sissala West Districts in 2015 by a student of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) revealed that more than 50 percent of maize produced was lost due to poor post-harvest handling.
Again, another research conducted in 2013 by the Urban Association Limited (TUAL) on PHLs of selected food crops in 11 African countries including; Ghana…..revealed that almost half of food crops produced in the country do not make it to the consumer.
According to the report, as much as 60 per cent of yam produced in Ghana, for instance, did not make it to the final consumer, revealing that the level of losses occurring in maize production, ranged between 5-70 percent.
Between 11-27 per cent and 5-15 per cent of rice and millet/sorghum cultivated never made it to the consumer, says Mr. Emmanuel Sasu Yeboah, Upper West Regional Director of Agriculture.
He hinted that sucking buds were the major cause of groundnuts PHLs.
Mr. Yeboah mentioned harvesting, shelling, cleaning, sorting and grading, packaging, storage and transportation as critical areas that affect post-harvest quality or losses of farm produce.
He said farmers in the region have still not achieved their maximum potential in spite of several interventions and attributed it to high PHLs.
Mr Yeboah recommended that research should provide appropriate scientific know-how on post-harvest handling and preservation methods of food crops to farmers especially during harvesting, transportation and storage to reduce mechanical injury.
Policy makers and entrepreneurs should invest in roads, storage and processing infrastructure, he said.
Presenting a paper titled “Conceptualising the Economic, Social and Environmental Costs of PHLs of Agricultural Commodities in Africa” at the Netherlands Development Organisation SNV/Regional Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System (ReSAKSS) in West Africa/University for Development Studies (UDS) Symposium on Incidence of PHLs in Northern Ghana, Professor Saa Dittoh, Department of Climate Change and Food Security, UDS, Nyankpala Campus – Tamale, said PHLs described loss of agricultural commodities including crops, fish and animal products such as meat, milk and eggs between harvests and consumption.
He explained that PHLs was usually divided into food loss and food waste with food loss occurring mainly as a result of lack of adequate infrastructure such as inadequate storage and transportation among others and/or lack of careful handling at all points along the value chain.
Food waste, he said refers to loss of edible food due to human action or lack of action such as waste of cooked foods at funerals and wedding ceremonies, over-consumption of food (resulting in overweight and obesity) among others.
Prof. Dittoh noted that PHL research and discussions have focused on crops, usually cereals and grain legumes, but that there were considerable losses in almost all agricultural commodities in Africa and elsewhere.
Also post-harvest losses in fruits and vegetables are about 50 percent and about 40 percent in roots and tubers as well as 20 percent losses in cereals, he said.
Prof Dittoh noted that PHLs have been a problem in Ghanaian and African agricultural systems over a long period of time, adding that it often occurred after valuable resources have been expended in producing the commodities.
“It is surprising there has not been much research emphasis or interventions to reduce and mitigate PHLs”, he said.
It is reported that 95 percent of the research investments world-wide in the past 30 years have focused on increasing productivity and only five percent directed towards reducing losses (Kader, 2005; Kader and Roller, 2004; WFLO, 2010).
Food losses do not only reduce food available for human consumption, but also causes negative externalities (environmental degradation).
“Both quantitative and qualitative PHLs are too costly to be ignored”, he said and added that food losses contributed to high food prices by removing part of the food supply from the market; and such is PHLs in market value terms.
A further complication was that if farmers were very careful to avoid physical and qualitative PHLs at production and transportation sections of the value chain only to face a glut, it resulted in PHLs, he said.
That suggested that effective reduction of PHLs was dependent on an effective and sustainable value chain, Prof. Dittoh pointed out and indicated that improved access to remunerative markets was key to significant and successful reduction of PHLs.
Mr. Emmanuel Wullo Wullingdool, Policy Officer, Ghana Trade and Livelihood Coalition (GTLC) said PHLs has an effect on farmers with the negative effect overriding the positive effect.
On what needs to be done to reduce or eliminate PHL impact on Smallholder farmers, Mr. Wullingdool suggested training to enhance the skills of the farmers on post-harvest handling to reduce losses occurring due to poor handling.
He also suggested increase in extension advice to farmers through the training of more Agricultural Extension Agents (AEAs) while emphasising on access and availability of credit at cheaper interest rates to farmers to enable them purchase appropriate PHL technologies for storage.
Again, appropriate means of transport coupled with motorable roads from the farm gate to storage facilities and to market centres must be available and the provision of improved storage facilities such as ware houses, Silos, Purdue Improved Crop Storage (PIC) sacks and sun/solar drying methods would help smallholder farmers to reduce PHLs.
Furthermore, Mr. Wullingdool suggested the processing of excess farm produce to allow for longer storage, ready market for farmers to sell their produce to prevent the situation where farmers inappropriately store produce due to lack of ready market prices only for the produce to get spoilt.
While calling on central government to increase its budgetary allocation to both Regional and District Departments of Agriculture on time to enable them work to meet the interest of the farmers, Mr. Wullingdool also suggested to Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) to incorporate PHL management into their various Medium Term Development Plans (MTDPs).
MMDAs, he said also need to set aside a percentage of their Internally Generated Fund (IGF) to tackle issues of PHLs in their respective districts.
Mr. Wullingdool also proposed a multi-agency approach to addressing the issue of PHLs, stressing that the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) alone could not address PHLs
The GTLC Policy Officer said it was based on the negative implications of PHLs on smallholder farmers that the Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV) initiated the Voice for Change (V4C) project.
The project, he said seeks to generate evidence, build capacity of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to engage in evidence base advocacy to draw the attention of policy makers to the issue of PHLs, sustainable nutrition for all, Water and Sanitation Hygiene (WASH) and the use of clean energy to reduce household pollution.
Until the monster known as PHLs is ruthlessly fought and completely eradicated, it will continue to put the fate of thousands of smallholder farmers in the hands of the cruel hands of hunger.
By Prosper K. Kuorsoh
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