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Published June 06, 2011, 05:29 AM

Transforming Ghana’s agriculture is focus of project

FARGO, N.D. — If America’s great ability can meet Ghana’s great need for agricultural development, that will be good thing for humanity — and maybe for business, too.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — If America’s great ability can meet Ghana’s great need for agricultural development, that will be good thing for humanity — and maybe for business, too.

“We want you to invest in Ghana agriculture, particularly in our rice production,” says Cecilia Erzuah, finance administration officer for the Ghana Ministry of Food and Agriculture, one of a half-dozen Ghana officials in a Red River Valley agricultural tour.

U.S. tour

The tour was coordinated by Praxis Strategy Group and AdFarm, sister companies with North Dakota roots, which is working with Ghana officials to grow an ag trade show in Ghana, as well as foster U.S. investments in agriculture to help the country feed itself. Praxis and AdFarm are helping to grow the National Food and Agriculture Show, or FAGRO, which is scheduled for Oct. 7 to 16 in Accra, Ghana.

Stops on the North Dakota tour included visits to a 5,000-acre farm, as well as the Case New Holland tractor and loader manufacturing plant in Fargo, N.D., as well as points of interest in Grand Forks.

Ghana is about the size of Oregon. Farms in the country average about 3 acres to 4 acres, but can be as many as 600 acres. Crops vary by region, with southern areas growing more citrus, mango and rice and other areas producing more yams, grains, casaba and plantains. The country is one of the largest producers of cocoa in the world and has been labeled a fast-growing economy in the next five years.

Road infrastructure starts off well in populated areas, but deteriorates quickly in rural areas. The country consumes corn as a starch source, and much of it is produced — even double-cropped in some areas. But production is impeded by truck routes that must pass over limited river bridges. Rice is a staple in the country, which imports $500 million in rice per year, despite the fact that the country has the land and people to produce it.

Richelle Matthews of Calgary, Alberta, with Praxis Strategy Group, an economic development company, based in Grand Forks, N.D., was one of the hosts. The company is a sister company with AdFarm, which specializes in agricultural marketing and communications. The Ghana project has been around for about three years.

Officially, agricultural land accounts for 57 percent of Ghana’s land mass. About 54 percent, or 1.8 million acres, is cultivated, and 46 percent, or 1.6 million, is idle. The Praxis officials, however, say as little as 14 percent of available land may be tilled. Erzuah says it isn’t known how many farms there are, nor how many of the acres in farms are considered “commercial,” or producing for more than a family or group of families on a subsistence level.

Agriculture in that country makes up about 42 percent of gross domestic product, even though the majority of it is subsistence farming.

The governments own some rice farms, Erzuah says. One such company is Prairie Volta Ltd., a rice company in Aveyimi in the Volta Region, a subsidiary of a company in Prairie, Texas, that had invested $12.4 million into equipment in 2009. The U.S. company owned 40 percent of the company, while the government and Ghana Commercial Bank each owned 30 percent. In 2009, the company controlled nearly 8,000 acres of irrigated land for rice.

Roger Reierson, chief executive officer of AdFarm, says the FAGRO farm show is in its third year and is one tool for developing agriculture and getting resources connected to those who will use them. AdFarm is working to encourage its clients to become part of the show, as well as partnering to launching media services to connect Ghana producers and processors with opportunities and partnerships.

“We have to grow 40 percent more food in coming decades to keep up with a growing population,” Reierson says. “Why not spend time in places like Ghana, teaching them, helping them to have a part in feeding the world. They have great land and a passion for farming as strong as anywhere I’ve seen.”

The FAGRO show, in 2010 an indoor show, had about 250 exhibitors last year, with booths ranging from equipment providers to financial and other services.

Educational process

Matthews, who works with works with Delore Zimmerman of Grand Forks, says one of the goals is to help the companies strengthen and develop value chains.

The supply-demand concept is different in Ghana than in the United States. In the U.S., farmers are taught to value commercial relationships in proportion with family and friend relationships. The Ghana farm worker often is looking at daily pay for work and not focusing on at a year’s salary.

She says the educational process is highly influenced by the common availability of cell phones and the ability to educate. Illiteracy is an obstacle for production agricultural development, but in a typical farm that employs 45 people, perhaps a couple of people are able to read.

Farmland is owned by local tribes or family groups. The government must deal with the chiefs to set up partnerships with outside companies.

There is a government Extension Service-style education system, but it often doesn’t include the media component that AdFarm and Praxis are trying to help develop, although the government agents often are featured in the television and radio programs.

Work left to do

“There are opportunities to farm, to partner and market products,” Matthews says. “They could grow more if they know where they can sell it.”

Ghana is an example of African agricultural opportunities, but also challenges.

John Agyekum Kufuor, Ghana president from 2001 to 2009, in a book published in May, says 60 percent of Ghana’s population depends directly on agriculture, but farmers are the “most food-insecure people in the country.” One million of the world’s billion hungry are in Ghana.

Kufuor says he aimed for more efficient and productive agriculture to become “the engine” of the economy, hoping it would usher in “industrialization, creating jobs and increasing export revenues.”

Currently Global Ambassador Against Hunger for the United Nations Food Program, Kufuor says the failure of agriculture in Ghana forced the country to import food from outside the African continent.

“Too often, this imported food itself was of dubious nutritional quality,” he says. “Europe and Asia dumped inferior chicken parts and poor-quality rice in Africa, forcing down the prices of our home-grown crops.”

Kufuor says his administration strove to provide farmers with affordable credit. The government sprayed cocoa farms with pesticides “free of charge and provided fertilizers where needed,” he says.