Africa is the second largest continent in the world and has about 70 percent of its population engaged in agriculture. In spite of this, when it comes to the issue of food insecurity in the world, Africa is pin pointed as one of the graveyards of starvation.
Food insecurity has been part of the African continent, due to the larger number of farmers operating as small holder farmers.
The poverty level in Africa, which has resulted in many small scale farm holdings, has made it impossible for the continent to come out from food insecurity, since the farm products of these farmers are insufficient for their families, much more for marketing purposes.
The eradication of hunger from Africa has been one of the priorities of many African leaders, hence compelling them to show enthusiasm in the signing of the millennium development goal (MDG), which includes the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger from the continent by the year 2015.
Time is running out, with about four years to hit the targeted year for the MDG goals, with almost every country in Africa still importing food, and the less privileged ones still depend on food aid from the developed nations.
It is, therefore, a good thing that the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) has stepped in to help improve the situation of farmers in Africa, hence helping reach the first goal of the MDG.
AGRA is an African based organisation established in 2006, it is focused in helping small scale farmers in Africa, by enhancing their access to locally relevant techniques, knowledge and affordable finance.
Its priority countries include Mali, Mozambique, Tanzania and Ghana. In Ghana agriculture forms the central part of the economy; it has created $6 billion which is about 36% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and its employing about 56% of the workforce.
According to AGRA's research, three million small scale farmers, with average farm sizes between 0.5-2 hectares currently produce 95% of the country's food crops. Despite the level of growth of agriculture in Ghana, it still faces food security problems and always has to seek for help through food importation.
The production of crops by these small scale farmers has still not reached the targeted point of government's goal towards food security.
AGRA in the Northern Region
AGRA, with its agenda to help small scale farmers, focuses it attention on areas of high potential of agriculture yield, also known as the 'breadbasket' areas. In Ghana, AGRA focused its attention mostly in the Northern Region, which has larger scale of lands, and more small scale farmers, with majority of them being women.
According to AGRA, the region is one of the four potential breadbaskets, with about 7 million hectares of potential agricultural good soil, currently about 10 percent is under cultivation, primarily by approximately 350000 small scales.
"Despite relatively good availability of water through local rivers, only 600 hectares of the land is currently irrigated. Agricultural production techniques are still basic, with less than 50 percent of farmers using fertilizer, and only 5-10 percent use improved seeds.
As a result, yield are low at 2.6 tons/hectares for rice and 1.7 tons/hectares for maize and average farm household income is about $700-800 per year (with six members per household). Hence, the Northern Region has ample potential to increase cultivated land area, boost yields through irrigation and improve farming techniques, thereby increase small scale farmers' income".
AGRA's initiative for small scale farmers
AGRA is at the moment supporting the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) in the development of a 'breadbasket' approach to concentrate and combine interventions in a specific region that has the potential to produce a large share of the country's staple food requirement.
It is the objective of AGRA that the breadbasket project will increase food security in Ghana, improve small scale farmer's income and increase agriculture's contribution to the country's GDP.
With these objectives, AGRA has planned on engaging with the private sector as local change agent, mainly focused on post harvest aggregation, which the government, donors, input companies and banks can work with, and who in turn will combine and extend support to lead farmer groups and individual small scale farmers on the production side.
AGRA will as well continue to support high value added crops, by extending the production of vegetables and fruits, especially on irrigated lands, and linking farmers to potential farmers. Moreover, it will as well prioritize government efforts on five key transversal topics in terms of inputs, credit, roads, extension and price transparency.
Benefit derived from AGRA's project
So far, AGRA has since 2006 after its establishment, been able to show a kind of commitment to fight against food insecurity in Ghana. Its work in the Northern Region brought about the creation of the Northern region bread basket study.
It signed an agreement with DANIDA for an agriculture value chain facility totaling $17.9million, with a significant portion of which will flow to the breadbasket region.
AGRA also invested $4.6million in Ghana in 2010, which is about half of that in the breadbasket area, and plans to invest another $8.2million in 2011, of which over 50% will be Ghana's breadbasket.
AGRA's agro dealers supported project implemented by IFDC and has so far trained 171 agro dealers. The agro dealers sold 2,187 MT seeds and 2,094 MT of fertilizer in 2010.
Moreover, the AGRA and Savanna Agricultural Research Institute (SARI) supported soil health project conducted on farm demonstrations in 13 districts of the Northern region.
In conclusion, with the initiative and achievement of AGRA after about 6 years of establishment, one can emphatically say that the organization is prepared to go to higher height, if government fully commits itself in supporting them.
As government has the priority of securing food in the country and working hand in hand with AGRA, will help improve the lives and farming systems of small scale farmers who in turn will reduce poverty.