Rice farmers at the Botanga Irrigation Scheme in the Northern Region say they’re incurring losses as buyers pay less for their produce despite the high cost of production. The farmers are thus calling on government and interested investors to come to their aid since they’re not breaking even in production. The farmers also complained about being neglected by government, making the business of dry season farming unattractive.
That is a combine harvester at work on a rice field at the Botanga Irrigation Scheme near Kumbungu in the Northern Region. Some 900 farmers are engaged in various dry season cropping including rice, vegetable and maize.
This is one of the canals that pumps water into the rice fields at the Botanga Irrigation farm. It runs by a gravity which means that once you open the valve the water will automatically run into the field. No machine is needed to pump it.
Set up in 1980 by former President Dr. Hilla Liman, the Botanga Irrigation Scheme is one of the few sites in the country that pulls water by gravity.
The Irrigation Scheme on a large tract of land takes its source from the tributaries of the White Volta River, the same source which supplies the Vea and Tono Irrigation Schemes in the Upper East Region. The schemes were developed to promote all year-round farming for the regions that have single crops in a season.
The Ghana Irrigation Development Authority in collaboration with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture spearheads the activities of the scheme. We headed to the drying floors where people were busily working whiles buyers waited to purchase the rice. One of the farmers, Joseph Tong Kulbil, feels the buyers dictate the prices for the farmers.
“You will come, you will harvest your rice, come and keep it like this you have to dry it so after drying and winnowing, you have no say in it again, the farmers, the aggregators they bring their people and they bag the rice in these long, long sacks after dictating the prize to you. As for the prize you don’t have any say, you will tell them whatever, tell them your production cost, they won’t understand you. Theirs is what profit they are going to make so farmers have nothing to say, they are no banks also supporting farmers, when you take everything from your house and come and produce and you don’t break through,” he said.
But their main problem is lack of market according to Alhassan Mahama
“They overload the sacks and that is not right. They can even bag until some of the grains fall on the ground. It’s a cheat, and that is because we don’t have better options; that is our problem. We run at a loss always because of the lack of good market.”
In Northern Ghana, up to 80% of the population is into farming, and they mostly depend on rain fed agriculture. But as the rains become more erratic with dwindling yields, irrigation schemes such as the Botanga Irrigation Facility have become viable alternatives for the people here. But the farmers are desperately calling for help to sustain their livelihood as Kulbil and his colleagues see a bleak future if no help comes their way.
“We didn’t look at the future to be blur because if farmers farm on their own, we are promoting dry season farming, farmer’s farm. The farmers are not farming to consume, they are farming to sell, get money, take care of their families, pay their school fees, hospital bills and other things. So, if you if you get the rice, you get your produce, after paying your minor debts and there is nothing left for you. What you were expecting to get so the dry season farming does not help you,” he said.
The farmers at Botanga produce their rice for direct milling, which means the rice does not dry on the field. But due to inadequate rice milling factories in the north, the farmers are compelled to depend on aggregators from the south.
AVNASH is the only rice miller in the Northern Region at the moment, but AVNASH’s pricing is considered unfavorable by the farmers, according to Issahaku Mohammed Alhassan and Joseph Tong Kulbil.
“AVNASH has been here on several occasions but the pricing is not favorably to we farmers here. Well the fact is that AVNASH deals with upland farms as well as the irrigation farms and the conditions of the irrigation project is different from those outside fields. Cost of production on the irrigation scheme is higher than cost of production on the upland fields. So, if you are going to use conditions of the upland as a yardstick to buy projects here you see that the farmer is at a disadvantage. So anytime they come here it is the pricing that drives them away, because the price would not make us break even,” Issahaku noted.
“Avnash have got their own conditions which you the farmer after farming have to bring the rice yourself, they have to do some grading which they take and come and tell you, your rice is grade one, grade two and every grade has its price so when they come and tell you your rice is grade three and they are paying you this much you have no say. Besides the payment is not instant, they will give about three weeks or two weeks to come and pay and you know as farmers this is the time we are shifting from the dry to the wet season which we have to continue so on an irrigation project as you see we have two seasons, dry and wet so if you harvest in the dry season you are preparing to enter the wet season and if you harvest in the wet season you are preparing to enter the dry season so AVNASH conditions is something that the farmers are unable to comply,” Joseph also said
Obed Asamoah and Lucy Nsor are buyers from Kumasi. They explained why they can’t trade at the farmers’ price.
“To sell a bag for 300 cedis is too high for the buyers. We buyers want to buy it at 250 cedi’s but they disagree with us,” Obed lamented.
“GHS 300 for a bag will not help us. Those buying the rice we sell it in large scale, so based on what we are selling if we just use it to measure this one it won’t help us. The 270 is too much for us too. We will prefer it at GHS 250. This rice has nothing inside but we just want to buy and sell. It has too much green in it, so they need to leave it for three weeks before they harvest it, so that it will be ready for us,” Lucy explianed.
The farmers say they’re also not getting adequate support from government by way of subsidized inputs for seasonal farming, aside from the difficulty they face in accessing credit from the banks.
“There is no support coming from the government. This subsidized fertilizer does well during the rainy season, forgetting that in the dry season we have farmers as well. The dry season is the major season for most farmers but that is the time we do not get fertilizers at a subsidized price so we are expecting that, government would consider the dry season irrigation farmers. They should consider us with the subsidized fertilizers and the a market for us,” he said.
Over-bagging and under-pricing have remained a challenge for some farmers, but perhaps an advantage for produce buyers especially in sectors where standard measurements are not followed.