Botanga rice farmers call for state support to reduce costs

Rice farmers with the irrigation scheme in the Northern Region complain of neglect and say they are incurring losses as buyers pay little for their produce despite high costs of production

Rice farmers at the Botanga Irrigation Scheme in the Northern Region say they are incurring losses as buyers pay little for their produce despite high costs of production. As such, the farmers are thus calling on the government and interested investors to come to their aid because, they say, they are not breaking even.

The farmers also complain that the government is neglecting them, making the business of dry-season farming unattractive.

A combined harvester works its way across a rice field at the Botanga Irrigation Scheme, near Kumbungu in the Northern Region. Some 900 farmers are engaged in various types of dry-season cropping growing rice, vegetables and maize.

This is one of the canals that pumps water into the rice fields at the Botanga irrigation farm. It runs by gravity, which means that once you open the valve the water automatically runs into the field. No machine is needed to pump it.

Set up in 1980 by the then president, Hilla Liman, the Botanga Irrigation Scheme is one of the few agricultural sites in Ghana that pulls water by gravity.

The project, situated on a large tract of land, takes its source from the tributaries of the White Volta River, the same source that supplies the Vea and Tono Irrigation Schemes in the Upper East Region. The schemes were developed to promote all-year-round farming for regions that have single crops in a season.

The Ghana Irrigation Development Authority, in collaboration with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, spearheads the scheme’s activities. We headed to the drying floors, where people were busily working as buyers waited to purchase the rice. One of the farmers, Joseph Tong Kulbil, feels the buyers dictate 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 price to you.

“As for the price 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.

“There are no banks also supporting farmers. When you take everything from your house and come and produce you don’t breakthrough,” he said.

Cry for help

But according to Alhassan Mahama, another Botanga rice farmer, the producers’ main problem is a lack of market.

“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 involved in farming, and most of the farmerss depend on rain-fed agriculture. But as the rains become more erratic with dwindling yield, irrigation schemes such as the Botanga irrigation facility have become viable alternatives for people here. But the farmers are desperately calling for help to sustain their livelihood, and Kulbil and his colleagues see a bleak future if no help comes their way.

“We … are promoting dry-season farming. Farmers 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 get the rice, you get your produce. After paying your minor debts there is nothing left for you. [You don’t earn] 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 because there are not enough 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 the farmers consider its pricing unfavourable, according to Issahaku Mohammed Alhassan and Joseph Tong Kulbil.

“Avnash has been here on several occasions but the pricing is not favourably to we farmers here,” Issahaku said. “Well, the fact is that Avnash deals with upland farms as well as the irrigation farms, and the conditions of the irrigation project are different from those outside fields.

“The cost of production on the irrigation scheme is higher than the 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 any time they come here it is the pricing that drives them away, because the price would not make us break even.”

“Avnash have got their own conditions, [under] which you the farmer after farming have to bring the rice yourself,” Joseph also said. “Then 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. 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.”

Subsidies beyond rainy seaon

Obed Asamoah and Lucy Nsor are buyers from Kumasi. They explained why they cannot trade at the farmers“ price.

“To sell a bag for GHC300 is too high for buyers,” Asamoah said. “We buyers want to buy it at GHC250 but they disagree with us.

“GHC300 for a bag will not help us. Those buying the rice, we sell it on 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 GHC250.

“This rice has nothing inside but we just want to buy and sell. It has too much green in it. They really need to leave it for three weeks before they harvest it, so that it will be ready for us,” Lucy Nsor said.

The farmers say they’re also not getting adequate support from the government by way of subsidised inputs for seasonal farming, aside from the difficulty they face in accessing credit from the banks.

“There is no support coming from the government,” said Asamoah. “This subsidised fertiliser 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 fertilisers at a subsidised price.

“So we are expecting that the government would consider the dry-season irrigation farmers. They should consider us with the subsidised fertilisers and the market for us,” he said.

Overbagging and underpricing remain a challenge for some farmers but perhaps an advantage for produce buyers, especially in sectors where standard measurements are not followed.

Citi Business News
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