The ‘New Normal’ Agricultural Industry
The unprecedented forced change being experienced by the world means we must all embrace the ‘new normal’. Indeed the agribusiness world has been altered significantly with people unable to congregate en mass for conferences and business meetings.
While crop production has gained some stability around the country, prices are only slowly being adjusted downwards following spikes influenced by an inter-city lockdown that stifled the movement of crops from the fields to the market.
Within the agricultural value chain, the pervasive effect of the pandemic has and continues to have a telling effect on actors – plundering the investment of many.
This has necessitated a paradigm shift in how business and other related activities are conducted within the local agricultural sector.
The onus is therefore on all stakeholders to accept the ‘new normal’ and work out practical modalities to ensure that the entire industry comes to appreciate the need to innovate in order to remain afloat and relevant in business.
Opportunities despite the Muddle
Though business and related activities have not fared greatly for agric-industry practitioners, the story is not one of total gloom.
The indomitable Ghanaian spirit and a knack to innovate are a potent mix of what is required to overcome.
While women practitioners are some of the hardest hit from the fallout of the pandemic, there still pool of opportunities that can be innovatively taken advantage of to ensure that we collectively get the industry back on its feet.
Specifically women can take advantage of the following basic methodologies to revive their agro enterprises and ensure continued relevance:
Invest in High-Yield Crops
To survive the economic challenges that the world will have to grapple with in the foreseeable future, women agri-prenuers must deliberately identify high yielding crops and invest in same.
Most women in Ghana are breadwinners so it is important to ensure a steady supply of resources for the upkeep of the home.
With the growing effects of climate change on weather patterns, more irrigation will be needed. Average yields in irrigated farms are 90% higher than those of nearby rain-fed farms.
This means women in areas with sparse rainfall must rely heavily on irrigation for expansion. This will guarantee bountiful yield and ensure seamless supply of income to livelihood and business growth.
Increase the Use of Fertilizers
As soil fertility deteriorates, fertilizer use must increase. Women need to ensure the right type of fertilizers are used, and at the right times.
Fertilizer education lessens the environmental impact and an analysis of such some training programs in East Africa found they boosted average incomes by 61 percent.
Make Better Use of Information Technology
Information technology can support better crop, fertilizer and pesticide selection. It also improves land and water management, provides access to weather information, and connects farmers to sources of credit.
Women in the industry will have to improve understanding of new technology and rely on same to make the most of agriculture.
Reliance on technology will help give women-farmers information about crop prices in different markets among other benefits and consequently increased their bargaining power during and post Covid-19.
Explore genetically modified (GM) crops
The adoption of GM crops in Africa and indeed Ghana remains limited. But with the fallout of the pandemic and Africa’s rapid population growth, high-yield GM crops that are resistant to weather shocks provide an opportunity for women actively participate in efforts to address food insecurity as well as securing their livelihoods and investments.
An analysis of more than one hundred studies found that GM crops reduced pesticide use by 37 percent, increased yields by 22 percent, and farmer profits by 68 percent.
Step up integration into Agricultural Value Chains (AVCs)
Women groups must support and coordinate the integration of smallholder farmers into larger cooperatives and groups to help with value chain penetration.
It is important that women move progressively towards a more diversified area of dominance instead of the prevailing reliance on traditional cash crops and areas of investments.
Hurdles on the pathway (Challenges)
Despite their central importance to agriculture, which sees women produce a great chunk of our food, women are confronted by age-old challenges that could be further exacerbated by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and its attendant disruptions.
Research suggests that, about 80 percent of agricultural production comes from small-scale farmers, who are mostly rural women. This means no effort should be spared in putting women in good stead to thrive in the industry as this ultimately has ripple – effects on the society.
Training is crucial
The training of rural women is very important, especially with the adoption of modern agricultural techniques that are tailored to local conditions and that use natural resources in a sustainable manner, with a view to achieving economic development without degrading the environment.
The traditional and sometimes obsolete farming practices must give way to new forward-looking practices that will consequently lead to improved livelihood for these women and their dependents.
Training efforts must be backed by the provision of extension services, storage facilities, rural infrastructure (roads, electricity, and information and communication technologies), access to markets and access to credit, as well as supporting organizations and farmer cooperatives.
This will ensure that the impact of training schemes is felt by the farmers- and in extension the society.
A commitment to training women farmers is a guaranteed means of breaking the vicious cycle that leads to rural poverty. Because of the nurturing role that women play in families, any intellectual investment made goes a long way to help build the capacity of several individual in society.
Practicable affirmative action is by far one of the surest ways of safeguarding the interest of women in agriculture.
Instead of intermittent interventions, a solid affirmative action roadmap will go a long way to ensure that concrete success is achieved in efforts to improve the lot of women who have committed themselves to working hard to feed the country through the noble art of farming.
Networks operating in rural areas, especially rural women’s organizations are crucial to the conception of development programs.
These organizations must partner in crafting any policies for women farmers as experience has shown that contributions from such actors are often invaluable.
A number of other changes will strengthen women’s contributions to agricultural production and sustainability.
These include support for investment in rural areas in order to improve women’s living and working conditions; giving priority to technological development policies targeting rural and farm women’s needs and recognizing their knowledge, skills and experience in the production of food and the conservation of biodiversity; and assessing the negative effects and risks of farming practices and technology, including pesticides on women’s health, and taking measures to reduce use and exposure.