The plight of small-scale farmers in the COVID-19 pandemic – the situation in Ghana

It’s Monday morning and I have to get ready for the day’s activities. I have five calls to master beekeepers I supervise to get me some data I need for my report. I checked my mail as usual to see if I have receive any.

Lo and behold I had received a mail from Monmouth, UK asking me to get some information for our upcoming project. I grabbed my phone and back pack.

I put on my spectacles and face mask as has become a new normal – security officials in town may harass you if you are without face mask.  I hopped onto my motorbike and left home to seek for some fact to respond to the mail I received.

As I got to Offuman junction in Tuobodom, Bono East Region, many small-scale farmers have gathered there looking for means of transport to their various farms. Suddenly, I heard some noise from the crowed so I got close.

They were fighting over a space in the bucket of a pickup car so they could get to their farms – the only reliable means of transport available apart from motorbike.

Upon asking, they told me they had to observe physical distancing whiles on board and so people are fighting to board before others – the bucket could only pick few people other than it used to pick when there was no pandemic.

This struck me and decided to find out from these farmers what has been the impact of this deadly pandemic on their livelihoods.

Before I continue, let me give a brief background to this pandemic I am talking about. The novel coronavirus popularly known as COVID-19 is not just a threat to human race (loss of life) but also poses greater risk to the livelihoods of millions of people.

Many Ghanaian small-scale farmers are currently losing greater part of their household income as COVID-19 continues to disrupt major activities in agriculture and the food supply chain.

The COVID-19, a pandemic that came upon our land in March 2020, has made people resorting to lives that otherwise were never used to – such as wearing face masks, avoiding handshakes and hugs, among others. As at today June 25, 2020, Ghana has confirmed nearly 15473 cases of COVID-19 with 95 deaths.

In an attempt to curb the spread of the COVID-19, the government of Ghana imposed a number of measures, which include banning all social gatherings; the closure of schools, colleges and universities; and the imposition of restrictions on movements of people in a partial lockdown.

Although necessary, these impositions have adversely affected a major sector of the economy i.e. the agricultural and agribusiness sector. Some of which includes disruptions in transportation, hampered supply chain in agriculture and decreased demand for agricultural and agribusiness activities. These disruptions are obviously slowing down growth in agriculture and agribusiness in Ghana.

Back to my story! After chatting with some of the farmers, I decided write this article. I must say this is my first non-scientific article I have written.

I realized from our chat that transportation is a major issue as many of these small-scale farmers use motorbike to and from the farms. Some of them mostly depend on colleagues to get to their farms but due to the coronavirus they are not allowed to carry other people on the bike.

People have to either walk long distances or find money (they do not readily have) to use public transport – the fare has also been increased since drivers have been ordered to reduce the number of passengers on board to observe physical distancing.

Millions of small-scale farmers in Ghana grow fruits, vegetables and various cash crops like cocoa and cashew that are sent to America, Europe, China and others. Presently, exports of these products have halted in the past few months as all borders are closed or restricted around the world.

In an interview with an exporter, he said to another news portal that “we are not doing anything now”. Again, the closure of borders has limited farmers’ access to inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, pesticides/weedicides, farm tools and equipment as well as restricted access to local and international markets.

For example Kojo Mensah a small-scale farmer in Tuobodom told a friend of mine that “I am not even sure whether we will have farm inputs this year”. This uncertainty coupled with fear has subsequently impacted negatively on planting decisions which will eventually lead to a reduction in the volume of the some agricultural produce in food production areas in Ghana.

Also, the closure of local weekly markets in some communities is mostly devastating for small-scale farmers as they depend on sale made during these market days.

COVID-19 has made small-scale farmers to slow down or in some cases abandon their farm work completely. For example Afia Boakyewa in Traah near Techiman told me that “we cannot go anywhere; our husbands cannot travel into cities to buy inputs like hoes, cutlasses, pesticides, or fertilisers for our farms because we are afraid of contracting the virus”. The above narration will affect the production level and farmers’ productivity this year if the situation continues.

Other evidence of COVID-19 impact is in the cashew sector. Cashew which is a major export cash crop in Ghana that generates between US$378 million and US$981 million annually for Ghana, has been hard hit by COVID-19, causing huge losses for its growers.

They have already seen prices drop from US$130 for a 100 kg bag of raw cashew nuts to just US$75 this year. Cashew grower Kofi Ameyaw lamented when I engaged him saying “we are forced to sell at a lower price”.

In addition, India, China and Vietnam, largest importers of cashew, have cut orders as their processing factories close due to lockdowns imposed and this has led to a glut, forcing the international market price of the commodity to slump by 63 percent since January 2020.

Same can be said about Ghana’s most important cash crop, cocoa, which its international market price continue to fall. Mr Joseph Boahen Aidoo, CEO of the Ghana Cocoa Board, a government agency that buys cocoa beans from small-scale farmers and sells on the international market has indicated (in an interview with a news portal that, “Immediately COVID-19 has brought to Ghana a deficit of almost US$1 billion and if this thing should continue, paying our farmers will be difficult.”

In addition, there is reduced imports of raw materials for the manufacturing sector and petty trading items, especially from Ghana’s main trading partner, China – importers could not travel to bring in these items. This has led to lost jobs due to the fact that farmers who earn extra income from petty trading could not obtain supplies.

Also, loss of jobs especially in the service sector (hotels, airports, restaurants, local chop bars). Some people I spoke indicated their family members who work in these areas have lost their jobs and support or remittances to them from these working family members were cut/reduced. This has affected their farming activities since they depend on the support from these relatives for their farm inputs.  

The marketing of general agricultural produce has suffered as bulk buyers form urban areas could not easily travel to buy food items from producers (small-scale farmers).

The purchasing power of people is descending coupled with reduced money in circulation – in actual fact the general economic activities have reduced, and these small-scale farmers are not spared.

The above impacts, already being experienced by small-scale farmers, are expected to linger on especially when the world has not been able to find any lasting solution to this pandemic. Until a drug or vaccine is found, these small-scale farmers will continue to be affected heavily by the novel coronavirus.

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