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Covid-19: The untold story of vegetable and fruit farmers



COVID-19, SNV, Vegetable, fruit, farmers

The threat of coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to impact activities around the world. The produce industry is no exception.

However, with no tourists arriving and low price of fruits and vegetables in the markets during the partial lockdown, the farmers in Ada in the Greater Accra region and Jomoro in the Western region were in distress.

The reality of the COVID-19 pandemic recently came crashing down on Awal Wepia Farms, a 3-5 acre vegetable farm at Jomoro in the Western Region that produces pepper, tomatoes and okro.

According to Wepia, access to agro-chemicals for pest control was not possible as most shops were closed or out of stock and were unable to restock due to the partial lockdown in Greater Accra and Greater Kumasi. The closure of the borders further compounded the situation.

Furthermore, demand for vegetables and fruits were virtually nonexistent as hotels, restaurants and eateries popularly known as chop bars were not operating, some markets were also closed to the general public and this greatly affected the income of the farmers.

Even with the little we harvested during the lockdown period, there was no market,” lamented Wepia.

Another issue, this vegetable farmer and other farmers in Jomoro had to deal with was access to labour. Wepia explained that during the partial lockdown period, labourers were afraid to work and those who wanted to work doubled their daily wages making it expensive to engage them.

Labourers were had to come by for fear of contracting the disease and the few who were willing to work I couldn’t pay them because they doubled their charges.”

COVID-19, SNV, Vegetable, fruit, farmers

Awal Wepia spraying his okro farm

The story was not different in Ada. Richard Deku a vegetable and fruit farmer also suffered setbacks including financial loss. With the partial lockdown imposed, there were no takers for his produce. A KIA truck of okro weighing about a ton which fetched between GHc10,000 and GHc15,000 before the lockdown was being sold at GHc2,000 during the peak of the lockdown.

I didn’t have a choice it was either I sold my produce or I leave it to rot,” he stressed.

Traveling around Ada and its catchment area, it is common to see how watermelon pods are displayed by the road, begging for buyers. It was even worst on major market days in the area. The biggest watermelon pod, which could cost between GHc 10 to GHc 20 when out of season, was been sold for as low as between GHc1 and GHc4 at the farm gate.

A lot of my watermelon got rotten due to lack of buyers and lack of proper storage facilities,” cried Deku.

Bismark Owusu Nortey, the Programme Manager for Peasant Farmers Association, observed that the coronavirus scare and the subsequent lockdown created unimaginable price drop on fruits and vegetables. “Farmers who solely depended on agriculture and farming were in total crisis due to the pandemic as fruits and vegetables produce perished due to transport gridlocks and labour paucity,” he stated.

Read also: Lockdown lifted in Accra, Kumasi; ban on gatherings still in force

In fact, according to Nortey, the extent of losses would have been higher if government had not eased the restrictions on movements across the cities. “After the restrictions were eased, arrivals of fruits and vegetables have picked up and the hardship on the farmers has reduced,” he hinted. But he added that unless the situation is completely normalised, farmers will not be able to sell their produce in a seamless fashion.

He was of the view that the government could have procure all crops including fruits, vegetables at minimum support prices, as an emergency measure to support the farmers during their difficult times.

Traders also suffered

Traders were not spared the brunt of the COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown.

“I trade in watermelon, and it is very visible how deeply farmers and traders were affected because of the lack of sales. We knew it was the season of watermelon yet we couldn’t get supply thereby affecting our finances badly” stated Faustina Donkor, a fruit trader at Lapaz.

Madam Comfort Gayno, a vegetable seller, wears a mask as she sprays water on her vegetables. She has been selling vegetables at the Lapaz market for about 10years but now, Ganyo finds herself in a deep fix. Procuring vegetables from middle women costs three-four times what she paid earlier.

She said, “I am buying vegetables at thrice the usual price for 20 days now, and I’m unable to sell even half of what I buy. If I raise the price then I lose my daily customers, I have no choice but to suffer losses,” she mourned.

 What Government can do

According to Wepia, farmers will require a separate stimulus package other than the one announced by the government for businesses. He explained that most farmers have not registered their farms and this disqualifies them from the announced stimulus package.

The government must pay special attention to us by giving us our own stimulus package this is because we don’t qualify for the earlier stimulus package announced and yet we feed the nation,” he stressed. He added that inputs such as seeds could be given to peasant farmers for free as a way of reducing the hardship on farmers.

There have also been calls for government to facilitate the imports of agric inputs for the dealers, and if possible with a reduce import duties so as to reduce prices of inputs for farmers.

On her part, the Food Nutrition and Security Advisor for SNV’s V4CP, Consolata Dassah, called on the government and in consultation with farmer based organizations to quickly come up and implement policy interventions and directives that would salvage the plight of farmers during this pandemic.

In this covid-19 era, strong immune system is a sure way to stay healthy and fruits and vegetables are one key means of building a strong immune system so we have to do everything to encourage its consumption especially among women and children as well as address post harvest loss to improve food security,” she added.

She stated that the V4CP programme has built the capacities of some CSOs who are ready to effectively engage with stakeholders and also participate in major sector policy reviews to ensure that farmers are not left to their own fate.

Dassah explained that the aim of the programme is to increase food and nutrition security and incomes of smallholder farmers, especially women and this would be done through sustained engagement with government and the private sector to improve service delivery and increase investment in post harvest management.

The Voice for Change (V4C) Partnership Programme is an evidence based advocacy programme being implemented by SNV Netherlands Development Organization in partnership with the International Food and Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The V4CP programme is focused on four themes: Food and Nutrition Security, Renewable Energy and Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH). Six countries are participating: Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Indonesia and Honduras. Ghana however, is concentrating on the aspects of Food and Nutrition Security, Renewable Energy and Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH).

Support for farmers

One key intervention by the government has been to provide subsidized fertilizer, hybrid seeds and weed killer to over 42,000 smallholder farmers. It also offers warehouse receipt systems for farmers to store the harvest in anticipation of an appreciated price. Such support will improve food security, reduce poverty, and ensure the availability of selected food crops on the market as well as providing job opportunities within the agribusiness value chain.

The government further released GH¢260.4 million to settle the Ministry of Food and Agriculture’s (MoFA’s) indebtedness to 71 fertiliser companies to bolster the government’s flagship Planting for Food and Jobs (PFJ) programme. The release of the funds formed part of MoFA’s efforts to address the shortage of subsidised fertiliser facing smallholder farmers in the country.

Private sector partnerships

Many private sector firms have empowered farmers through the pandemic period. Various community educational campaigns inform farmers of the virus, its symptoms and how to protect themselves. These campaigns spread health information via radio broadcasts, vans with loud speakers, as well as text messages and mobile voice messages sent to farmers’ phones in local languages such as Twi for maximum reach.

Some farming communities still doubt the existence of the pandemic. Others think the pandemic only affects the rich and the elite, because it initially spread in urban centres with international travel links. Ghana’s educational campaigns have gone a long way to demystify these stereotypes. They promote measures in line with the World Health Organization’s recommendations, such as hand-washing and mask-wearing.

Where possible, administrative staff and other office workers in the agribusiness value chain have been asked to work from home to prevent the spread of COVID-19. They interact remotely with farmers using mobile phones, and avoid in-person meetings as much as possible.

Source: Kofi Ahovi//