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Helping Ghana feed itself – pilot project bodes well for the region
Ghanaian Farmer Chief Tahiru Ibrahim
Tahiru Ibrahim says he made his fortune off shea nut trees on his savannah land in Ghana’s northern region.
So, Ibrahim was a bit skeptical last year, when he first heard about the African Development Bank’s Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation in the Savannahs initiative, or TAAT-S. The programme aims to convert some of the land into more commercially viable, no-till agricultural land for farming soybean, maize and rice.
“I like trees. Shea, in particular, is my wealth,” Ibrahim says, noting that he had managed to buy homes in Tamale, Kumasi and Accra, as well as his commercial farming vehicles, thanks to profits gained from shea exports.
Yet Ibrahim agreed to participate in a $27.55 million pilot TAAT-S programme, called the Savannah Zone Agricultural Productivity Improvement Project, which provides the technical support and financing to transform some of Ibrahim’s land, covered with grasses, shea and other fire-resistant trees and shrubs, into traditional farming soil.
This season, Ibrahim’s workers sowed the land with maize seed.
Today, Ibrahim sits in a plastic chair on his farm, surrounded by 200 acres of sturdy green stalks of maize, shooting toward the sky.
“My maize is so beautiful. I anticipate a good year – and a good year means more money,” the white-bearded elder chief says with a warm grin. “I am becoming a rich African farmer.”
The Savannah Zone Agricultural Productivity Improvement Project, also called SAPIP, started with just four commercial farmers in northern Ghana, planting maize over a collective 87 hectares in 2018. Now 12 farmers, including Chief Ibrahim, are participating in SAPIP.
The initiative has grown to approximately 1,300 hectares under cultivation. In additional to land preparation, participants receive assistance with seed, fertiliser use and harvesting equipment. The Bank finances SAPIP while Ghana’s Northern Development Authority and its Ministry of Food and Agriculture administer it.
“We are going to do more. Our target is a minimum of 20,000 hectares. Next, financing for equipment and infrastructure [like roads and storage],” says Philip Boahen, chief agriculture policy economist and task manager for the programme at the African Development Bank.
At full scale, the Bank expects the SAPIP project to deliver a three-fold increase in rice productivity per hectare, more than two times as much maize per hectare and nearly three times as much soya per hectare by the project’s fifth year.
With SAPIP, the quantity of key crops should improve too, with maize output rising from 85,000 metric tonnes to 150,000 metric tonnes, and soybeans from 80,000 to 140,000 metric tonnes, for example, during the same time period.
By increasing productivity, the Bank says, less land will have to be converted from forest to agriculture. In addition, the Bank is supporting participating farming communities to replant shea and other profitable trees like cashew.
SAPIP has assisted farmers with harvesting equipment and facilitated purchase agreements with buyers. Most of the field operations are mechanised, using no-till planters and adjustable nozzle sprayers.
“[The programme] helped me upscale the products I’ve been growing all along,” says Idan Agro Farms proprietor Isaac Papanko, who went from farming 70 to 220 hectares of maize.
Papanko plans to add value to his raw products – he wants to process maize as poultry feed, or as maize grits, for example, to meet end market demand.
The Bank’s TAAT-S specialists Tabi Karikari, Philip Boahen, Dr. Martin Fregene, Dr. Ed Mabaya and Andrew Mude display “High 5s” in a transformed soy field in Ghana (l to r).
“Ghana has become the success story of TAAT-S,” said Dr. Martin Fregene, the Bank’s director of agriculture and agro-industry, during a recent visit to participating farms. Fregene expects to see the SAPIP target districts completely transformed in three years. “The sky is the limit,” Fregene told the farmers.
Fregene also visited Kokubila Nasia Farms, where a simple dirt road separates the farm’s past from its present prosperity.
Kokubila Nasia Farms’ Hisham Seidu says that in the first SAPIP planting season, the farm didn’t dedicate its entire field to the project, preferring to retain areas to plant their own maize and soy crops to sell to market.
This planting season, Seidu says his farm is committing all of his transformed land to soy. He says the harvest will largely be sold as protein-rich chicken feed. When asked why he switched from growing food for grocery stores to meals for chickens raised for slaughter, Seidu cracks a joke.
Ghanaian farmer Hisham Seidu
“Yes, we’ve moved from direct feed for human beings to indirect feed for human beings, but it is all part of the same chain – I’m sure KFC would appreciate our efforts greatly,” he said.
SAPIP aims to directly benefit 50,000 people by increasing farmers’ incomes, food and nutrition security. It also wants to reduce the prevalence of child stunting by 40%, among other goals.
“Here within our own local communities – we can do it ourselves,” said Bank manager for agribusiness development, Dr. Edward Mabaya. Congratulating the pilot project farmers and support teams, he added: “This is how Ghana is going to be able to feed itself.”
Savannah, in background, soybean plants foreground, at Kokubila Nasia Farms.