- On June 7, 2020
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Agriculture Extension Agents (AEAs) play a crucial role in the training and transfer of new technologies to farmers. The AEA to farmer ratio in Ghana is 1:706, which is below the global standard of 1:500. As a measure to bridge this gap, AEAs over the years, meet farmers in groups for training on best agronomic practices.
However, the ban on public gatherings as well as the calls to observe social distancing, occasioned by the COVID-19, is making it impossible to now meet farmers in groups. Other key agricultural activities in some districts, including Kumbungu, Sawla-Tuna-Kalba, Nanumba South, and East Mamprusi are stalled. Under this circumstance, AEAs should be meeting with individual farmers and providing them with extension services. However, resources are not available to enable the limited number of AEAs to reach out to individual farmers in their operational areas.
The Zabzugu District Director of Agriculture, Zakari Abdul Basit, in an interview, highlighted the negative impact of the pandemic on extension service delivery to farmers.
“The pandemic has impacted negatively on our work, especially that we use the early part of the season to conduct training for farmers ahead of the inception of the rains. We can’t reach out to many of our farmers through our conventional agriculture extension methodologies such as community durbars and farmer group meetings in our outreach.”
This is affecting smallholder farmers who are beneficiaries of the Planting for Food and Jobs programme (PFJ). For example, the farmers do not know the prices of inputs under the programme, neither do they understand the accurate dates for crop planting. Ziblim Adam, who is a farmer in Zentili community in the Gushegu Municipality in an interview lamented that AEAs no longer visit them, and it is having a toll on their farming activities.
“Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Agric man no longer come to our community to hold meetings with us as it has always happened at the beginning of the farming season. We do not even have information on the prices of inputs for this year under the PFJ program, and we are not even sure of the planting dates for the various crops for this season too.”
Biibu Jiamoaka in Nanyiar, a farming community in Bunkpurugu district of the North East region, indicated that as a contract farmer, he does no longer attend training programs at the District Agriculture Department to also disseminate information to other farmers in his communities.
“As a contact farmer, I normally participate in training on new farming technologies at the beginning of the season. But since the breakout of the pandemic, I have not been called for any such meetings. This is affecting farming activities now since many of the farmers are depending on what information they get from the Agric office.”
Should the department of agriculture wait till government ease the directive on social distancing before extension services are provided to farmers, especially that the raining season has just commenced and farmers are busy on their farms? The answer certainly is no. Just as other sectors such as education have adopted technology in educating students whiles at home, the department of agriculture needs to adopt similar innovations to continue to provide extension service delivery, especially to smallholder farmers.
The Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA), together with District Agric Departments should, therefore, consider using community radios, mobile information vans, and community information centres as the appropriate medium of disseminating the desired information to farmers. In addition, this is the time for MoFA and allied development agencies, including CSOs, to train and back support to farmer groups to use ICT application, for example, Whatsapp. Through Whatsapp groups, farmers can share information about fertilizers, and women groups exchange information about access to credit for farmers. Literacy in the use of ICT based apps can mobilize and empower farmers to better advocate for improved extension and related services.