Ghana’s new agriculture policy is leaving behind its smallholders

In a recent meeting at the Ministry of Food and Agriculture in Ghana, we were presented with the designated Minister, Dr. Owusu Afriyie Akoto’s plans for what the new government is going to offer its farmers: Planting for Food and Jobs, a Campaign for Rapid Growth.

The plan makes grand claims to promote growth in food production and create 750,000 new jobs through a focus on five areas: seed, fertilizer, extension services, marketing and e-fertilizer. The growth will come from five main food crops maize, rice, soybean, sorghum and vegetables and in the north of the country where I work, the focus will be entirely on the first three: maize, rice and soy. Notably, yam, millet, livestock and other animals are not included, as well as other natural resources like shea.


Women’s shea production and processing group, Ghana


African yam mounds

The campaigns focus on getting every Ghanaian to grow food for the country is reminiscent of the 1970s Operation Feed Yourself policy that focused on Green Revolution development approaches only without the focus on mechanization and a renewed emphasis on seed and fertilizer. A novel feature is that local district assemblies will have a main coordination role alongside the local Ministry of Food and Agriculture units. We will wait to see what support to strengthening local government systems will be provided beyond hiring new extension staff proposed. The National Buffer Stock (NAFCO) will be reinvested in, operating as the market, storage and processing option. We also wait to see if support for operations is budgeted for and not just infrastructure maintenance.

Most worryingly is that the government is only registering ‘lead farmers’ those who have 10 acres or more of one of the targeted crops. In a place where virtually all farmers are smallholders who grow many crops to meet a diverse diet and reduce risk, government extension have expressed concerns about who the government is targeting and how their services will shift. As one extension staff said in the meeting, “I bet we won’t even get up to 100 farmers registered for the entire district”. Since farmers are registered for where they are farming and not where they live, it is likely that most of the farmers registered will not be those in the rural communities, but business men from the city or government staff who have the capital to rent and prepare land, hire labour and access inputs on a medium scale. Moreover, it is likely that women (especially those who do not inherit land) and the ‘teeming youth’ will not have the ten acres needed, leaving them behind.


The extension staff I work with perceive their jobs to be about developing smallholder livelihoods and rural communities and in the meeting, they began strategizing about how they could register them so they are included. One suggestion was through the registration of groups of smallholders (farming based organizations), like cooperatives where they could aggregate land. But, no, individuals are only allowed. Others suggested registering smallholders with plots next to each other, but under one name. I can’t help but think about the deep mistrust between smallholders and government and the potential community conflict that could arise because smallholders’ land, rented tractors and hired labour are already being monopolized by these business men who can afford to pay more at the necessary time. Now the government is supporting them, not the smallholders.


This campaign for rapid growth is worrying because where there is rapid growth, there tends to be rapid inequality and rapid environmental degradation. There seems to be a mismatch between what the government, NGOs and the private sector sees as the future of agriculture in Ghana and what smallholders themselves want. Chemical fertilizer for example is being widely adopted by smallholders, and government (with pressure from farmer lobbyists) have subsidized the cost from around 100 GH cedis to 85 GH cedis per 45 kg bag to reduce costs. However, smallholders have issued concerns to me about the impact this fertilizer usage has on soil health and the quality of food produced. Those both near and far away from town are reluctantly adopting fertilizer because of desperation and they perceive themselves as being addicted to these expensive chemicals. The improved, shorter varieties of seed provided produce more in times of erratic rainfall, but the quality of produce and ability to withstand drought is also a problem perceived by smallholders. We will also wait to see what kinds of seeds are encouraged in the future and perhaps the renewal of hybrids and other non-open pollinated varieties smallholders are not willing to adopt will make its way back in the name of growth. Moreover, the focus on e-extension and e-fertilizer was tried and failed last year because of the technical and literacy problems across the country. We await to see what new innovations are provided to combat this.


After all, it is the medium scale farmer who is willing to invest and depend on these inputs year after year to generate surplus, moving on when the soil is dead, but not the smallholder who needs to think about sustaining her subsistence and existence first – food quality, diversification and environmental sustainability.


Smallholder farmers in Ghana


Field Level Knowledge and Realities

The following document is a conclusion of Siera Vercillo’s research conducted over a three month Immersion Experience in Northern Region, Ghana. The statistics provided are originating from formal research conducted by EWB. The statements made are based on her analysis of qualitative research conducted in the field. Her findings are based on the limits of her experience and are by no means the exact truth on the ground.

Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) Ghana Policy

The main objective of MoFA is to alleviate poverty and increase food security through the agricultural sector by reaching the majority of people who are subsistence and smallholder farmers. The rationale for this is so government is better able to cater service provision to a larger proportion of those living in poverty and suffering from food scarcity in Ghana.

MoFA is a major player in both internally owned and foreign donor projects as an implementer at the district level. Projects choose to work with MoFA because it has a reputation as being the institution with the longest history working with local communities and its respective farmers, while providing a cheaper service relative to other implementers. A criticism that is often made regarding being a major implementer at the district level is that MoFA staff are often over burdened with too many contrasting roles and objectives, effecting their overall schedule and output. Despite this MoFA districts continue to take on the responsibility of project work because it provides them with additional funds and resources required of beneficial extension provision.

Staff at the MoFA Office I work at. Including the Director, AEAs, Supervisors, Typists, Drivers, Information etc.

As an EWB Team working in Ghana, we need to acknowledge the constraints our partners, such as MoFA are confined by and work within that system to accomplish our goals of technology adoption for more appropriate and improved extension services to farmers. Working within the system, however is different than working against it. We will have to decide as a team what our focus will be – to progress extension (in any system) or work towards a more enabling environment for MoFA’s extension service provision (or additional partner organizations). Depending on the resources available it would be possible to work towards both, however I anticipate a strategic difficulty in moving forward. Developing one off innovations that adapt extension so it encourages greater behavior change is not necessarily contributing to direct systemic change, especially if those innovations are unrelated to government services.

Specific policies MoFA National has set targets for and MoFA districts are working towards:

• Provide agricultural service delivery
• Public-private facilitation
• Facilitate capacity of human resources
• Facilitation of research and technology development
• Facilitation of linking agriculture and industry
• Facilitate integration of cross cutting issues like gender equity
• Facilitate international trade and domestic marketing of commodities
• Coordinate and enforce regulations & partnership activities and policies

Throughout the research conducted during the immersion experience, discussion around coordination and harmonization of donor projects and implementers have continually been raised as an area of concern and needed improvement. Having a better idea of the major players in the field would allow our EWB Team AgEX to better influence for coordinated efforts. This would contribute greatly to systemic change.

Extension Services at MoFA District Level

Agriculture Extension Agent (AEA) Snapshot:

An AEA is appointed to his position for life by MoFA National. Once hired, the AEA can be posted anywhere. The diversity across the country implies that sometimes an AEA lacks knowledge of the local language and customs, making integration required of an AEA in a community more difficult. It is possible to be recruited by a specific office through recommendations, but the letter of offer requires the signature of a chief executive member. To be hired by MoFA as an AEA a minimum certificate from an Agricultural College is required. Having a university level degree proves possibility to move directly into working above the AEA position to a supervisory position, such as a DAO. Despite this possibility and supervisory role, many supervisors or ‘DAOs’ work directly to provide extension because of resource constraints.

Farmer Group Meeting – learning about district level realities

An AEA’s work plan and schedule is normally based on national level programs, in addition to community demands. This requires knowledge and records of what farmers are doing in collaboration of sharing that knowledge to other staff. AEAs work around national level programs and adapt their schedule and extension methods to be more suitable for the farmers they cater towards. This is needed to demonstrate results for reporting back to MoFA National and other NGO based projects. For example, in the Block Farm program or Youth in Agriculture (YIA), an AEA might choose to work with individual farmers as opposed to farming based organizations (FBOs).

On average an AEA,
• Works 5.8 hours per day, travels 47.6 km and interacts with 15 people;
• 30% of AEAs average day was delivering technical advice on planting distances or applying fertilizer as well as monitoring application for good agriculture practices;
• 17-21% of the time AEAs had help or were helping beneficiary farmers;
• Majority of time spent was interacting in the field while measuring and demarcating plots 35-68% of the time;
• Interacting with farmer groups doing administrative, supervision, inputs 31%-26% of time;
o Farmer groups has average 15 members and 65% were male;
• 29% of the AEAs’ time interacted with individual farmers and 80% of which were male to measure and demarcate plots for YIA (Block Farm);
• Majority 70-75% of the average day spent administrating, facilitating and implementation of national incentives or development partner projects;
• 45-71% spent on enabling farmer access to development partners;
• Majority of time was spent on National level projects leaving less than 1% of time dedicated to responding to local farmer needs.

Constraints to Extension at MoFA:

Averages that projects base their design on, such as when to test soil or plant seeds can vary from local customary good agricultural practices because of diversity across the country and various regions. The experiments are usually conducted based on project level work. Project level work implemented by MoFA dictates when activities occur and is based on national and sometimes regional averages. Projects can be mismanaged or lack coordination affecting the timing of when experiments and activities occur. Timing in agriculture is absolutely critical and planting even two weeks late will have a tremendous affect on the results of yields.

Possible Solution: release funding on time and have triggers in place to cancel activities and provide back up in case funding is not released. This will hope to ensure that the time and trust of farmers with extension agents and MoFA is not compromised. This lack of coordination and poor timing actually works against technology adoption.

The expectation from farmers that things will come for free is a serious concern for any internally implemented activity. Many donor projects provide monetary incentives or other items for free in order to reward farmers for participation, being refreshments at meetings or tractor services. This is problematic as it does not sustain activities advised after project completion and changes the expectations of farmers for when AEAs provide any other type of service outside of donor projects. The reality is that MoFA does not have the resources to provide these types of incentives nor should they. The advisory services and prospect for improving farming productivity provided by extension services should be incentive enough. It is not sustainable to be providing things for free (keeping in mind credit is often perceived as something for free) as an incentive to adopt new practices.

AEAs can lack communication and participatory approaches in their work as formal education and employer resource constraints confine their knowledge and ability. For example, in Ghana the process for how certain people are chosen for decision making and communication in villages is not taught during the training or education of an AEA. Also, coming at the right time for when farmers need, not when projects or AEAs dictate, tend to be constrained in practice due to the way resources and incentives are allocated at the MoFA district level.

Limited access to services by female operators is a serious concern to advisory services provided as cultural and social constraints define women, AEAs and the work they do. Male AEAs (the majority) complain about what they cannot provide to women farmers and community members as their social context will not allow them. Social constraints on women often disallow them to participate the way their male counterparts do with an AEA.

Employee frustration due to lack of support from MoFA (fuel and motorcycles),
o the fuel allowances that are not provided on time (at the moment 8 months late)
o no motorcycle updates or other materials provided,
o no appropriate accommodations available in operational areas,
o low salaries,
o insufficient education development offered – many AEA claim there is not enough service training and learning materials,
o mis-communication and contradictions in what should be training farmers on

Directors decide which activities and projects to focus extension service provision. The process for this is fairly time consuming, complicated and seems to take up the majority of a Directors time. For example, to focus on crop diversification to develop the agricultural sector at the district level, a Director will write a proposal for an activity (demonstration plot) that a donor will have to pay for since MoFA National might not have allocated money for this. The Director believes based on his staff’s knowledge that this activity is greatly needed for the development of his district. Since the money provided for these activities is insufficient (or not at all) he has to lobby outside for more. There are projects or activities that are paid for by a MoFA district office, but the money is often tied by MoFA National, effecting the implementation of activities. In addition, this proposal and report writing and accountability meetings to attract and maintain donor project activities and expectations seems to take up the majority time of management staff. Perhaps, a reallocation of responsibilities within the District would be an intervention to test.

Intervention Idea: Coordinate extension services by MoFA staff within and across districts to efficiently maximize resources. Specifically, coordinate the extension provided by other districts that overlap. How is extension coordinated or best practices shared if general extension (even outside project work) is not necessarily a main priority?

My favourite neighbor and I sporting our MoFA Union Shirts behind our houses.

Intervention Idea: Peer-peer learning:: those farmers who completed a project will demonstrate to other farmers success of technologies and good agricultural practices. Fostering Peer – Peer learning and sharing of knowledge and resources is what EWB can develop as an innovation. Farmers who wish to try and share resources will work together to try different things. The farmers share the knowledge and have an impact on the community. An AEA will simply play a facilitator and match makers role (matching farmers with peers).

Intervention Idea: Farmer Selection – using Farmer Field Forums (FFFs) FFFs is a seasonal long set of activities with particular topics for impact points. An intervention can use FFFs to convince farmers to participate and use technologies. Using FFFs particular farmers can be picked who arere interested in learning new techniques. The FFFs have been critical to success before asking farmers to adopt new technologies, however there needs to be different knowledge sessions on all sorts of topics, outside of simple technologies application. Topics around attitudes and mindset development for instance.

Intervention Idea: Sensitization meetings at the officeto allow for farmers to be aware of details in a program and build their confidence. These tend to only be successful if farmers trust and have rapport. An exchange of ideas with researchers and other stakeholders (more participatory) leaving it open so farmers can share with each other and make suggestions would also be useful.

Common Barriers Farmers Struggle With

• Low use of improved seeds and fertilizers (limited access, high cost)
• Poor soil health (low application of technologies)
• Lack of land access
• Poor crop management practices and timely field preparation
• Reliance on rain fed production (limited irrigation and water management knowledge)
• Insufficient agricultural marketing system (lack of outlets, harvest losses: storage facilities, limited processing skills and facilities)
• High transaction costs (inadequate road and transport infrastructure, small volumes varied in quality, poor bargaining power, lack of institutional infrastructure and inability to aggregate produce)
• Limited access to credit (high interest, collateral requirements and low investments in agriculture by creditors)

Dagomba Chiefs and Elders

Technology Adoption Constraints

Technology adoption is seen as one poverty alleviation strategy in a broader sense. Most agriculture projects in Ghana and across Africa are about poverty alleviation and nutritional improvements. Better yields implies increased income of farmers. EWB’s value add in this approach is that we are working on the ground in the field developing a better understanding of what farmer realities and implementation failures are. And to this reality we bring critical thinking and quick interventions to inform other programs.

Currently, technology adoption is coming from an economic based perspective, which assumes that farmers are rational all the time. The truth is that this is not always the case. Social constraints, level of education and other components that shape and affect farmer behaviours that might be different from non-farmer behaviours. It is farmer behavior, attitudes and on the ground realities that upper level decision makers (donors and central government) do not necessarily account for when making decisions that affect services meant to assist farmers. This is due to not only a lack of understanding of farmer beahviour and on the ground realities, but also a lack of incentive to account for them – political and other competitive incentives are more influential. A farmer first approach is defined as looking to improve farmer’s extension services as opposed to the extension services provided by MoFA.

Supporting the boys football at the match

Agricultural best practices cannot just be carbon copied from other places in the world where it once worked since a specific situation and context contribute significantly to the success of the best practice. This supports EWB’s team strategy in our rapid-prototyping and searching approach to new interventions, testing and using what works.

Pong Tamale United FC – My Favourite Football Team, they have been a big part of my community here. This is at one of their matches

Agricultural Extension and Development

Agricultural extension is defined as those who support people engaged in agricultural production through the facilitation of their efforts to progress and find solutions. Stakeholders who provide extension services work to obtain information, skills, and technologies to improve producer livelihoods and strengthen linkages within the agricultural value chain. The focus of extension has been the transfer of technology to improve productivity. While transfer of technology is very relevant to the developing world, agricultural extension can also play a wider role to enhance the skills and knowledge for production and processing, facilitating access to markets and trade, and working with farmers for natural resource management.

Agricultural extension, or agricultural advisory, is increasingly acknowledged as a strong contributor to agricultural development. Reducing poverty and social inequalities, the sustainable use of natural resources, and participatory development, are general objectives to which extension policies can make a contribution. Food security is often a problem for the rural poor, a large proportion of who solely depend on agriculture as a livelihood. By contributing to the improvement of farming and farm yields, agricultural extension can be a very powerful tool for empowerment and support to community livelihoods.

System of extension in agriculture – Image taken NEUCHÂTEL GROUP 2007 Report, Page 4

Why is Agricultural Extension Important for Ghana?

Since it is estimated that about 50.6 per cent of the labour force (4.2 million people) are directly engaged in agriculture, agricultural development is seen as a way to target food security and poverty reduction through the improvement of farm income (FASDEPII, 2007). Agriculture continues to contribute the largest share to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Since 2000, the contribution of agriculture to total GDP has varied between 35.8 per cent and 37 per cent and agricultural growth has increased from about 4 per cent in 2000 to 6 per cent in 2005 (FASDEPII, 2007). The traditional roles of agriculture include provision of food security, supply of raw materials for industry, and creation of employment and generation of foreign exchange earnings (FASDEPII, 2007). Beyond these, agriculture is recognized to have a greater impact on poverty reduction than most other sectors. Other roles include social stabilization, a buffer during economic shocks, support to environmental sustainability, and cultural values associated with farming (FASDEPII, 2007).

However, the slow growth of agriculture specifically for Ghana is due to a combination of factors that reduce farmer incentives to invest and produce, which include lack of technological change and poor basic infrastructure.

Constraints of the sector are classified under:

• Human resource and managerial skills;
• Natural resource management;
• Technology development and dissemination;
• Infrastructure;
• Market access;
• Food insecurity and
• Irrigation development and management (FASDEPII, 2007).

Extension services can contribute to improving the livelihoods of farmers through technology development and dissemination, market access and irrigation development and management that collectively contribute to an increase of farmer income.

Agricultural Extension in Ghana

To increase the impact of extension on agriculture and pro-poor growth in developing countries, public-sector agricultural extension systems are implementing reforms that include demand-driven and decentralized approaches. Such reforms are happening in Ghana as an attempt to increase the accountability of agricultural extension staff to farmers and increase the relevance of extension activities.

Co-worker and an AEA in a maize field

The primary system for extension service delivery is through the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) district level. In 1987 MOFA established the Department of Agricultural Extension Services based on a train and visit method of regular training (once a month) and visit schedules where one Agricultural Extension Agent (AEA) would carry messages in all disciplines of agriculture (Management Training Workshop, 2006). Today, each district level has a number of AEAs who are responsible for delivering extension to farmers and others involved in agricultural production.

Extension services are hoping to become more demand driven and proactive in developing business and marketing skills of farmers. The hope is that these services become more pluralistic, flexible and responsible to changing the socio-economic environment of the rural sector, which is more open to new funding mechanisms and private sector participation. Importantly, the system of extension is becoming more decentralised to the District Assemblies.

Key functions of extension – Image taken from the NEUCHÂTEL GROUP 2007 Report, Page 11

Farmer Training is critical for implementation of agriculture extension and is accomplished at the District level through,
• Field and home visits (3-4 per week per AEA)
• Group meetings
• Community campaigns
• Field days and study tours for farmers
• On-farm Trials and demonstrations
• Drama and docu-drama
• Posters and extension leaflets
• Radio and Video (Management Training Workshop, 2006)

Field Visits are also part of agriculture extension and involves,
• Demarcate operational areas (OAs)
• Sketch map of operational areas
• Visiting Schedules
• Individual farm visits
• Village campaigns
• FBO training (Management Training Workshop, 2006),

Data collected in Bongo and Tamale by Engineers Without Borders for the International Food Policy Research Institute concluded that the majority of an AEAs’ time was spent interacting in the field, while measuring and demarcating plots took up 35-68 per cent of their time. AEAs’ were interacting with farmer groups to incorporate the administrative and supervision of inputs in their work 31-26 percent of time, while 30 per cent of an AEAs’ average day worked towards delivering technology advice on line distances or applying fertilizer, as well as monitoring the application for good agriculture practices (IFPRI Research Papers, EWB 2011). Roughly 45-71 per cent of a AEAs’ activities were spent on enabling farmer access to development partners and 38-80 percent of a day meant for enabling access to external assistance and technology advice (IFPRI Research Papers, EWB 2011).

Experiment with video for improved extension with farmers

Since data varies greatly between the two districts, diversity in the dissemination of extension across districts is evident. Some farmers will have greater one-on-one interaction with AEAs, specifically meant for extension and others will depend more readily on their peers for learning. Activity focus is also highly dependent on the season, where the majority of an AEAs’ time could be wrapped in prepping farmers for completion of national level projects or for what the District level Director chooses.

Problems with Agricultural Extension

Inherent difficulties of providing agricultural extension through the public sector include the scale and complexity of agricultural production, dependence on the broader policy environment, weak linkages between the extension and research systems, difficulty in attributing impact, weak accountability, weak political commitment and support, public duties other than knowledge transfer, and the challenge of fiscal sustainability (Davis, 2008).

Me and my Motorcycle – One complaint I often here from AEA’s in the field – fuel costs

Solutions to Improve the Lives of Farmers through Extension

Reforms to address these problems are considered innovative in their move away from the top-down methods of public funding and provision of extension services, with its linear process from research to extension to farmers. These reforms include aspects of decentralization, privatization, participatory services, and public–private partnerships resulting in pluralistic extension services that involve the public, private, and civil sectors (Glendenning & Babu, 2011). Even these pluralistic extension services, however, recognize the value of continued involvement of the public sector in roles such as public policy, coordination, regulation of services for quality control; focus on public-good issues, and pro-poor services (Glendenning & Babu, 2011).

Extension should be advisory, not prescriptive. This requires extension workers to be “actors in” not “instruments of” extension. Since farming conditions change at the whim of markets and the weather, to be effective extension must be able to address change. Extension systems must be ultra flexible to respond to new situations (opportunities or crises) (Neuchatel Group, 2007). Trust must be established between the small-scale farmer and the adviser. Solid technical expertise remains essential, but the abilities of extension workers must go beyond that and must be adept in participatory techniques, and resourceful in drawing on a mix of communication methods and technologies (Glendenning & Babu, 2011). AEAs must think in terms of market opportunities, increasing producer incomes and total farm management.

Spent the afternoon harvesting groundnuts (peanuts) with women farmers


All in all, extension services for agricultural development play a critical role in poverty reduction and food security. Extension is meant to directly engage with producers, solving their most critical problems of increasing yields and selling them at market. Increasing the income of producers contributes greatly to the reduction of poverty for a country like Ghana, where the majority of the population rely solely on farming as a livelihood. Although extension in Ghana currently faces many problems, working with the public sector to become more flexible, decentralized and pluralistic will increase the quality of service.


Engineers Without Borders. Agricultural Extension in Tamale Metropolitan: Results Report For IFPRI, collected June-July 2011.

Engineers Without Borders. Agricultural Extension in
Bongo District (UER)
For IFPRI, collected June-July 2011.

Engineers Without Borders. Mofa Extension Policy Powerpoint presented for the Management Training Workshop August 2006 in Kumasi.

Davis, Kristin E. Extension in Sub-Saharan Africa: Overview and Assessment of Past and Current Models, and Future Prospects. International Food Policy Research Institute. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Volume 15, Number 3, Fall 2008.

Glendenning, Claire J., & Suresh C. Babu. The case of the district level agriculture technology management agency. IFPRI Eastern and Sourthern Africa Regional Office, Paper 0167. February 2011.

Ministry of Food and Agriculture, Republic of Ghana. Food and Agriculture Sector Development Policy (FASDEPII). August 2007.

Neuchatel Group. Common Framework on Agricultural Extension. October 2007.

Ghana Landscape – Location is Kpandae