Government’s attention has been drawn to the huge gap between the number of agricultural extension officers (AEO) in the country and the number of farmers needing their services.
Statistics from the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA), show a ratio of one AEO assigned to about 1,500 farmers, a situation that makes it difficult for smallholder farmers who need their services most to access extention services.
However, the Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana (PFAG), has said that their own research showed an average of one EO offering extension services (ES), to 3,000 farmers.
In an interview, the Programme Officer of the PFAG, Mr Charles Nyaaba, said that the issue of ES was still a challenge to most farmers in Ghana.
He said ever since Ghana signed on to the IMF programme in 1983 there had been an embargo on the recruitment of extension officers.
Mr Nyaaba said the government attempted in 2014 to introduce electronic-extension where information was sent to farmers through the mobile phone but in the majority of the farming communities there were no mobile networks.
Other farmers who could not also read text messages in English were found wanting.
“The government needs to be strong if we actually see the agricultural sector as an area to prioritise and then try to recruit more extension staff. This is because we have extension staff in the system who are trained by the government’s resources and afterwards end up being employed by individuals and private organisations that are into agric,” he said.
Role of ES
Agricultural extension service can be the government agency or ministry responsible for promoting the adoption and utilisation of new scientific farming practices through educational procedures.
ES role include acting as an intermediary between agricultural development institutions and target groups such as the farmer, women groups and youths; linking the farmer with sources of farming inputs and credit facilities; and providing timely information on new innovations and practices.
The importance of agricultural ES in influencing productivity in the farming business cannot be underestimated. Agricultural experts say that ES should be considered a strategic investment, because even if land, water, seeds, production inputs and capital are made available but smallholder farmers remained uninformed they would not be able to efficiently and productively use them.
Thus, for Ghana’s agriculture to improve, farmers have no alternative but to learn and adopt recommended scientific farming techniques.
For farmers to respond positively to new ideas they must be properly educated on how best to apply the new ideas or practices to their farming activities as the new ideas are often complex and technical.
An extension worker helps farmers increase the productivity of their farms and improve their living standards. He or she serves as an adviser, a technician and a middleman operating between agricultural research institutions and the farming communities.
He is a change agent, consultant and advocate helping farmers to identify their problems and find their own solution. He works for the creation of community harmony essential for group projects.
In most developing countries such as Ghana, subsistence agriculture dominates the economy and for national progress to occur, change in agriculture is essential.
Impact of absence of ES on farming
Studies by PFAG has shown that some farmers do not see the need to use improved seeds because they think it will require using more fertiliser and the produce may go bad early.
Mr Nyaaba said, “If we are not able to get the right information to farmers they won’t apply appropriate methods of farming so at the end they will still be getting lower yields which will end up impacting the total contribution of the agricultural sector to all of us.”
Again, he said the absence of ES made it difficult for MOFA itself to execute its own programmes as it tried to modernise the agriculture sector by coming out with new products, equipment and programmes including the Fertiliser Subsidy Programme.
He said since there were some areas that farmers did not have information on all of these programmes it would be difficult to implement them in the absence of EO.
He said that PFAG, in collaboration with SEND GHANA, are currently developing some policy briefs to be presented to government soon on how to address the issue of ES.
They have also engaged MOFA and its Extension Services Directorate on some of the issues which include providing training to leaders of farmer-based organisations at the community level to get some of the new information to them.
Such information, he said, could be extended to farmers, which is called farmer to farmer extension so the few who get the information can share with the others.
He urged other non-governmental organisations who were working with farmers and private institutions who could support to try and recruit extension staff to complement government’s efforts.