Some 4000 watermelon farmers in the Dangme East district of the Greater Accra region are recording a whopping 60% loss of their produce as a result of lack of ready market, an Agric Extension Officer for the district has said.
Due to the unavailability of a facility to process the watermelons in the district, farmers count their losses each year.
Watermelon, an essential seasonal fruit that adds to the nutritional basket of the country, is in season, but, again, farmers of the crop are losing out due to the lack of storage facilities and access to ready market.
Large quantities of the juicy fruit rot away under trees along the major streets in the Dangme East District, where the crop is predominantly cultivated.
Director of Agric Extension services for Dangme East, Mr. Nunya Agbemenu disclosed in an interview with Rite news that watermelon farmers within the area are losing their produce in the face of the bumper harvest which is costing the farmers huge sums of money invested into the business.
Irrigation, identified as a key requirement to address the situation has driven the farmers into a meeting with the District Chief Executive of the area to discuss appropriate measures to provide them with irrigation systems to allow them do all year round farming.
Another way out for the farmers according to Mr. Agbemenu is through value addition of the fruit into juice or other products.
Though the situation has been perennial, it is only for a short term since the farmers in the area grow the fruits seasonally after which they all moved back to grow other crops, tomatoes or other crops.
Mr. Agbemenu was hopeful that farmers could make good returns if they avoided cultivating the fruit around the same time to avoid the glut.
He regretted what he called the failure of the agric sector to follow the value chain.
“Ghana’s Agriculture industry doesn’t follow the value chain in the sense that there are no processors, transport and others factors within the sector,” he bemoaned.
While urging for the establishment of processing factories
“In agriculture, MOFA is trying to ensure that it works along the value chain to solve production challenges from production to consumption. It is therefore important to establish processing factories but before that, stakeholders should provide support for farmers to be able to do all year round production to feed these factories,” Mr. Agbemenu said.
Rotational cropping, in the face of the post-harvest losses could help deal with the persistent issue including the watermelon glut currently affecting farmers of the fruit in most areas of the country, the Extension Officer opined.
The crop is planted two times in a year; between January and March against the minor rainy season and from September to October during the major raining season.
The price of an average-size melon ranges between GH¢ 2cedis and GH¢5 now at most vending point across the country.
This situation is just one example of the marketing challenges small-scale rural farmers face. They have little power in the markets and are often left to bear the brunt of all the risk.
Affected farmers in communities in the district where watermelons are produced in large quantities are forced to plough the rotten crop back into the soil to prepare the land for the cultivation of other crops.
Farmers complain that although the cultivation of the crop holds a great potential for farmers in the area to make good returns, post-harvest losses and lack of buyers have for years been the bane of watermelon farming in the area.
The lucky farmers who are able to make some profit on their produce are those who take the risk to plant even before the early rains. Like most rural farmers, these farmers are at the mercy of the pricing of middlemen for their produce.
Although watermelon farming is capital-intensive, from land preparation through planting to harvesting, it attracts very little in terms of pricing by the middlemen.