Lack of Agriculture cooperatives killing smallholder farmers
For nearly a decade of commercial citrus farming at Odumafo in the Eastern Region, 56 years old Kojo Marfo says, his highest sale of orange fruits after a good harvest was GH¢900.00 for a planting season.
“That year was a happy time for my family and I because we’ve never had that much money. God blessed us that year when some market women from Burkina Faso came and bought our oranges at 50 pesewa more for a sack full,” Marfo says with a smile.
After fixing the price of a bag of oranges for Marfo, the market women also load the bags with the fruits themselves without any scale of measurement and to their satisfaction level.
This is the “pittance reward” many smallholder farmers like Marfo are getting out of their sweat to feed our population. The reason is mainly because smallholders act alone in the production and marketing of their produce all the time.
Marfo’s story goes to confirm that though many years of research and experience had shown that small farmers acting alone did not benefit from higher food prices and income, many African countries including Ghana, are still not taking advantage of agricultural cooperatives and or associations.
Farmers acting collectively in strong producer associations or organisations and cooperatives are better able to take advantage of many opportunities including market access, bargaining power, and fairer commercial conditions, which help them to mitigate the effects of food and other crises.
Today there are examples of innovative producer associations and cooperatives in both developed and developing countries that had proven successful in helping small producers overcome different constraints. But these too often are limited in scale and scope.
FAO World Food Day 2012
In recognition of this and many other reasons, the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), has decided to throw the searchlight on cooperatives towards the celebration of this year’s World Food Day, which falls on October 16th every year.
“Agricultural Cooperatives: Key to Feeding the World” is the chosen theme for the 2012 World Food Day to increase the understanding of the role and importance of agricultural cooperatives and producer associations or organisations in achieving food security and reducing poverty.
As Ghana and all other countries observe the Day, governments are expected to promote the formation of such special enterprises as a way out of hunger and poverty.
The FAO is also asking governments and policy makers to put in place the rights policies, transparent legislations, incentives and opportunities for dialogue, since all these are necessary conditions for cooperatives and producer organisation to develop and growth.
There is broad agreement smallholders will provide much of the extra food needed to feed more than nine billion people by 2050 and experts have noted that one of the steps to achieve food security is to support and invest in cooperatives.
The International Cooperative Alliance defines a true cooperative as “an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise”.
Cooperatives are present in all countries and in sectors including agriculture, finance, food, health, marketing, insurance, credit, etc… It is estimated that one billion are members of cooperatives globally, generating more than 100 million jobs.
Ghana observes World Food Day 2012
“Agricultural and food cooperatives are already a major tool against poverty and hunger but they could do much more. It is time to strengthen these organisations and facilitate their expansion while creating a favourable business, legal, policy and social climate in which they can thrive,” FAO concept paper on the 2012 World Food Day notes.
To make the celebration more meaningful and beneficial to the local farmer, the Ghanaian government has adopted a sub theme: “Restoring Coconut Farmers’ Livelihood through Farm-Based Organisations (FBOs)” to raise the importance of cooperatives in raising income and creating more jobs.
The celebration, which will take place at Bewadze in the Gomoa West District of the Central Region, will therefore attract many FBOs across the country.
In Ghana, the agric sector is made up mainly of smallholder farmers, who are disadvantaged in accessing inputs, credit, extension services and markets for their produce. Through the activities of FBOs, farmers strengthen their bargaining power in the market place, and ensuring equity and a cost-effective extension service delivery system.
FBOs also facilitate the dissemination of information on agricultural technologies and best farming practices that are environmentally friendly. Strong groups could also empower their members to influence policies that affect their livelihood. However, currently in Ghana, most FBOs are weak in terms of financing and organization.
The National Planning Committee of the World Food Day under the chairmanship of Yaw Effah-Baafi, a Deputy Minister of Food and Agriculture said every arrangement had been made to herald successful celebration. Activities planned include flag raising, educational seminars on the parent theme, clean market project, coconut planting and symbolic signing of petition to end hunger.
Role of Cooperatives
Statistics show that in 2008 the top 300 cooperatives were responsible for an aggregate turnover of US$1.1 trillion, which is the size of the world’s tenth largest economy, Canada and nearly the size of Spain.
In Kenya, 70% of coffee, 76% of dairy, 95% of cotton are owned by cooperatives; in the US, dairy cooperatives control about 80% of dairy production; In Columbia, the national federation of coffee growers provides production and marketing services to 500,000 coffee growers; In Brazil cooperatives are responsible for 40% of the agricultural GDP and six per cent of total agribusiness export.
Cooperatives need government and Governments need cooperatives. Whereas government regulation of cooperatives is important, it is equally important that cooperatives have the autonomy to govern and manage themselves by formulating their own bye-laws. In some countries like the US and Costa Rica, cooperative education has been mainstreamed into schools curricular.
If Kojo Marfo decides today to join a famer association, his interest will no doubt be served. He together with others will be helped to achieve their shared social, cultural and economic aspirations. For Marfo to continue to work hard to produce food to feed the population, it is important for relevant stakeholders to come together with clear roles and responsibilities to define the enabling environment where producer organisation can develop.
A GNA feature by Lawrence Quartey
Agriculture is key to the overall economic growth and development of Ghana. In the national development agenda, agriculture is expected to lead the growth and structural transformation of the economy and maximize the benefits of accelerated growth. Significant improvement in the productivity of the agriculture sector is required to raise the average real incomes of Ghanaians as a whole. Agriculture has direct impact on the attainment of at least five of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).