Increasingly unpredictable weather, low yields, and poor access to input markets and agricultural advisory services have been severely challenging farming communities in northern Ghana. Confirming this anecdotal evidence, a new study in the region shows that most farms also have limited surplus due to low productivity and market inefficiency. 

The study by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded sustainable intensification program, Africa RISING, examined the link between agricultural market integration, productivity, and welfare in North Ghana. The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) team sampled 1,284 households across 50 communities in the three USAID’s Feed the Future Zone of Influence-targeted regions: Northern, Upper West, and Upper East.

They found that farmers in North Ghana have very low adoption of basic agronomic practices such as row planting, fertilizer micro-dosing, cereal-legume intercropping, and use of improved inputs such as inorganic fertilizers and pesticides that are proven to enhance productivity, resource use efficiency, and soil fertility. Only about half (48%) of the sampled farmers practice row planting with optimum spacing, 28% practice cereal-legume intercropping, and only 25% have adopted fertilizer optimization practices, as opposed to traditional farming systems based on mono-cropped plots and recycled seed broadcasting that are used by most farmers in the region.

These practices have led to low farm production and surplus, which has limited income and led to persistently high food insecurity and poverty in many North Ghanaian households. The authors highlight strong positive associations between use of inputs and marketed surplus, between on-farm diversity and dietary diversity and, finally, between market access and dietary diversity. ‘But these relationships are not necessarily uncovering causal mechanisms, on which we are currently working,’ Carlo Azzarri, IFPRI senior researcher warns.

To tackle these challenges, a stepwise approach for improving productivity and resilience is recommended. It would prioritize promotion of adoption of basic low-cost agronomic practices while supporting advanced agricultural innovations such as irrigation, mechanization, crop-livestock integration, and various types of intercropping. 

Also, promotion of on-farm diversity through integration of nutrient-rich and high-value crops is suggested because it improves resource efficiency and dietary diversity where market access is limited. At the same time, the authors say, increasing access to profitable output markets, by reducing transaction costs and providing relevant market information, will enhance production efficiency and household diets.

Stay tuned for the results of an ongoing analysis based on follow-up panel data which is assessing the impact of Africa RISING initiatives on market access, on-farm surplus, dietary diversity, and welfare in Ghana.


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