MoFA urged to increase extension officers for farmers
he Ekumfi Srafa Pineapple Growers Association, in the Ekumfi district of the Central Region, is calling on the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) to increase the number of extension officers posted to the area for good farming practices to prevail.
According to the association, if there are a good number of extension officers in the district, they will be able to train farmers on the right application of chemicals and give access to information on new-technology farming, so that farmers do not incur a loss on their produce.
A study conducted by the association in May 2018 – on ‘situational analysis of access to extension officers and losses incurred by pineapple farmers of Ekumfi Srafa’, with support from the Business Sector Advocacy Challenge (Fund) and funds from DANIDA, USAID, DfID and European Union for 30 farmers in the area – indicates that some farmers have not had access to extension officers for the past four years.
Also, even those who have ever accessed the services of an extension officer only engaged the person once in the past six years.
While some said they had never required the services of extension officers because they are not available, those who made the effort to reach one were not successful due to their limited number in the district
The concerns of these farmers were discussed at the district and regional extension department of MoFA.
Responses gathered indicate that the extension department is moving toward demand-driven extension services and complementing it with television and radio communication, as well as dissemination of information through farmer groups. The Extension Service Department’s concern is that it has a limited number of extension officers, which makes it difficult for them to move from one farmer to another and provide information on good farming practices.
They advised that if farmers organise into groups and associations, it will make their work less difficult.
Nature of pineapple production
The Major planting period for pineapples begins from March to the end of May. This period is the major planting season for farmers in the middle and southern parts of Ghana. The minor planting season is from August to September.
Insecticides are applied at least three times before the pineapples begin to bear fruit. The fertiliser application is done three months after planting the suckers. The pineapples, usually begin to bear fruit seven months after planting, and harvesting is usually done 12 months after planting.
The association purchases insecticide in bulk and distributes to its members, and the distribution is done based on the size of a farm. Payment for the insecticide is made after harvesting and sale of their produce.
The price of a bottle of an insecticide at the time of the study was GH¢20.00 and a farmer needs three bottles for an acre of pineapple farm – bringing the total cost of insecticide per acre of farm to GH¢60.00 a year. The cost of insecticide is however based on the extent of infection.
Diseases that affect pineapple production
Different pests attack the pineapples at different stages of growth. The first to attack the pineapples a couple of months after planting is worms. The attack usually happens between April and May. The worms, which the farmers called ‘koyanko’ in the Fante language, eat the germinated suckers. Another pest that attacks the suckers is centipedes.
Centipedes, like the worms, also eat the germinated suckers – killing them instantly. The farmers also indicated that fungi-infection usually attacks the pineapple fruit. The fungi attack the fruit which are about to mature, making the leaves and fruit turn yellow.
The farmers identify pests and diseases by observation. Upon identification of infection by a disease, the farmers usually treat the affected crop by applying insecticides and pesticides. Others also control the infection by destroying the affected plant.
The most common chemicals used in treating the infection are Gamaline 40, Urea and Dusban.
It became evident that the farmers sometimes apply wrong pesticides and insecticides or use the wrong quantities, which often makes the pineapples wilt.
Most of the farmers have ever suffered low crop yield, and this they attributed to planting at the wrong time, inadequate rains, worm invasion and fungi infections. Others also attributed the low crop yield to application of wrong chemicals, poor soil fertility, and inadequate knowledge about pineapple production. The yearly loss varied from as low as GH¢100.00 to as high as GH¢700.00.
It also became evident that farmers discussed pineapple farm-related issues with friends and neighbours, and this behaviour was seen as key in distributing information informally to other farmers. The issues normally discussed were those affecting pineapple production and the need to come together to access extension services.
Findings from the study:
Harvesting the pineapples
Friends and extended family members who participated in the harvesting were paid in kind (given some of the produce). The harvested pineapples were mostly sold on the farms, as buyers from Mankessim and other towns follow the farmers to their farms to purchase the pineapples. In situations where buyers were not available, the farmers transported the pineapples to nearby markets – notable among them Essuehyia and Mankessim Markets in the Central Region.
It became evident that the number of pineapples produced by a farmer depended on a number of factors. The factors include farm size, fertility of soil, ability to control pests and diseases, and planting at the right time.
All other things being equal, the farmers were producing between 400 and 6,000 fruits per year and selling between 300 and 5,000 a year. At the peak of production, a pineapple fruit was sold for GH¢0.50 while during off-season a pineapple fruit was sold for GH¢1.00. It was inferred from the above figures that the farmers are making on average between GH¢150.00 and GH¢2500.00 when the price of pineapples was low to between GH¢300.00 and GH¢5,000.00 annually when the price was high. However, the farmers opined that sometimes they sell on credit to market women, and it usually took about three days for them to get their money.
Based on the perishable nature of pineapples, the farmers said they are sometimes susceptible to manipulation by the market as the price of the pineapples is determined by market women. The farmers further said that post-harvest losses are common as the pineapples usually rot three days after harvesting. They were very happy about the construction of a pineapple factory in the district, as in their view it will boost the pineapple business in the district. However, the farmers could not estimate their losses. They intimated that they secured consumption by relying on income from other crops.
The study recommended that members of the association should remind each other of the right time to plant, as this will help avoid planting at the wrong time.
The Pineapple Association should petition the Extension Service Department to assign extension officers to pineapple growers in the district, as the department prefers to work with farmer groups rather than individual farmers.
The association can take advantage of the pineapple factory that is under construction in the district, so that the farmers can produce to feed the factory.
The Extension Services Department should train farmers on the right application of chemicals – and that training should cover the right chemicals for the specific pests and diseases, and the right quantities to use.