The Cultivation of poor quality seeds, lack of spacing, poor application of chemicals and poor harvesting and storage practices have been identified as factors affecting the quality of grains produced by smallholder farmers in the three Northern Regions of Ghana.
The hardworking farmers invest much energy, time and resources into their business but mostly encounter loses due to their ignorance about good agronomic practices.
As a result, the Northern Rural Growth Programme (NRGP) of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture in collaboration with Nestle Ghana Limited has organized series of training and capacity building workshops for smallholder farmer groups in the area on “Quality Grain Management”.
Nestle Ghana Limited and the NRGP have since 2011 taken the lead to promoting quality grain management to enable local farmers meet the quality standards of raw materials required by the various industries such as Nestle for the production of foods onto the market.
Over 52,000 farmers have so far been trained to understand the health effects of poor quality grains which results in “mycotoxins” (dangerous substances that are produced by moulds or bacteria to contaminate foods especially cereals). An additional 1,125 agric extension officers and 158 aggregators of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) have also been trained to complement the efforts of the District Value Chain Committees whose responsibility is to sustain the programme thereafter.
Eating grains which are high in aflatoxins can lead to liver cancer, jaundice, stunted growth in children and sometimes deaths in human and livestock animals. Farmers across Ghana especially in the three Northern Regions have over the years failed to produce safe and good quality maize, sorghum, rice and millet for their personal consumption and for sale to industries which largely affect their income generation.
|Officials of NRGP/Nestle At a Meeting with farmers|
Speaking at one of the series of capacity building workshops at Gushie for farmers and agricultural extension officers, the Central and West Africa Zone Manager of Nestle in charge of Agric, Klutse Kudomor said that the company places farmers at the centre of their business operations since they are the source of their raw materials and also form part of the target consumers of their products.
According to him, the involvement of Nestle Ghana Limited in the Quality Grain Management Project was to ensure that the farmers produce quality of grains which would be safe for their own personal consumption and could also meet quality standards of industries.
“As a company, Nestle does not compromise on the safety and quality of raw materials used for our production because we produce for human consumption and when the customers are healthy and alive we can also continue to stay in business”.
He said that the company was also interested in helping the farmers to get more income out of their produce so that they could continue to patronize their products.
Mr. Kudomor indicated that Nestle was also interested in promoting local businesses by patronizing local raw materials for their daily productions. He noted that the NRGP and the company had adopted the Value Chain approach to ensure that the farmers got ready market after production and with a good price.
What are Mycotoxins?
Mycotoxins are dangerous chemical substances that are produced by Moulds to contaminate various agricultural commodities, either before or after harvest. The Moulds attack foodstuffs such as maize, sorghum, groundnuts, cowpea, dried fruits and spices. They discolour the grains, reduce the nutrient content and turn the grains into poisonous substances which become harmful to human health. Mycotoxins are not visible. They do not have a particular favour. Therefore it is not easy convince consumers about their existence in food.
How to manage or avoid Mycotoxins
Farmers are required to use good seed materials during planting, plant at the correct spacing to avoid overcrowding, control weeds early and harvest at maturity when the maize cobs have just dried up. They are also expected not to leave dry cobs on the field for a long time before harvesting, avoid harvesting in wet conditions, grains should be dried soon after harvest within 24-48 hours to below 14% moisture content and then dry further to a moisture content of 12% before storage and dry on black plastic sheets or mat not on bare floor. They must avoid breaking of grains during shelling, sort to discard poor quality products before storage, store in appropriate structure (improved granaries, silos and jute bags), storage facilities should be clean and dry and then prevent insect pest attacks to avoid spread of mould spores.
|A Section of Smallholder Farmers At Meeting|
The National Coordinator of the NRGP, Mr. Felix Darimani said that with the introduction of the Northern Rural Growth Programme, farmers in the three Northern Regions had had several opportunities to improve on their businesses.
According to him, farmers were previously taught by Extension Officers on only how to plant in a role, how to use fertilizers and agro-chemicals to enable them produce the crops in large quantities.
But the NRGP had introduced the farmers to the Value Chain approach which ensures that they (farmers) cultivate the correct variety of seeds with high quality which are on high demand by consumers or on the markets so that the farmers would not go through any difficulties in selling their produce and getting the correct prices.
“With NRGP, farmers now produce exactly what the markets or consumers want and this has brought about our partnership with Nestle to purchase whatever the farmers produce. Farmers are already aware of the standards Nestle looks out for so there is that understanding between the two parties”.
Mr. Darimani said that the quality grain management project formed part of the NRGP and Nestles’ efforts at facilitating small holder farmer groups’ access to competitive and remunerative markets for their farm produce.
This, according to Felix Darimaani has since improved the expertise of the beneficiaries, change agents and MOFA staff on grain quality management using simple posters and Mycotoxin management guide.
For the NRGP, the grain quality management programme provides a good opportunity for its small holder farmers to have alternative market channels for their produce in addition to the other aggregators and marketers in the programme area.
The NRGP’s major priority is to provide a platform for mobilization of farmers and training of producers to ensure good quality grain fostering.
The ongoing training programme is one of the tailored series of training Nestle and the NRGP are collaboratively carrying out for its clients.