Assessment of Extension and Advisory Services in Ghana’s Feed the Future Zone of Influence
In 2009 the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) began the Feed the Future (FtF) initiative to address global poverty and hunger, and selected Ghana as one of 19 target countries (Feed the Future, n.d.). Overall, Ghana has shown annual GDP increases of 4% to 8% and a reduction in overall poverty from 52% to 28% in the last decade (CIA, 2015). Agricultural development has been the primary driver of economic growth and poverty reduction in Ghana, making it the focal point of the country’s FtF strategy. The Ghanaian agricultural sector provides 21.5% of GDP and employs 56% of the labor force (CIA, 2015).
However, economic growth and reductions in poverty have been much lower in northern Ghana. Recent estimates show that poverty rates in Ghana’s three northern regions are twice that of Ghana’s southern regions. Instances of stunting and wasting, indicators of acute food insecurity, are also considerably higher in northern Ghana as compared to the rest of the country (Feed the Future, n.d.). As a result, the FtF initiative prioritized three regions (Northern Region, Upper West Region, and Upper East Region) as the Zone of Influence (ZoI) for its operations in Ghana.
Like in the rest of the country, smallholder agriculture is the main source of employment, income, and food security in the ZoI (MoFA, 2010). However, farmers in northern Ghana face a number of challenges in agricultural production and food security. The ZoI is characterized by challenging conditions for agricultural production. The area is dry, arid, and compromised by water scarcity due to a short, three-month rainy season followed by extended drought that limits farmers to a single growing season. Strong winds also create a bi-modal Harmattan season that impacts cropping systems (FAO, n.d.). Consequently, farmers struggle to produce traditional staples of maize, rice, and yams but also vegetables, cash crops, and tree crops (CIA, n.d.; MoFA, 2010).
Under-development of the three northern regions further compromises production and food security. The ZoI lacks agricultural infrastructure (e.g. irrigation systems, processing/storage facilities) and poorly developed transportation infrastructure. Low production is also attributed to farmers’ lack of access to and unfamiliarity with modern inputs and agricultural technologies, such as certified seed, agrochemicals, inoculants, and improved production techniques (Wood, 2013).
Addressing this gap in improved technology usage reinforces the need for effective agricultural extension and advisory services to northern Ghana. Indeed, the impact of agricultural extension in the ZoI has been largely positive. Access to information and extension services were found to significantly influence farm household’s likelihood of adopting modern production technologies (Akudugu, Guo, & Dadzie, 2012). These changes in farmer behavior were linked to improved production and increased food security. Therefore, in order to address food insecurity and increase household incomes in northern Ghana, a vibrant and effective extension service should play a central role.