In 2017, Ghana’s Ministry of Food and Agriculture launched an ambitious five-year policy framework to reverse the declining trends in Ghana’s agricultural sector. The policy was termed as a “clarion call on every single Ghanaian to take farming as a full-time or part-time activity.” The aim of the programme is to reduce food imports to a bare minimum, and position the agricultural sector as an attractive source of income and employment for Ghana’s growing youth population. This, according to the Planting for Food and Jobs (PFJ) Strategic Plan, is in light of the sectors decreasing GDP contribution and stagnation in farm productivity and output. This decline is attributed to inadequate use of quality seed varieties, fertiliser, and weak extension of services to support farmers.
An estimated 75.29% of Ghana’s rural population operate small farms and/or hold livestock, while in urban areas it is about 22%. The majority of people relying on agricultural incomes have less than two hectares in size and, given Ghana has a rapidly growing population; food production is not able to keep up. The increase in total yields is being associated with expansion in cultivation area, rather than increased productivity levels for existing farmers. The PFJ programme is expected to reach 1.6 million households across 216 districts by 2020. To do this, the programme will work with an estimated 2,000 (60%) out of 3,328 registered Farmer Based Organizations in Ghana, and 5,000 nucleus farms who support smallholders around them in purchasing inputs and marketing outputs.
The mobile opportunity
Managing a large-scale initiative like the PFJ will rely heavily on the provision and collection of accurate data and information in order to ensure success. According to the Ministry of Farming and Agriculture in Ghana, the PFJ strategy will also need to differentiate itself from existing subsidy programmes criticized for delayed payments to suppliers, lack of transparency and inadequate monitoring and evaluation. In addition to delivering results for farmers, the PFJ programme will need support to be fully accountable and transparent. This is where mobile technologies can play a key role. Programmes such as Living Goods in Uganda, demonstrate how mobile can enable scaled support of communities through use of mobile technology. While Living Goods focuses primarily on health and nutrition, mobile technology has enabled the programme to rapidly recruit and support over 2,300 community health volunteers and equip these volunteers with mobile-based information and tools to serve over 400,000 households per month. This is similar to the scale that agricultural subsidies and programmes need to achieve in Ghana, with extension workers needing the same level of support to deliver services, and collect and report data for decision-making. Mobile technology is the most feasible way to make this possible.
The digital identity opportunity
One of the key ingredients for successfully understanding the needs, behaviours and requirements of those in Ghana’s agricultural sector is digital identity. Mobile-enabled digital identities offer excellent ways to individually identify and support farmers in a targeted and accessible manner, despite the scale of such programmes as PFJ and the size of Ghana’s agricultural sector as a whole. For farmers in Ghana, the one form of digital identity that may be of benefit to farmers is the concept of an “economic identity”, or a profile that securely links a farmer’s mobile number and other information held by his or her mobile operator with other external data such as the farm’s location, size and crop type. By combining this data, it is possible to build a robust economic profile, which would then enable farmers, often left out of formal financial services, to leverage the information contained within this economic ID to begin accessing financial services such as insurance, savings programmes or credit to buy farm inputs and tools. The economic ID can also enable adequate planning of services, effective allocation of extension officers (well-trained individuals providing support direct to farmers one on one), tracking of subsidy beneficiaries by government programmes such as PFJ, as well as customised advice and support to farmers at scale. This links the economic ID to PFJ’s E-Agriculture strategy aimed at providing fast, reliable and accurate dissemination of information through its complex stakeholders.
Furthermore, the unique identification of farmers via a mobile-enabled digital identity solution such as an economic ID will also make it possible to achieve the Ghanaian government’s objectives of effectively including Ghana’s youth population, as well as and women and low-income smallholder farmers. It could also contribute to improving efficiencies by more accurately maintaining records, which can be linked to a farmer’s need for extension services and visits. Furthermore, the communication of relevant weather forecast information, early warning systems and management of pests with respect to specific crops is much more effective when relevant information regarding farm location, crop type, etc. is linked to a farmer’s mobile number and they are then able to receive messaging that is tailored and unique to their individual profile.
Finally, mobile money in Ghana is going to be a game changer and key enabler in the agricultural value chain and programmes such as the PFJ. With a need for timely payments of suppliers of subsidies, backed by real-time data from the field, payments can be instantaneous and done transparently through mobile money. With mobile-enabled digital identities, any cash subsidies offered to registered farmers are easier, faster, and traceable, drastically reducing the cost of cash handling, and other cash risks such as loss or misappropriation of funds.