THOUGH THE recently -commissioned Northern Rural Growth Programme (NRGP) has a Herculean task in its quest to support the northern farmer in developing agriculture, its National Coordinator, Mr. Roy Ayariga, says it is up to the task.
Commissioned on April 24, 2009 by the Vice President, His Excellency John Dramani Mahama, the overall goal of the NRGP is to achieve sustainable agricultural and rural livelihoods and food security for the rural poor in Northern Ghana, with the specific objective of developing remunerative and inclusive agricultural commodity chains.
In an interview this paper, Mr. Ayariga said the approach of the programme was strongly market and productivity oriented, private sector led (farmers, traders, processors, exporters, service providers, and banks), provide an incentive framework for private operators to do agricultural business in the north, and also supply chain linkages approach on multi-stakeholders dialogue, public-private partnerships, and building sustainable and lasting private institutions.
The Coordinator mentioned strengthening producer organisations, establishing inter-professional bodies, preparing and implementing results-based commodity business plans, and a commodity development fund, as components of the programme.
He said the rationale behind the programme was to address the three main divides; North-South (three regions combined have the highest poverty incidence), Urban-Rural (rural poor account for 62% of poor), and Gender (about 53% of women household heads in rural areas fall among the poorest, 20% of the population).
Having stated all these, Mr. Ayariga identified partnerships and agreements, especially between producers, organisations, and private investors, as some of the challenges that must be tackled, if the programme was to achieve its prime objectives.
According to him, these partnerships and agreements normally collapsed during price fluctuations, especially where the price of a given commodity was fixed before planting. “We expect the farmer and the buyers to respect that agreement, but when the prices move upwards, producers are reluctant to sell to the investors who partnered with them.” Similarly, when prices go down, the investors or buyers are unwilling to pay the agreed prices,” he stated with regret.
The National Coordinator said in order to address these challenges he would build mutual trusts, and get both parties (producers and investors/buyers) to respect the agreements with agreed adjustments, if there are fluctuations.
Mr. Ayariga also mentioned constructional works such as dams, roads, storage facilities and market infrastructure, as some challenges confronting the rural farmer.
Describing the construction of dams as a special field that needed to meet quality standards, the Coordinator disclosed that NRGP was soliciting the assistance of experts from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), so as to train potential contractors and consultants as a necessary step, before the contractors are allowed to bid for certificates.
He said a certificate from this training will be a prerequisite qualification for the selection of contractors. Mr. Ayariga promised that the programme management unit would work with many stakeholders, relevant government institutions, non-governmental organisations, private firms, and the beneficiary groups.
The programme would therefore rely on the expertise and contributions of these bodies to achieve its objectives. It would also be guided by a commodity business plan for each commodity that the NRGP would promote.
He stated that he was poised to put up his best, knowing well that the ultimate aim of the NRGP was to hit national and international markets with northern agricultural commodities.
“An assured market is the driving force for increased agriculture production, and for poverty reduction,” he observed.
When asked why he claimed he was ready for the task ahead of him, Mr. Ayariga recounted the successes he chalked as the immediate past Regional Director of Food and Agriculture for the Upper East Region, and his wide range of knowledge in international agriculture and project management.
According to him, during his tenure, he introduced dry season irrigated green maize cultivation in the Upper East Region. This has spread very widely, and helped to bridge the hunger periods experienced in March, April and May.
When Mr. Ayariga took over as Project Coordinator of the previous International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) project - Land Conservation and Smallholder Rehabilitation Project (LACOSREP) II, in 2004 - only six of the expected 32 dams were completed.
However, due to his innovative strategies, involving the District Assemblies and the beneficiary communities, 29 dams were completed by close of the project in December 2006.