Tech solutions to agricultural growth in Ghana

GIS and mapping improves marketing opportunities for rice farmers in Ghana

Twenty-eight year-old IT professional, Solomon Elorm Allavi, established and manages a start-up company, Syecomp Business Services, in Accra, Ghana. The company strives to implement ICT solutions to address the limited access to marketing outlets for smallholder farmers and others in the agricultural value chain. Syecomp utilises GIS and GPS to provide an array of farmland surveying and mapping services.

GIS surveying and mapping help to establish the spatial locations and concentration of fruits and vegetable farms. The technology determines the supply base of producing firms and establishes a system for traceability and precision production for the farmers. Such services go a long way to addressing the numerous constraints faced by farmers, especially regarding the dispersion of farms, and the lack of location-specific data for production planning, monitoring and targeting. All of which results in an inability to forecast farm yields; inaccurate assessment of supply base; over-estimation of farm sizes; over-paying for labour and other services; difficulties in resource allocation and targeting of small-scale producers for assistance and support.

Solomon uses the ESRI ArcGIS 9.3, GPS Utility and TrackMaker software for his farmland GPS waypoints. He has available a digitised base map of Ghana (showing roads, topography, water bodies, etc.), two laser-jet printers, Garmin GPS receivers, two laptop computers and one desktop computer. The equipment and software are costly, but these assets really propel the enterprise to meet the needs of its clients.
Most agricultural development projects in Ghana traditionally address supply, and focus on crop productivity issues by increasing the use of improved seeds, fertilisers and improved agronomic practices. Few address the demand or marketing side that ensures that the increased production finds its way to the markets without adverse effects on prices and incomes of farmers and others in the value chain.

Unreliable production and marketing arrangements have contributed to a situation where demand for rice outstrips supply due to population increase and improved standard of living for farmers. Solomon addresses this challenge by providing a market information system (MIS) for smallholder rice farmers in Ghana, interlinked with GIS technology.

The pilot project, ongoing in the Volta Region of Ghana, is mapping and profiling all smallholder rice farmer organisations, and migrating the data to the well-known Esoko (formerly called TradeNet) market information platform. So far, more than 280 individual rice farmers, representing 45 farmer groups, have been profiled. Potential buyers or traders now receive up-to-date information on rice availability from the region, on the web and on their cell phones.

Solomon envisages using this MIS platform to periodically broadcast market price information, from the various markets in Ghana and from the international markets, to the local smallholder rice farmers, on their cell phones and on the web portal. The platform will serve as an avenue to facilitate offers between the rice farmers and potential buyers.

The GIS implementation in this initiative offers the locations and concentration of rice marketing centres, makes smallholder rice farmers visible to multiple buyers, and expands the market for locally produced rice. It is also provides certification support and traceability for rice farmers, helping them to meet international requirements.
Upon completion of the MIS platform, smallholder rice farmers will act as catalysts for a cost-effective and reliable supply chain that provides consistently greater volumes of product, thereby improving revenues at farm, broker, exporter and processor levels along the value chain. This will facilitate a strategic and open marketing platform for all stakeholders to operate efficiently. It will reduce transaction costs through collective action and increased linkages with buyers, and increase the profit margins of their valued clients through providing business services and aggregating quality produce for buyers.

In the long run, Solomon intends to replicate the business model on other food commodities in the country, such as tomatoes, maize, plantain, mango and oranges. There are bound to be drawbacks and
issues that affect the smooth implementation of the activities. Difficulty in accessing appropriate financing to scale up the business is hindering Solomon’s venture. Having been able to overcome the initial bottlenecks in starting a new business in Ghana, with limited funds for equipment, software licenses and payment to personnel, growing the enterprise to its full potential is becoming an operational hurdle.

Added to that, some clients, especially smallholder farmers, are unable to pay fully for some of the services, due to their limited cash flow. However, Solomon is convinced that he could scale up the business in the coming years. To him, providing IT services for farmers is a passion, and he believes the market is vast and viable.
Solomon Elorm Allavi is a member-entrepreneur of the Enablis Entrepreneurial Network  and IntEnt Ghana Foundation Business Incubator.

This is an edited version of the essay submitted to the 2011 NEPAD-CTA essay competition which was adjudged the best essay in the West Africa Youth category: Looking at ICTs and agriculture in Africa through the eyes of women and the youth.
This essay has been published in the recent CTA newsletter:
Enjoy reading other ground breaking innovations in the agricultural front by youths!

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