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How Agritech can Transform Rural Communities: Lessons from Northern Ghana

Guest Contributor, Thursday July 19th 2018

This post was written by Quentin Mareuse, an intern at the MEST Incubator Accra.

This past week, I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Northern Ghana with the TroTro Tractor team, with the aim of expanding the company’s reach into the poorer and less mechanized Northern Region of Ghana, close to the Burkina Faso border. Despite these comparative difficulties, the Northern Region has the potential to become an agricultural powerhouse. It has plentiful water and rich soils, while Tamale, the capital of the Northern Region, is known as the “breadbasket” of Ghana, sitting at the heart of the cultivation of Ghana’s agricultural staples: millet, maize, groundnuts, and rice. Further, northern Ghana is particularly suited for agricultural mechanization, possessing vast, flat areas of land that tractors can glide across, in contrast to the hillier landscape of southern Ghana.

[caption id="attachment_7161" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Pitching TroTro Tractor on local radio station[/caption]

Ghana’s, and especially northern Ghana’s, underperformance in agriculture is well documented. Despite its naturally fertile lands, the country still needs to import food to make up for low yields. Many factors contribute to Ghana’s agricultural underperformance, including poor quality of inputs and poorly irrigated land, but key among them is the lack of mechanization. Mechanizing agricultural processes allows more land to be cultivated, and increases yields by facilitating the timeliness and quality of cultivation.

How TroTro Tractor looks to solve Ghana’s agricultural underperformance

This under-mechanization is precisely what TroTro Tractor is attempting to solve by connecting smallholder farmers seeking tractor services with tractor owners inclined to hire out their tractors to make extra revenue. By efficiently assigning plots to be serviced by tractors on its platform, TroTro Tractor can expand the reach of mechanized agriculture whilst increasing income and saving time for both smallholder farmers and tractor owners.

Aside from its flat land and otherwise suitable agro-ecological conditions, there are economic factors that play into northern Ghana’s readiness for agricultural mechanization. Scholars from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) published a detailed study of mechanization in Ghana in 2014, arguing that Ghana will experience sharply increased demand for mechanization in order to save labor costs. The land-labor ratio has been increasing in recent years due to the expansion of land under cultivation which has outpaced rural population growth. This has increased demand for labor-saving technology, most notably tractors.

[caption id="attachment_7162" align="aligncenter" width="665"] Signing a tractor owner onto TroTro Tractor's platform.[/caption]

Indeed, these trends are more prevalent in the northern regions than almost anywhere else in the country. The northern regions of Brong Ahafo, Northern and Upper West are those with the lowest rural population density, which explains the high demand for labor-saving mechanization technology, as labor is more scarce and expensive. The IFPRI survey found that farmers in the northern regions already use tractors more frequently, even though these areas are poorer than the South. Further, the survey describes the increasing national demand for cereal crops such as rice and maize with urbanization, since city dwellers tend to prefer easy-to-cook cereals over root crops. Since the North is at the center of national cereal production, this trend further explains the opportunities for increased production in the North and the demand for mechanization.

The huge demand for tractors in the North was confirmed by our visit: every farmer we visited was willing to hire a tractor at affordable prices, and no tractor owner we met complained of insufficient demand. The problem of under-mechanization, then, is clearly on the supply side, with a deficit of tractors in the North and inefficient allocation of the ones that are there. We saw that tractor owners often do not hire out their tractors as much as they could due to the geographical patchiness of their requests and a lack of trust in the farmers paying for the service and the operators driving the tractors.

Hence there is huge potential for agriculture in the North to be transformed through mechanization. This will require, first, that the supply of tractors be increased and, second, that tractor owners and farmers looking to hire be connected efficiently and with trust on both sides. By “uberizing” this relationship as TroTro Tractor seeks to do, this second problem can be effectively addressed.

Interested in learning more about TroTro Tractor? Check out their website!