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FEATURE: Plant Breeding To Reduce The Plight Of Upper East Region Tomato Farmers

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farmYear in, year out, crates of tomatoes get rotten on farms in the Upper East Region. One reason known to account for this problem is that buyers of tomatoes in Ghana prefer tomatoes from neighbouring Burkina Faso because they have a better quality.

In times past, the financial implications of this problem were so severe that they drove some farmers into taking their own lives because they had recorded severe post-harvest loses and did not know how to pay back loans they had taken to cultivate the tomatoes.

The farmers also consistently battle with problems of bumper harvests coupled with the lack of a ready market caused by the indefinite closure of the Tomato factory in Pwalugu. In the end, a lot of their tomatoes get rotten on their farms and in the local markets and many of them lose a lot of money.

Governments over the years seem to lack the political will to find a solution to this problem. They could have at least, put the tomato factory back on track as a measure to reduce the plight of the farmers but instead, they make all kinds of promises which they never fulfil. As a matter of fact, promises by politicians to tomato farmers in the Upper East Region have almost become annual rituals.

Market women from mainly Accra and Kumasi are key determinants of the fate of tomato farmers in the Upper East Region. These women are traders who buy tomatoes in very large quantities and in turn, sell in parts of the country where there is a high demand for the commodity. If these women bought from the farmers in the Upper East Region, then they would have helped solve a part of the problem of the farmers. However, they do not buy tomatoes from the Upper East Region. They rather spend extra money, travelling into neighbouring Burkina Faso to buy tomatoes from there.  Only farmers who allow the market women to determine the prices of their tomatoes manage to catch the eyes of these women.

The market women do this for only one reason: tomatoes from Burkina Faso have the quality of lasting longer before they perish. Therefore if the women were unable to immediately sell what they bought, they are sure the tomatoes will not rot within a short period of time. Tomatoes from the Upper East Region lack this quality and that is why the market women do not buy it.

So why do Ghana tomatoes lack this one important quality that those from Burkina Faso have? This is the question I posed to some of the farmers. Two of them: Donald Samani and Eddy Ayine attributed the problem to differences in farming practices in the two countries. They said while Burkinabe farmers use compost manure, the Ghanaian farmers use fertilizers which make their tomatoes ripe very quickly and can rot within a few days after ripping.

Donald Samani, who is also the President of the Upper East Regional Vegetable Farmers Association further explained that they often buy seedlings from Accra, most which were genetically modified for cultivation and admitted that they are still battling with getting seedlings with the quality they are looking for.

Plant Breeding can improve the quality, diversity and performance of just about any crop and help develop plants better suitable to human needs: Through scientific methods, a certain quality in one variety of a crop can be put into another variety of the same kind of crop. This is something I learned at a media fellowship in Accra in March 2013 on the Biosciences for Farming in Africa (B4FA) programme, specifically designed to encourage informed discussion about the potential application of biosciences and genetics for farming in Africa.

At the workshop, Maxwell Darko of the Crop Research Institute, Kumasi, explained that the method is applied to different varieties of rice to for example, infuse aroma and disease resistance qualities from variety to variety. Also, Abu Dadzie, a crop research expert at the cocoa research institute of Ghana in New Tarfo explained that the method is applied to different varieties of cocoa to improve upon the resistance of varieties of cocoa that are less resistant to the Black Pod disease. Other lecturers at the workshop said that Plant Breeding is also applied to Maize and Cowpea.

After listening to all the speakers, I said to myself: “if Plant Breeding can be applied to any kind of crop, then the tomato farmers of the Upper East Region can apply it to get their tomatoes to have the same quality that the Burkinabe tomatoes have”. To be 100% sure, I asked Professor Eric Danquah of the West African Center for Crop Improvement (WACCI), University of Ghana, Legon and he admitted: “we can improve the quality of any of our crop plants including tomato through Plant breeding”.

In conclusion, if we are still looking for ways to get Ghana tomato to have the one quality of Burkina Faso tomato that market women are looking for, then Plant Breeding is one sure way.


Credit: Albert Sore | Ghana

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