The Prime PREMA Onion: Farmers Off- Season’s Companion

Written by Samuel Ofoe, vegetable partnership facilitator in Ghana. samual

Are you aware that onion farming is an intrinsic culture of smallholder farmers in
the Garu-Tempane district in eastern Ghana? About 20,000 households earn their
income with growing this vegetable. As a hub for onion cultivation, the upper east
region supplied 85% of all the onions consumed in the country. Before you smile,
pause for a second! Did you know that the demand for onion in Ghana is 146,000
tons per year, while supply is around 48,000 tons? The deficit is now being
augmented by importing about 70% of onion worth $13,400,000 from neighboring countries (Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali) and Europe. The biggest challenge from my technical perspective is the inability of smallholder farmers to produce during rainy seasons, because local varieties can’t deal with the weather. The aforementioned phenomenon hinders year-round farming and creates a supply gap in the lean season which causes prices on the market to triple. A holistic approach in addressing the challenge must first of all begin at the production level. A solution is to introduce and promote the PREMA onion as an off-season variety. 2SCALE just started a promising partnership with the Presbyterian Agriculture Station and Suguru Mor Nyood farmers to establish two demonstration  plots in Garu and Gagbiri, using PREMA onion seeds from East-West Seed International (EWIT). Through organizing farmer field days around the nursing, transplanting, fruiting and harvesting stage of production, we’re reaching out to 1,000 farmers (700 male and 300 female). Apart from the learning plot activities, the farmers also benefit immensely from Integrated Soil Fertility Management trainings. PREMA onion seeds showed signs of success in the off-season, They performed well in challenging conditions: After 115 days the onions were harvested with an average bulb size of 60 grams, yields of 20 tons per hectare, and a corresponding market value of $90 for a 100kg bag. It is not surprising that other farmers wanted to use these seeds too, to increase productivity and their income.

The distributor of EWIT seeds in Ghana, the Tikoola Company, has confirmed that sales of PREMA increased astronomically from 50kg in 2014 to 500kg in 2016, and expects more demand ahead of the rainy season. Economists say: ‘Human needs never end’. True! I say: Farmers need to evolve over time. The cluster actors are willing to increase investments but remain, understandably, nervous of accessing commercial loans with annual interest rates hovering around 25%. Futhermore, the level of professionalism of the farmer co-operative is quite low. Their inability to utilize the ‘power of numbers’ to mutually negotiate and develop contracts, buy inputs and sell produce in bulk as a group to key value chain actors is hindering them to increase their production and sales. To this end, we are looking forward to intervening by re-orienting the cluster towards organization development and agribusiness. How? First we will set up a governance committee with key value chain actors (farmers, input dealers, financial institutions, marketeers etc.) to develop and implement inclusive action plans quarterly. Second, to take stock of the skills gap of the cooperatives, and develop training modules for capacity building. Finally, alternative modes of access to finance shall be explored. Ultimately, it is my hope that this initiatives will help the actors to benefit from the 2SCALE approach of providing value chain linkages, networking, and sustainable and mutually profitable relationships among key value chain actors.

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