Producers and industry experts co-author yam sector strategy in Ghana

26 November 2013
ITC News

When Salama Tulari sat at her roadside shed in Tamale selling yams and wondering how she would ever come up with the money to expand her business, she never imagined her voice would help determine the future of Ghana’s strategy to develop its yam industry.

But now, as a participant in the Ghanaian Yam Strategy for Rural Development, Tulari has added her voice to those of hundreds of others from the rural and farming population in spelling out just what is needed to improve the production and commercialization of yams and related crops in Ghana. The project, carried out by the Government of Ghana in partnership with ITC and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), is developing the West African country’s first sector development strategy for yam production systems and associated crops with stakeholder ownership and leadership. The government’s plan is to increase massively the country’s yam commercialization and value addition. While Ghana is the world’s second-largest yam producer after Nigeria, only 30,000 tons of its total production of 7 million tons are currently exported.

‘We’re looking at value addition,’ said Sarkodie Osei, a yam exporter who sits on the Coordinating Committee, a private-public platform for the strategy’s management and implementation. ‘A wide range of products centred on yam are going to open up new markets in different parts of the world that we have never thought of exporting to with the traditional fresh yam that we are exporting at the moment’, he said.

Agriculture accounts for a third of Ghana’s GDP and employs more than half the country’s workforce, 70% of whom, in the yam sector, are women. Government and private sector stakeholders asked ITC and IITA to design a stakeholder-led plan that would underpin efforts to boost yam exports and open new markets.

While yam is a staple in the diet of Ghanaians and other West Africans, who boil, fry and roast the tuber, it can also be used in products such as ice cream, pasta, high- quality flour, beer, wine and cosmetics, and its starch can replace modified starches in industrial processes. The Yam Strategy focuses not just on food security, but also on identifying ways for the food-processing industry to increase the incomes and improve the livelihoods of people at different points on the value chain by adding value to yam crops, according to IITA yam breeder Antonio Lopez, who has extensive experience in yam and agricultural research for development.

ITC’s approach to sector-strategy development is to involve the private sector not only in consultations, but also in decision-making, to ensure that the strategy addresses real needs, according to Hernan Manson, ITC Adviser for Strategy and Value Chain Development. The Yam Strategy is based on the conviction that listening to the voice of the farming, investor and entrepreneurial population is essential. This is because private sector actors will only be prepared to take risks – financial or otherwise – if they believe they have a good chance of success, and the best way to convince them of that is to let them help devise policy, Manson explained. ITC worked on the preparation of national and/or sector strategies in nine countries in 2012, employing this unique participatory methodology.

"The public sector and private sector are not the best bedfellows. People initially felt threatened, because they feared losing their comfort zone, but the mistrust is slowly melting." Anthony Sikpa, Acting Chief Executive, Federation of Associations of Ghanaian Exporters and Chairman, Yam Strategy Coordinating Committee

Anthony Sikpa, Acting Chief Executive at the Federation of Associations of Ghanaian Exporters and Chairman of the Yam Strategy Coordinating Committee, said: ‘The public sector and private sector are not the best bedfellows. People initially felt threatened, because they feared losing their comfort zone, but the mistrust is slowly melting.’

Several workshops were held in Ghana in 2012 bringing together farmers, exporters, local and international buyers, processors, TSIs, customs officials, donors, bankers, government representatives and research centres. The aim was to identify and prioritize the yam sector’s problems, taking into consideration gender aspects, the environment and rural development. Participants set objectives such as making the management of farmer associations more professional, improving commercialization strategies, exploring product persification possibilities and improving access to finance.

The difficulty of securing financing is one of the biggest obstacles preventing yam growers and traders from reaching their full potential, according to Tulari. And while all smallholder farmers and traders struggle to obtain funding, she believes banks are particularly tough on women.

Ghana’s Yam Strategy aims to address these challenges and more. Building on stakeholder decisions made during the initial participatory workshops, the government, ITC, IITA and the Coordinating Committee began work on detailed feasibility studies based on the target markets identified as priorities and in-depth research examining value addition, logistics, production zones and pilot areas. Other post-workshop steps include industrial testing and adaptation of potential new products, resource mobilization and negotiations with partners, and crafting an agreement with partners on implementing modalities, timelines and outputs.

‘There is a human element embedded in the whole strategy,’ Manson said. ‘The process is not just about getting the right statistics, but about getting the right platform, a real private–public partnership. This helps to ensure sustainability; they are driving their own future.’