Connor Oke | September 24, 2018
Small-scale maize farmers like Mallam Haruna work hard for their living. Mr. Haruna lives in Nkoranza-North in the Brong-Ahafo region of Ghana. At the end of the season, he harvests his maize, then shells and dries it in the sun in preparation for sale. It’s a labour-intensive process, and Mr. Haruna expects to receive a fair price for his effort.
First, though, he must bag it—and that’s when small-scale farmers are often cheated. Ghanaian farmers are usually forced to sell their produce through the informal “bushweight” system, which means that 160 kilograms of maize are sold for the price of 100 kilograms in overstuffed and un-weighed sacks. This deprives farmers of valuable income.
Although Mr. Haruna now sells in a market that uses a smaller bag, he is still forced to sell without using a weigh scale. He complains, “I still don’t always earn a fair price.”
This is a big problem in Ghana. According to the Ghana Standards Authority, Ghana lags behind neighbouring West African countries in using weigh scales. This makes it more difficult to trade within West Africa.
Organizations like the World Food Programme, United Purpose, and the Ghana Standards Authority promote weigh scales and point to their many benefits. They say that using scales eliminates price disputes, promotes predictability, and increases economic development because standardization gives small-scale farmers greater access to more standardized international markets.
Now, international organizations such as the World Food Programme, or WFP, are collaborating with government agencies and NGOs to create an awareness campaign on the benefits of adopting standard weights and measures.
Past efforts at introducing standardized scales have had mixed results. A WFP campaign from 2011 to 2016 purchased $2 million in maize from small-scale farmers using calibrated measurement scales.
Samuel Adjei is a WFP representative. He says: “The use of measuring scales was a novelty to [farmers]…. When smallholder farmers in the Ashanti Region sold maize to the WFP using the calibrated weigh scales which WFP provided, they earned additional income.”
Excited by the outcome, farmers petitioned local authorities to officially introduce weigh scales for selling maize.
But government programs have failed to introduce standardized scales. There are several barriers: the price of equipment, the decentralized nature of the Ghanaian economy, and the inability of local district assemblies to enforce existing bylaws on using standardized weights and scales.
Another problem is that some farmers don’t trust that using scales will lead to a fair price. Abukari Mamud is a maize farmer near Techiman in Ghana’s Brong-Ahafo Region. He prefers to sell his produce without using weigh scales because he distrusts the workers who do the weighing.
Mr. Mamud says, “The weighing scales used by the companies are good. But the people who are hired to weigh the maize are not honest. They end up stealing from you.”
John Kofi Donyina is the municipal chief executive for the city of Techiman, which has the largest maize market in Ghana. He says: “I am aware [that] some municipalities and districts have passed bylaws for weights and measures to be adopted in markets. But they have been largely ineffective because market actors were not sufficiently engaged in the process of passing the bylaws. Enforcement was also weak.”
But Mr. Donyina says that initiatives like the current one are important and need to be pursued. He adds: “I like the approach of engaging market actors from the onset to deliberate on how we, the central government, local governments, and development projects can work together to make an initiative like this work.”
Connor Oke was a Uniterra volunteer based in Accra, Ghana.
To learn more about the bushweight system, go to: https://wire.farmradio.fm/en/farmer-stories/2016/06/ghana-banishing-bushweight-to-help-farmers-earn-fair-prices-world-food-programme-14369