WACCI launches Vegetables Innovation Lab (VIL) to boost tomato production in Ghana

Food security has for a long time focused on higher productivity of staple food crops in Africa to the neglect of the nutrient-rich vegetables. However, vegetables such as tomatoes being an important source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber are not only key for health and nutrition but they are also important income generators for 90,000 smallholder farmers in Ghana. Tomatoes are indispensable ingredients in the daily diets of Ghanaians; they are used fresh or in sauces, soups of most meal and account for 40% of household expenditure on vegetables.

 

With current average yields of 6 -7 t/ha in Ghana, demand outstrips supply. Consequently, the import market for fresh tomatoes has grown in recent years with Burkina Faso being the major net exporter. Almost 80,000 tons of puree and pastes are imported annually from China and the European Union. Ghana could produce most of its own puree, if the processing plants were operational. Several difficulties hampering local production include lack of improved tomato varieties, inadequate and unreliable supply, and competition from the fresh markets.

 

It is against this backdrop that the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI) in collaboration with the Alliance for Agricultural R&D for Food Security made up of the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA), the Australian International Food Security Research Centre (AIFSRC/ACIAR), Crawford Fund (CF) and the University of Queensland (UQ) organized a two-day workshop from June 25 - 26, 2015 on the Tomato Value Chain in Ghana. The workshop which brought together 35 renowned research scientists and stakeholders in the tomato industry from across the globe sought to create awareness about the proposed WACCI-VIL; explore the possibility of establishing a public-private consortium in West Africa that raises tomato productivity through an integrative research approach underpinned by science and technology to develop a strategy for accelerating a successful tomato industry in Ghana. Present at the workshop were key tomato industry players from the public sector Dr. Irene Egyir (Agricultural Economist & Technical Advisor and Miss Edna Baffour Bonnie both from the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning (MOFEP), Miss Esther Agyekum (MOFA, CSD), Prof. George Nkansah of the Forest and Horticultural Crop Research Centre (FOHCREC), University of Ghana and Mr. Offei Bonsu, a Research Scientist at Crops Research Institute (CSIR-CRI). Also present were key stakeholders from the private sector represented by Mr. Kwabena Adu-Gyamfi, Agri Commercial Services Ltd Wenchi; Mr. William Kottey and Mr. Roland Quaye of Wienco Ghana limited; Mr. Caleb Blassey, the Quality Control Manager of Nurevas Food Ghana Limited; Mr. Chris Lartey, the Public Relations Officer for the Ghana National Tomato Traders and Transporters Association and a representative of Tomato Market Queens. All these actors presented on their contribution to the tomato industry in Ghana, challenges and appropriate interventions to mitigate identified constraints to enhance the accelerated development of a sustainable tomato production to feed both processing and fresh market needs.

 

The Provost of the College of Basic and Applied Sciences (CBAS), Prof. Ebenezer Oduro Owusu, in his opening remarks recalled how in 1996 Burkina Faso realized they had to accept the challenge of producing tomatoes and so began studying the value chain. He declared the workshop open by commending WACCI for its visionary leadership in organizing the workshop.

Provost of the College of Basic and Applied Sciences (CBAS), Prof. Ebenezer Oduro Owusu delivering his welcome address

 

The Director of WACCI, Prof. Eric Yirenkyi Danquah thanked the Provost for his opening statements and presented on the WACCI concept to the participants stressing on the fact that the lack of breeders is hampering the growth of the tomato industry in Ghana and in the sub-region. He said currently the Crops Research Institute, Fumesua has only two vegetable breeders who are not well resourced in the use of new technologies needed to accelerate the development of superior tomato varieties for the benefit of Ghanaians. He said for Ghana to make headway in tomato production there is the need for the government to take up seriously the issue of training breeders, and to give priority to agricultural production. Prof. Danquah said WACCI, which is one of the World Bank’s African Centres of Excellence would receive eight million dollars from the Bank by August 2015 thus providing the springboard for transforming the Centre into a sustainable African Centre of Excellence for training plant breeders, seed scientists and technologists. Prof. Danquah mentioned that since the establishment of the Centre in 2007 as a partnership between the University of Ghana and Cornell University, USA with initial funding from the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa to train plant breeders, at the PhD level, with expertise to improve the indigenous crops that feed the people of the sub-region, the Centre has enrolled 82 PhD students from 12 African countries. From the total number of enrolled students 52% are Anglophones, 48% are Francophones and women form 37%.

Prof. Eric Yirenkyi Danquah, Director of WACCI, delivering his keynote address

 

In a statement, Dr Vivienne Anthony, Senior Scientific Advisor, Syngenta for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA), a Swiss non-governmental organization said there was the need for a demand-led plant variety design for emerging markets in Africa. She said SFSA would continue to support public breeders to raise productivity and quality of new varieties to meet the needs of smallholder farmers, value chains and consumers.

 

Dr. Peter van der Toorn, Global Head Breeding Vegetables, Syngenta Seeds, in his presentation emphasized the importance of the use of technology in plant breeding and crop production to achieve food security. He thanked the organizers for the invitation and talked on the various markets for tomato production in the world with classical examples of the markets in India and the Mediterranean regions.

Dr. Peter van der Toorn, Global Head Breeding Vegetables, Syngenta Seeds

 

The Project Leader of GhanaVeg, Mr. Joep van den Broek, speaking at the workshop indicated that GhanaVeg has set aside funds for initiatives in the vegetable industry of which tomato is a major crop. He stated that GhanaVeg aims to promote the commercial vegetable sector development in Ghana with support from the private sector to help transform Ghana’s ailing vegetable sector.

 

Mr. Kwabena Adu-Gyamfi, Manager of Agri Commercial Services Ltd Wenchi, in his presentation said his enterprise abandoned the use of open fields for tomato cultivation and has adopted the use of tunnels and green houses where yields increased to about 96 ton/ha. He stated that whiteflies that transmit viruses and the early and late blight diseases remain major constraints to tomato production. He therefore, advised the use of breeding and agronomy to mitigate these challenges to ensure higher farm productivity in Ghana.

 

Dr. Irene Egyir delivered a presentation on a WACCI commissioned report on “Ghana tomato value chain preliminary study report: Gaps and key considerations to revamp the tomato industry” to the participants. She said that “the combination of Ghana‘s vast resources of agricultural land, plentiful water for irrigation, and available low-cost labour make it ideal for commercial farming and that the country is only utilizing 11% of its water resources. She stressed that understanding the current situation of the industry should lead to effective strategizing for revitalizing it. She recommended that Ghana should establish the right policy frameworks to stimulate increased production to feed both processing and fresh markets whilst building upon storage facilities for better post-harvest handling. She probed whether there is adequate infrastructure to back the development of a vibrant tomato industry whilst noting that there were no cold chains in the current value chain of tomato. She cautioned that for the proposed tomato industry to be sustainable, farmers and stakeholders must ensure that farming is Nitrogen-, Carbon-, Water-, Energy- and input- smart.

 

Dr. Agyemang Danquah, a lecturer from the Crop Science Department, University of Ghana and the Coordinator of the Teaching Programmes and Curriculum Development at WACCI presented on the new vision of the Centre, which is to establish a Vegetables Innovation Lab (VIL). Dr. Danquah stated that the WACCI-VIL through strategic partnerships, education & outreach underpinned by the use of cutting-edge research to develop improved varieties with climate resilience will help work towards attaining food and nutritional security in the region. He explained that the VIL will stand on six thematic areas or pillars namely: Genetic Improvement, Vegetable Production and Quality, Processing, Value Chains & Socio-Economic Research, Policy Research and Knowledge Management Systems.

 

An open discussion on the market research on the tomato industry in Ghana led to the identification of end-to-end stakeholders to help in the process of market research and all other activities that will enhance tomato production in the region. From fruitful discussions the participants unanimously agreed on the establishment of the Institutional Consortium that will coordinate, implement the recommendations and lead all the activities identified for the transformation of the tomato industry in Ghana. The institutional membership of the Tomato Consortium, which is made up of representatives of all stakeholders identified, were nominated and approved by the workshop participants. Members for the WACCI led Steering Committee of the Tomato Consortium were also identified, nominated and approved as follows:

 

  1. Mr. Michael Osei (CSIR-CRI)
  2. Mr. Kwabena Adu-Gyamfi (Agri Commercial Services)
  3. Mr. Caleb Blassey (Nurevas)
  4. Dr. Irene Egyir (Agricultural Economist)
  5. Prof. George Nkansah (FOHCREC, Kade, UG)
  6. Miss Esther Agyekum (MOFA, CSD)
  7. Miss Edna Baffour Bonnie (MOFEP)
  8. Mr. William Kottey (Representing Seed Companies, Wienco Ghana Limited)
  9. Dr. Agyemang Danquah (Crop Science Department/WACCI, UG)

 

The workshop ended with all participants present promising their unflinching support and commitment to the success of the initiatives started by WACCI and its partners to help transform the tomato industry in Ghana.