Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) is a flowering plant species of the Cucurbitaceae family and is named after its edible fruit. It is a highly cultivated fruit worldwide, with more than 1,000 varieties. Watermelon is grown in favorable climates from tropical to temperate regions worldwide for its large edible fruit, which is a berry with a hard rind and no internal divisions, and is botanically called a pepo.
The sweet, juicy flesh is usually deep red to pink with many black seeds, although seedless varieties exist. The fruit can be eaten raw or pickled, and the rind is edible after cooking. It may also be consumed as a juice or an ingredient in mixed beverages, according to Wikipedia.
In Ghana, watermelon is a fruit that is extremely common and relatively cheap to purchase, depending on the location and time of year in which it is bought. It also remains a relatively popular healthy fruit choice for many Ghanaians across the country.
There are districts spread across the five regions of the north where watermelon production is huge. Watermelon production in Northern Ghana is significant because it contributes to local consumption and nutrient boosts while also supporting farmers in enhancing their livelihoods. In this article, we explore the opportunities and challenges of producing watermelons in northern Ghana.
Current Market Dynamics
The watermelon market in Northern Ghana is characterized by a diverse supply chain, involving both commercial and peasant farmers. On the demand side, individual consumers, restaurants, hotels, and export markets drive the market. Additionally, prices for watermelons fluctuate based on which season the fruit is produced. Availability on the market also influences the price of the fruit.
Factors Contributing to Periodic Gluts
At the peak of watermelon production in northern Ghana, there is a glut. Currently, communities along the road from the Upper East Region, through the North East Region to the Northern Region that produce watermelon in huge quantities experience serious gluts. Huge quantities of watermelon are left along the road, unbought, unattended to, and basically left to rot.
Seasonal trends are a major factor in contributing to the glut of watermelons. The reason being that people depend on the rains for farming watermelon. Therefore, when it is the rainy season, there is more of it than the dry season.
According to Agriculture Policy Consultant Emmanuel Wullingdool, “There are several factors that contribute to glut watermelon. Key among them are: Excess Supply: Where there is so much supply of the product more than it is required, then it becomes a challenge. In the case of watermelon, when there is too much supply, it leads to gluts. Demand for the product: When there is low demand for watermelon, clearly, there will be an overavailability of the product.”
“Favorable Weather Conditions: In moments when the weather is favorable, it leads to good production and can contribute to gluts. Inadequate processing centers: The number of processing centers in the geographical area is few, which is a major factor contributing to gluts. Poor storage facilities: Watermelon is perishable and requires very good conditions of storage to extend the shelf life of the product.”
While watermelon farming in Northern Ghana can be profitable, there are several challenges that affect its profitability. Mr. Wullingdool posits that there are three major reasons why profitability may be affected.
“Over supply: Watermelon is a product that does not require a very special skill to go into production; hence, many people can go into production and hence impact the profitability of the farmers.” “High cost of production: Production cost remains a driver of the profitability of the product. The recent increase in the cost of the product.”
“Perishability of the product: The product is perishable and hence cannot be stored for a long period of time after harvest. Therefore, sometimes farmers are forced to give out the product at a giveaway price.”
Challenges Faced by Farmers
Despite the profitability of watermelon farming, there are some quite obvious and basic challenges farmers face.
These challenges often lead to gluts. According to Mr. Wullingdool, Policy Consultant, “there are supply chain constraints that contribute to the glut of Watermelons. The first is the absence of Warehouses (Cold Storage) for Watermelon. Research has shown that watermelon, a perishable food requires a storage temperature between 2-10 degrees Celsius and a relative humidity of 85-90 percent. The storage helps to reduce water loss and reduce the development of pathogens, helping to extend the life of the watermelon. These storage facilities are largely absent across the Northern part of Ghana and thus contribute to the glut of the product.”
“Like storage, transport of the Watermelon under the same conditions is necessary to preserve the quality of the product and make it appealing to consumers. Lastly, the absence of a good road network hampers the movement of the product from where it is most produced to where it is needed and this also creates glut in the production areas. Additionally, farmers encounter challenges such as a lack of knowledge in agribusiness, poor business planning, inadequate record-keeping, and labor issues. These challenges collectively affect the profit margins of farmers.”
Market Access and Distribution
Market access and distribution play a crucial role in the challenges faced by watermelon farmers. Insufficient storage facilities, transportation constraints, and poor road networks contribute to gluts in production areas.
While there are general agricultural policies that exist, the lack of specificity for watermelon makes it difficult to deliberately grow the sector; policies like the Food and Agriculture Sector Development Policy (FASDEP II).
“The Food and Agriculture Sector Development Policy (FASDEP II) remains the major policy direction for Agriculture in the Country. Developed in 2007, the policy document is giving direction to the programs of the Ministry of Agriculture in Ghana. Since 2007 there have been programs such as the Medium Term Agriculture Sector Investment Plan (METASIP I and II) meant to implement the policy.”
“Then the Planting for food and Jobs (1&2) came on board since 2017. The PFJ program seeks to create jobs and improve food security in the country. Both policies and programs have vegetables. But none of them have watermelon as one of the focus crops in the policy and program implementation.”
“Therefore, even though there are policies and programs covering the broad spectrum of the sector, the lack of specificity on the product poses a challenge to ensuring the development of the crop in the various regions and districts where it is produced,”
Mr. Wullingdool said. But all is not lost, there are several ways, according to Mr. Wullingdool, through which the government can ensure that watermelon production becomes highly profitable.
“There are a number of actions that the government can take to address the challenges faced by Watermelon farmers. First is a review of the policies and programs to include watermelon. This will allow for the needed support to be given to farmers who are into the production of the product.”
“Secondly, there is the need for policy coherence. Under the government, a One District One Factory policy, a watermelon Factory was established in WaleWale in the Northern Region. However, watermelon is not one of the priority crops under the Planting for food and Jobs. Clearly, this is an incoherence. Downstream of the Watermelon, there are policies to support agro-processing just like the factory in Walewale; however, in the upstream of the product, there are no support mechanisms for the production of the product.”
“Thirdly, the credit system does not support Farmers in Ghana. There is the need for a policy that puts in place a fund to support farmers. The policy could take the form of a quota, where banks could be mandated to give a part of their loan portfolios to watermelon farmers. Lastly, the government could use its fiscal policy in taxation to exempt watermelon farmers from paying taxes and to also use the same tool to prevent the import of watermelons so as to promote local producers.”
Technology can optimize watermelon farming practices, from land preparation to harvesting. Innovations in precision agriculture, irrigation systems, and post-harvest technologies can enhance productivity and reduce losses. Additionally, farmer education and capacity building are crucial for implementing good agronomic practices in watermelon farming. Addressing knowledge gaps related to watermelon production can lead to more sustainable and profitable farming practices.
Farmers in Northern Ghana could consider diversification by integrating animal rearing with watermelon cultivation. Animal droppings can be used as organic manure, contributing to soil fertility.
Collaboration and Partnerships
Collaboration between farmers, government agencies, and other stakeholders is essential for managing watermelon production and market fluctuations. Successful examples from other regions, such as collaborative efforts in rice production, could serve as models for Northern Ghana.
Sustainable Farming Practices
Adopting sustainable farming practices, such as zero-tillage and conservative agriculture, can minimize the environmental impact of watermelon cultivation. Certification programs like Fairtrade and Green Label (GGL) can enhance the sustainability of farming practices.
The watermelon industry in Northern Ghana’s watermelon has both opportunities and challenges. To address the concerns around, market dynamics, seasonal trends, and the environmental impact of cultivation, there has to be a comprehensive strategy that includes technological advancements, government regulations, stakeholder collaboration, and capacity building. Watermelon farmers in Northern Ghana can create a resilient and successful agricultural industry by embracing sustainable farming practices and expanding their farming approaches.