In the far Northwest of Ghana, farming season is short and determined by an annual eight month period of drought. Farmers must be ready to plough at the very beginning of the rainy season, thereby enable tilling and sowing as early as possible so that crops have a sporting chance of maturing to harvest before the onset of the long period of drought returns. Tractors are available in the area but are mainly owned by absentee landowners for ploughing on their own farms to produce crops for sale in the cities. After, and only after this ploughing is finished, are the tractors available for rent by local farmers. Female farmers come last in the queue, which is unfortunate because women use their harvests either to feed their families or sell to help fund health and education.
Coalition for Change, the Ghanaian charity partners of Ghana Outlook recognised the problem and designed the Tractor Project. A low tech tractor (easy to maintain locally) was sourced in South Yorkshire and purchased for shipment to Wa in Upper West, Ghana, for C4C to store, maintain and operate. At the beginning of the farming season, the tractor plus driver/mechanic, are made available to rural farming communities on a non-profit basis. The tractor is driven over 100 miles on unpaved, rutted road/tracks from Wa to selected poorest communities and works round a circuit of farms before returning to Wa.
The tractor, a refurbished 1967 Massey Ferguson 135, which arrived in Wa in May last year and was put to work immediately. Detailed planning had been hurried and the farms (really smallholdings of 1 to 2 acres) had not been previously ploughed using tractors. Consequently, there were frequent repairs required and precious ploughing time was lost. Nevertheless, the C4C was able to recover about 65% of operating costs (fuel, repairs, wages and meals) during this first spell.
This year, the tractor assisted again, 75 smallholders in 5 communities; the tractor and driver ploughed 85 acres during June. Improved scheduling and project management, though funds were more limited, resulted in a modest surplus; costs were about £1000 but £1200 has been collected in rent with a further £200 to be collected in cash or kind. The £400 surplus will be retained in a major maintenance fund.
The project now appears to be sustainable and next years operations are already being planned. A second tractor has been obtained, a 1973 Leyland, and will arrive in Wa next month. The project will be expanded two-fold in 2018 but operating costs will also double to around £2,000 and a second trailer at £1,100 will be needed.