With the worldwide demand for food estimated to double by the year 2050, the need to prioritize the wellbeing of the farmer has become even more crucial.
The Ghanaian farmer is a noble hard-worker responsible for guarantying quality food supply to millions of households but sadly, a crucial aspect of the farmer’s wellbeing appears to have consistently missed the attention of policymakers and key stakeholders.
A healthy farmer base equals a healthy, wealthy country. This assertion is a basic truism that requires little or no effort to comprehend. Ghana’s agriculture comprises millions of peasant farmers who together, contribute a colossal amount of the agricultural products that make our budding agricultural industry tick.
Though large scale agriculture is gradually gaining a foothold in Ghana, it is impossible to discount the crucial role played by peasant farmers who together account for more than 70% of agricultural produce that feeds Ghana and other parts of the globe through export.
Having established the monumental importance of the Ghanaian farmer to the sustenance of the country, it is regrettable that for the Ghanaian farmer, a crucial necessity like health care remains a mirage.
Indeed, if the people who break their backs on farms across Ghana under the sweltering sunshine and other precarious working conditions are deprived of adequate healthcare, it will only be a matter of time before the huge investments being sunk into our agric sector is reversed to naught.
Agriculture is one of the principal sectors of Ghana’s economy. Despite a snail-paced progression in recent years, it still remains the foundation on which the country’s economy rests. In Ghana, the agricultural sector is predominantly dominated by small-scale farmers.
Among the arable crops in Ghana, cereals are the most widely cultivated and consumed agric produce. Maize continues to lead as the most important staple food in Ghana. This is because maize is very important for improving food security and poverty reduction as it is the staple food for most Ghanaians.
The spiraling population in Ghana and heavy dependence on agriculture for food means farmers are working ever hard to meet food demand. This means more exposure to occupational hazards that sadly we have done very little to mitigate by instituting a sustainable health care policy targeted at the hardworking Ghanaian farmer.
Agriculture is one of the riskiest occupations for the eyes due to the numerous ocular hazards on farms. The insatiable appetite for agrochemicals coupled with the attendant mishandling of products by farmers greatly predisposes farmers to numerous life-threatening health hazards.
While every human endeavor has occupational health hazards of their own, the pivotal importance of agriculture to our economy coupled with the poor economic state of most farmers means there is a legitimate need to design and implement a sustainable health care policy that will seek to cater for the feeders of the nation.
In a recent study seeking to examine ocular health among cocoa farmers at Mfuom, a rural community in the Central Region of Ghana, the authors found that cocoa farmers were at high risk for ocular injuries and farm-related vision disorders and utilized eye care services and ocular protection poorly. Ocular condition identified were mainly refractive error (28.6%), cataract (20.0%), glaucoma (11.7%), conjunctivitis (13%), pterygium (2.7%), and cornea opacity (2.2%).
In his conclusion, the author called for the introduction of an interventional eye care program to help address the ocular health challenges identified among the farmers. This he explained could be done through collaborative efforts by educational institutions, government, and other key players in the agricultural industry to improve the quality of life of the vulnerable cocoa farmers in rural Ghana.
Outside our shores, there are brilliant examples from countries that have made a move to target farmers with health policies that Ghana could borrow a leaf from in addressing the healthcare of her teeming farming population.
In India, the central government has announced an ambitious health insurance scheme, which is designed to be a safety net to cover millions of its rural population who are predominantly peasant farmers. It’s thought to be one of the largest such schemes in the world and is likely to be popular with rural voters.
India presently spends a little over 1% of its GDP on public healthcare, one of the lowest in the world.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the flagship health insurance scheme would cover more than 100 million poor families and provide $7,825;£5,520 in medical coverage for each family annually.
The Indian government hopes that this will boost agriculture and other allied industries like manufacturing and pharmaceutical sectors.
Similarly in Nigeria, the Kwara State local government has welcomed a Dutch-supported foundation ‘exporting’ private health insurance to Nigeria, selling a US$ 30 health-care package for US$ 3.
In Kwara state, a poor agricultural district in western Nigeria, health insurance is a rarity. Like 70% of Nigerians, most people survive on less than one dollar a day. If they visit the doctor at all, they have to pay out of their own pockets. However, this grim situation recently changed for one group of farmers.
They are not covered by Nigeria’s National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), which despite being set up more than a decade ago, still only serves 3.73% of the population.
According to World Health Organization statistics, total health expenditure in Nigeria is around US$ 33 per capita, 63.4% of which comes directly out of pocket. This suggests that the farmers of Kwara state might be ready to spend around US$ 20 annually – or slightly less given the poverty of the region.
Hygeia has been offering the farmers a health-care package comprising comprehensive primary health care and limited secondary health care, including up to five days of hospitalization, and maternal health care (including caesarian section) – a health-care package that HIF prices at US$ 30 a year – for slightly less than US$ 3.
Despite being tagged ‘unsustainable’ by critics the support by the Kwara state government has proved crucial to the project’s seamless take-off. According to a government source, “The state governor has refurbished three public hospitals within the scheme, and has committed to co-finance its expansion of the scheme and will take over the subsidies over a five-year period,”
According to Dr. Peju Adenusi, chief executive officer of the Hygeia Community Health Plan, the farmers have been delighted with what they get for their money. “Utilization in one clinic has jumped from 16 people per month before the program was started to 1500 people per month afterward,” she says. One woman was so grateful for the life-saving Caesarean section she received that she named her baby boy “Hygeia”
Though a health policy exclusively dedicated to farmers is nowhere in sight, some stakeholders have shown admirable effort in executing initiatives that have served to improve the health of Ghanaian farmers.
Recently the Cocoa Board Senior Staff Association organized a free health screening exercise for cocoa farmers at Odeng Adeiso in the Eastern Region.
The exercise which was rolled out as part of the Association’s Corporate Social Responsibility saw about 1000 people from the community benefit from the exercise.
Beneficiaries were screened for blood pressure, sugar levels, malaria, and breast cancer other related conditions.
Similarly, the Community Empowerment and Development System (CEDS – Ghana), a civil society organization, with funding from Agri-Business and Development Service Company Limited (ADSEC) recently screened farmers in the Savelugu/Nanton Municipality for diabetes, hypertension, and hepatitis B as part of its Smallholder Farmers Support Project.
The exercise according to the organizers was also to create awareness and the need to prioritize preventive healthcare among farmers.
Access to healthcare in Ghana remains a critical challenge that even the introduction of the National Health Insurance Scheme has failed to exhaustively curb. While this scenario is bad enough, people in the hinterlands of Ghana especially, endure the worst of the situation.
With a great percentage of our farmers still situated in our hinterlands ostensibly to stay within farmland proximity, many are deprived of quality healthcare despite being involved in a very hazardous endeavor like farming.
This is a trend that needs to be reversed because an unhealthy farmer population is bound to have an adverse effect on the painstaking gains made by a combination of efforts by successive governments and donor agencies.
Advocacy to develop exclusive health policy for farmers in Ghana is important as it will prove a precursor to a sustainable framework that will eventually culminate in a happy, healthy, and productive farmer base in Ghana.
The effort of some organizations who have taken to periodic health screening outreaches in very laudable as an indication from a cross-section of beneficiaries has proved that such gestures are a colossal blessing to the noble Ghanaian farmer.