Freda attending a conference sponsored by ICABR
For Freda Asem, working in agriculture was a natural choice for her, as a gateway to a career in development. Like many children of her age, holidays were spent in kitchen gardens. Her interest in agriculture was ‘watered’ then. She confesses that she was fascinated by the whole process of seeing crops transition from planting to harvesting.
Freda’s research and work focuses on improving the productivity and profitability of Ghana’s horticulture industry, whose potential is yet unrealized.
“I’m trying to determine why farmers are unable to meet the demand for horticultural products, such as mango, pineapple, chili pepper, okra, banana, and pawpaw,” says Asem. “In Ghana, 70 percent of farmers are smallholders, and the demand for such produce is very high. The question is, why, as a country, can’t we meet the demand? Is it because farmers aren’t producing efficiently? That’s one of the issues that I’m trying to resolve.”
Her work, at the Institute of Statistical, Social, and Economic Research (ISSER), University of Ghana, involves determining constraints faced by smallholder farmers face in accessing inputs, financing and markets. With these insights, she hopes to influence the formulation of effective agricultural policies that will give direction on the kind of support that farmers need.
“This work requires collaborating with other researchers in capturing, processing and analyzing large volumes of data from agriculture development projects, to glean the much-needed insights. ISSER has secured funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for the Monitoring, Learning and Evaluation (MLE) Unit to strengthen ISSER’s MLE capacity. In turn, ISSER’s team will train and support MLE teams in other institutions in the sub-region who are implementing Gates Foundation-funded agriculture development projects.”
Asem, completed her PhD studies in November 2014. Her thesis, established that a great disconnect exists between policy formulation and implementation, which often impacts negatively on smallholder farmers. She designed coping strategies and mechanisms for smallholder horticultural farmers to enable them to better adapt and cope with their farming challenges.
“I also hope to help farmers change their mindsets and start seeing farming as a business rather than as a way of life. This will encourage the youth to venture into agriculture, once they see it as a profitable enterprise like any other,” she explains. “Now that I am done with my PhD thesis, I hope to publish my research findings in an accessible way that can benefit millions of smallholder farmers across sub-Saharan Africa.”
Through her participation in the AWARD Fellowship program, Asem has been able to greatly improve her leadership, science communication and proposal-writing skills, and has been able to apply them in her work.
Download: Freda Asem, 2014 AWARD Fellow, Ghana