Ghana has been facing youth unemployment for more than a decade. Statistics have it that 12 per cent of the youth are unemployed despite major investments by both the government and the private sector.
It is obvious that this challenge will intensify if job opportunities remain limited as it is now.
The agricultural sector, however, is deemed to be the engine of growth and job creation because it has the highest potential among the gamut of enterprises in this part of the world.
In this regard, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) is working to make agriculture attractive to the youth and create decent employment opportunities through the greenhouse village and capacity-building centres, especially in our rural communities.
It will be recalled that, in the year 2015, vegetable cultivation and exports suffered some setbacks when the European Union imposed a ban on selected vegetables to be exported to the European market.
Thankfully, the MoFA acted promptly as a result, the ban was lifted in December 2017. This opened opportunities for increased production and export of vegetables to the European markets.
It was against this background, that the concept of the greenhouse villages was wholly embraced because of its potential benefits to actors along the vegetable value chain and the economy as a whole.
On January 29, 2020, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo inaugurated the Akumadan Greenhouse Village and capacity-building centre in the Ashanti Region.
The greenhouse technology is a technique of creating an enabling environmental condition for plants or vegetables to grow. The system primarily protects plants from unfavourable climatic conditions, ensuring increased yields and reducing labour and costs.
As a self-contained environment, greenhouses are easily controlled through a modern smart convergence of scientific know-how available from various software and hardware solutions. This makes the system attractive to the new generation as it does not necessarily involve the tillage of soils.
The greenhouse villages, located at Dawhenya in the Greater Accra Region, Akumadan in the Ashanti Region and Bawjiase in the Central Region, have been designed to include training centres, greenhouse tunnels with automated drip irrigation facility, pack houses, cold storage, a maintenance yard, classrooms and dormitory accommodation for visiting resource persons; all laid out on a five-hectare plot.
The technology is in furtherance of the vision to revamp and modernise agriculture. These facilities come under the Greenhouse module of the Planting for Food and Jobs (PFJ) programme, one of the five priorities of the government agricultural sector.
Ghana stands to benefit immensely from the established greenhouse villages. The prospect of replacing imported vegetables with local vegetable produce gives a great hope to the country.
It is refreshing to note that in the next six to seven years, it is envisaged that the country could reap earnings of about USD$1 billion from vegetable exports, with the expansion of the greenhouse village technology in all parts of the country.
To sharpen the skills of the youth and increase their competitiveness, a well-designed programme is in place to build their practical agrotechnological skills abroad so that they become efficient agribusiness leaders.
In this regard, a highly thought through arrangement, spearheaded by the Minister of Food and Agriculture Dr Owusu Afriyie Akoto, has been established for the youth to acquire these skills in Agrostudies in Israel.
From 51 and 75 students who participated in the 11-month paid internship in 2019 and 2020 respectively in Israel, 200 trainees embarked on the internship in 2021.
Arrangements are already under way for 2022 potential trainees. The increase in the numbers is due to the high reputation gained by the Ghanaian students, partly due to their hard work and due to the mentoring arrangements put in place by the ministry in collaboration with the Ghana’s Embassy in Israel.
On completion of the internship and return to Ghana, the ministry engages and supports these trainees to develop business plans to enable them to set up their own private agribusiness ventures. Those who express interest in greenhouse vegetable production are engaged in the MoFA Greenhouse Village Projects at the three villages - Dawhenya, Bawjiase and Akumadan.
It is expected that the benefit of experience gained from training in the greenhouse villages will impact the local market by taking over supplies to hotels, restaurants etc.
The added benefit is that our local economy will receive a boost from the patronage of our local food produce and enhance businesses and incomes.
Worldwide, there are more than 50 countries where cultivation of crops is undertaken on a commercial scale using greenhouse technology.
The United States of America (USA) has a total area of about 4,000 ha under greenhouses, Spain has been estimated to be around 25,000 ha and Italy 18,500 ha used mostly for growing vegetables. In Spain and Canada, the greenhouse industry caters for flower and off-season vegetable markets.
The Netherlands is the traditional exporter of greenhouse grown flowers and vegetables all over the world. Turkey has an area of 10,000 ha under cover for cultivation of cut flowers and vegetables.
Certainly, Ghana cannot be left out of deploying the greenhouse technology, the potentials are limitless.
This will make a lot of good economic fortunes if the technology is replicated in all the 16 regions in the country.