A research project that seeks to understand how smallholder farmers are managing the trade-offs between production, sustainability and other socioeconomic and environmental factors has revealed that farmers are using pro-poor proven approaches to scale up productivity in a sustainable way.
The agro-ecological practices adopted by the smallholder farmers within the research areas in the Upper West Region include the production and use of compost for soil conditioning, bullocks for land preparation, non-burning of crop residues, ridging, crop rotation and mixed cropping.
Agro-ecology refers to farming that “centres on food production that makes the best use of nature’s goods and services while not damaging these resources,” (Groundswell International).
The government’s response to addressing low productivity and declining soil fertility has mostly been through the provision of subsidies for farm inputs, especially, fertiliser, and which experts say have often not been economically viable for farmers.
A visit the by the Sustainable Agricultural Intensification Research and Learning in Africa (SAIRLA) and Ghana National Learning Alliance (GH-NLA) to some farms in the project areas saw some farmers’ disposition for sustainable agricultural intensification (SAI).
The reason is that they are now faced with the difficult choices about how they allocate their assets (land, capital, labour, knowledge, etc.) to achieve their household objectives.
Hitherto, they were able to maintain their soil, production levels and ensure their food security primarily through shifting agriculture and fallowing.
Currently, most households are obliged to farm the same lands annually, which has led to decline in soil fertility and crop yields. Many of such households are experiencing decreasing food and nutrition security.
Also, due to the lack of non-agricultural income opportunities and the long dry season (October to May), many people in the north leave the area to work in the southern part of Ghana for some part of the year.
To them, the benefit of SAI has been enormous; sustained soil fertility build-up on farm; erosion check from bounding; increased yields (2-3 max. bags) per acre unlike previously; and ultimately, year-round food security with surplus sold in market.
Notably, most said they did not report any fall armyworm incidence on their farms during the outbreak in 2017 and 2018, compared to farms within the vicinity that are not practising SAI.
At Ko in the Nandom District, a farmer, Mr Gregory Kelle, said he had been practising sustainable land and water management farming, which entailed non-burning of crop residues, compost application, ridging, bounding and crop rotation.
“I know about the input subsidy programme, but I use compost more because that will guarantee soil fertility and yields for three years before I apply again, while I use chemical fertiliser as a supplement,” he said.
At Ko-Bukon, a farmer, Mr Vitus Bewelleyir, said before the transition to SAI, his maize yield per acre was 1-1.5 bags but now he gets three bags per acre.
“We do not buy grains from the market to supplement anymore,” he stated.
The major challenge of these farmers is that ecological farming although good, was labour intensive.
A farmer at Tanchara in the Lawra Municipality, 33-year old Mr Aa-ire Nangyir, corroborated his transition to SAI practices had yielded results, and appealed for support to ease their farming.
“If government can help us by halting the annual increment in the price of fertiliser, include commercial compost in the subsidised inputs, provide transport and equipment for compost preparation and make available water sources for home compost making, we can do more,” he appealed.
The UK Department for International Development (DFID)-funded “Sustainable Intensification Trade-offs for Agricultural Management (SITAM),” project co-generates research findings with communities and local stakeholders in northwest Ghana, eastern Burkina Faso and central Malawi, using household and community level processes.
Led by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), in partnership with Groundswell International, the SITAM has since 2016 has been working in communities in the Lawra Municipality and Nandom District in collaboration with the Centre for Indigenous Knowledge and Organisational Development (CIKOD) and the University for Development Studies.
The aim of SITAM is to work with GH-NLA to provide evidence-based recommendations to government in support of SAI'.