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Study recommends appropriate interventions for smallholder farmers

By: Ama Amankwah Baafi
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Participants at the Ghana National Learning Alliance evidence and lessons sharing engagement in Accra.
Participants at the Ghana National Learning Alliance evidence and lessons sharing engagement in Accra.


A study on household farming has recommended support for appropriate and intermediate mechanisation for smallholder farming.

This is due to the decline in family labour in modern times, which formerly exclusively sustained smallholder agriculture.

The research identified that environmental and climate change had propelled significant migration of the youth (mostly men, increasingly women) from rural areas to urban centres in search of better livelihood opportunities.

Consequently, the elderly and the young are left behind and lack the strength to speed up land preparation during the shortening duration of the rainfall. 

“The introduction of smaller size motorised equipment for land preparation and transportation can sustain and include less capable production.
“Tractors for ploughing, tricycle transportation for poorer and rural populations and training tractor operators on appropriate land preparation can be facilitated by the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, in collaboration with non-governmental organisations, individuals and financial institutions,” it stated.

The study on ‘Trade-offs and Synergies in Household Faming Decisions’, with case studies in the Lawra Municipality and Nandom District in the Upper West Region, was conducted by the Sustainable Intensification Trade-offs in Agricultural Management project (SITAM).

The aim of SITAM is to work with the Ghana National Learning Alliance (GH-NLA) under the Sustainable Agricultural Intensification Research and Learning in Africa (SAIRLA) to provide evidence-based recommendations to the government in support of Sustainable Agriculture Intensification (SAI).

The project
The UK Department for International Development (DFID)-funded 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 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 (UDS).

Some findings
The project focused on how smallholder farmers managed trade-offs (competing objectives) in production among sustainability, environment and socio-economic factors.

Indeed, managing trade-offs can be complex for smallholder farmers who must take decisions in the context of environmental and climate change, population growth and macro-economic conditions.

Presenting the findings at a workshop in Accra on April 25, 2019, by the GH-NLA, a Programme Officer at CIKOD, Mr Samuel Tampulu Faamuo, said in many cases, farmers often used different strategies to manage the trade-offs.

He cited that in mechanised versus manual land preparation, the trade-off was that the tractor ploughed land fast in the face of erratic rainfall but could not keep trees and turned topsoil down (requires more fertiliser and increases cost), whereas the manual procedure took time to plough, could keep trees and maintained soil structure.

“Synergy: Use tractor to plough fast, sow in lines and then make ridges and bunds to conserve soil nutrients and water. The objectives include minimising labour, ensuring timely land preparation and managing soil fertility by keeping trees on the land,” he said.

On input use, hybrid versus traditional seeds, Mr Faamuo explained that the trade-off was that hybrid/improved varieties matured early and could meet the rainfall pattern and so increased yield, while traditional varieties mostly matured late and did not have the ability to meet the rainfall pattern and, therefore, had the potential to reduce yield.

“Synergy: Use traditional seeds to cultivate for traditional purposes and maintain the varieties and use hybrid/improved seeds to increase yield. The objectives include to maximise production/yield, match maturing period to rain pattern and minimise cash required for seed and other inputs,” he stated.

Recommendations
SITAM proposes six direct policies and practices, and six cross-cutting issues that require investment towards SAI.

A Research Assistant at UDS, Mr Francis Dakyaga, said the direct issues included the provision of appropriate support to locally adapted SAI in smallholder farming, supporting integrated soil and water conservation in smallholder agriculture under environmental change and supporting small-scale irrigation, farmer-driven innovations in irrigation to enhance sustainable intensification.

“Farmers are already reducing farm sizes and investing their resources on smaller plots, but not able to obtain the levels of productivity needed to support their livelihoods. Close to 70 per cent of farmers decreased their farm sizes over the past five years in Lawra, while 55 per cent maintained same farm sizes over the same period in the Nandom District,” he said.

He explained that the farmers’ decisions pointed to increasing investments in time and labour, and the application of organic manure, compost.
“Support should be focused on increasing access to tractor services and farm input to augment farmers’ efforts in intensification through subsidy on inputs and availability of tractors,” he stated.

Mr Dakyaga added that several cross-cutting policy measures ought to be implemented alongside the policy measures in order to achieve sustainability, equity and inclusiveness.

These include supporting food security of poor households as a primary goal of SAI and promoting gender analysis and mainstreaming in support of SAI.