Ghana’s approach to agriculture mechanisation as soil fertility and productivity are directly undermined by the kind of agriculture machineries and implements farmers continue to use.
According to experts, improper land preparation with agricultural machinery, inappropriate use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides by farmers have been identified as one of the main causes to land degradation and contamination of the natural environment.
This is happening at the time climate change continues to impact agriculture negatively, altogether threatening food security in the country and across the globe.
To this end, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) in collaboration with Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations is implementing the Conservation Agriculture and Integrated Pest Management (CA-IPM) TCP in 11 districts in the Greater Accra, Ashanti, Volta, Northern, and Upper West regions.
At a recent two-day conference of experts and practitioners on the status and progress of Conservation Agriculture (CA) Mechanisation in Ghana organised by the FAO in collaboration with the MoFA, participants admitted that more need to be done.
The conference aims to draw on the experiences, expertise and knowledge of all the experts and practitioners to charting a path towards improving the status and promotion of sustainable agriculture through CA mechanisation experts.
“Indeed, having a second look at our agricultural mechanisation is becoming ever more important to addressing challenges of decreasing soil fertility amidst increasing impact of climate change on agriculture and food security”, the Deputy Regional Representative of FAO Africa, Ms Jocelyn Brown Hall, said.
She underscored the need many farmers in Ghana especially the smallholder farmers to practice farming the right way, but without the right implements, this will be difficult.
“Without comparing the different sustainable agriculture approaches and technologies being promoted, today, we are talking about Conservation Agriculture (CA)”, Ms Hall added.
FAO is a key partner in CA promotion
FAO is a key partner in CA promotion and currently implementing Technical Cooperation Project (TCP) activities with MoFA aimed at supporting the promotion of conservation agriculture and integrated pest management for sustained soil fertility and productivity in Ghana.
More of these interventions are more needed to sustained farmers effective adoption of CA and Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) for food and nutrition security and a thriving agriculture.
According to her, CA requires that farmers: disturb the soil as little as possible (Minimum or No Soil Tillage); keep the soil covered as much as possible (Permanent Soil Cover; cover cropping and mulching); and mix and rotate crops (Crop diversification and rotation).
Challenges faced by CA adopters
“These practices evidently improve soil fertility and sustain agricultural productivity. However, their widespread adoption by farmers is not likely without the right equipment/implement available and applied by the farmers”.
That is: specialized equipment suitable for seeding in untilled and mulched soils and for controlling and managing cover crops and crop residues must be readily available and affordable.
Also knowledge of farmers to be able to choose the right implements for specific on-farm conditions, unavailability of service providers all undermine farmers’ ability to follow the CA principles and recommended practices such as in no-till seeding, weed management, crop residue and growth management.
Smallholder farmers also continue to have difficulties in making the necessary investments in CA mechanization although it remains a key input for successful CA practice, CSA or sustainable agriculture.
“With the situation at hand, we need to be concerned what the best investment is or best business model that can enhance farmers access to CA implements”, Ms Hall in her welcome address.
She lamented that in spite of its (CA) recognition as a sustainable agricultural approach in agricultural policies, strategies and Ghana’s Nationally Determined Contributions (GH-NDCs), CA mechanisation has not featured prominently in Ghana’s effort at agricultural mechanisation yet.
Ghana has been championing agriculture mechanization with some remarkable strategies and initiatives such as the Agricultural Mechanisation Services Centre (AMSEC).
We see agriculture mechanization and modernization assume a major part of the national agriculture development policies, programmes and strategies for decades now.
At the same time, Ghana is at the forefront of promoting sustainable agriculture and its approaches, CSA and others. However, as it appears the strongest argument for Conservation Agriculture implements and mechanization is yet to be made, Ms Hall who is also head of FAO Ghana noted.
What MoFA is doing
Realizing the threat of land degradation to the food security of the country, the MoFA devoted Objective four of its policy document ‘Food and Agriculture Sector Development Policy’ (FASDEP II) to sustainable management of land and environment, Kingsley Amoako, a Deputy Director and Head of Environment and Climate Unit at MoFA noted.
Subsequent to that, the ministry has developed and implemented strategic actions that are aimed at ensuring sustainable management of land and environment.
These he mentioned include- Agriculture Sustainable Land Management Action Plan (2008 – 2015); Climate-Smart Agriculture and Food Security Action Plan (2016 – 2020); and implemented several technical cooperation projects with FAO.
The current Conservation Agriculture and Integrated Pest Management (CA-IPM) TCP and all other strategic actions have highlighted conservation agriculture as one of the focal areas.
The objective of the project is to contribute to sustaining increased productivity and improve upon environmental management aimed at attaining zero hunger and resilient rural livelihoods in 11 selected districts.
Mechanization according to Mr Amoakoh plays a critical role in adoption and practice of CA particularly in the area of land preparation and management.
The ability to carry out on field activities such as land preparation and planting with minimum soil disturbance depends on the availability and design of appropriate equipment.
In a presentation by Professor Stephen Hill Mends Aikins of the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi, he noted that minimum soil disturbance is one of the key pillars in CA and provides numerous benefits.
The benefits he stated include enhancing soil structure, reducing vulnerability of soil to erosion leading to increased availability of soil nutrients for plant uptake.
Despite these numerous benefits of minimum soil disturbance under CA, evidence shows that widespread adoption of CA practice such as minimum tillage is practically low due to unavailability of appropriate equipment and high cost associated with the acquisition of these equipment, Prof Aikins added.
In order to promote large scale adoption CA technologies, the issue of availability and affordability of CA equipment to smallholder farmers need to be addressed.
By Masahudu Ankiilu Kunateh, African Eye Report