Global population growth during the second half of the twentieth century, its attendant urbanization and industrialization in Asia and to some extent in Africa, has led to greatly increased demands for mechanised farming and sustained bumper harvests, necessitating the application of high-yielding fertilizer as a boost to efforts at global food security.

Consequently, rice, for instance, is becoming a staple cash crop, with its production systems becoming increasingly specialized and market-oriented. This has set in motion an intensification process involving investments in external inputs, irrigation systems and mechanization, leading to what became known as the Green Revolution.

The Green Revolution has been most successful in Asia and primarily for irrigated rice and wheat in the most favourable areas. Its successes have greatly influenced the agricultural research programs for other food crops of which many belong to the gramineae family: maize, sorghum, pearl millet, etc. The common objectives of these crop research programs tend toward further intensification, labour-saving and increased efficiency of external-input use through:

Agricultural mechanization is a crucial input to enhanced crop production. It is frequently very capital intensive, compared to other (usually annual) inputs and it has repercussions on the efficiency of all other inputs used in crop production, including seeds, fertilizer, water, and time/labour. It is also much more complex in its application, requiring not only correct use, but also a service infrastructure for maintenance and repair. For this reason it is essential for FAO’s Plant Production and Protection Division (AGP) to embrace the agricultural mechanization sector in the context of Sustainable Crop Production Intensification.

Whilst agricultural mechanization is indispensable for production, it can also have very detrimental effects on the environmental sustainability of farming (soil compaction and erosion, tillage, chemical pollution). However if the correct technologies are applied, for example: climate smart agriculture such as conservation agriculture; safe and efficient application of pesticides; precision application of fertilizers; soil compaction management; efficient harvesting; and natural resource conservation, then sustainable intensification can ensue.

 

Years of work in farmers’ fields by the FAO, other technical organizations, and national and international research institutes, have generated a sound knowledge base on practices, techniques and technologies for improving farming systems in a way that supports food security and development. The changes that farmers could make to improve crop and livestock production, can also generate another type of product-emission reductions and removals. Increasing carbon sequestration in agricultural systems by restoring, protecting and conserving soils can generate a significant share of total emission reductions required in the next few decades to avoid catastrophic levels of climate change. Increasing soil carbon sequestration also increases soil organic matter, which is fundamental to improving the productivity and resilience of cropping and livestock production systems.

Such clear examples of “win-win” opportunities for development and environment would seem natural candidates for prioritization and widespread implementation. However there are significant financial, institutional and political challenges to achieving the needed transformation of farming systems. First and foremost, a shift to a more holistic view of climate change and agricultural development is needed that includes recognition of the range of demands put on the sector, as well as the range of benefits it can provide.

Important progress on this has recently been made within the Declaration of the World Food Summit on Food Security (Rome,16-18 November 2009), which explicitly recognized the link between mitigation, adaptation and food security, and affirmed commitments to supporting adaptation and mitigation in agriculture while ensuring food security. Another important step will be to harness financing for mitigation to support changes in smallholder farming systems that produce synergies between food security, adaptation and mitigation. This could be enabled by the outcome of COP 15 in Copenhagen, as well as subsequent work under the UNFCCC.

Farmers will need to feed a projected global population of 9.1 billion in 2050. Meeting this demand together with challenges from climate change, bioenergy and land degradation puts enormous pressure on the agricultural sector to provide food, feed and fibre as well as income, employment and other essential ecosystem services. Making changes to agricultural production systems, particularly amongst smallholders, is a key means of meeting this objective. Such changes also have implications for adaptation and mitigation in the agricultural sector.

 

GHANA’S SITUATION

Agriculture serves as the unmistakable backbone of Ghana’s economy, providing raw materials to industry, employing some 50% of the labour force and contributing 22% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The sector has largely been left to suffer neglect as most farmers are scarcely educated, with majority still employing crude implements on their farms leading to low yields although the nation remains one of the potential bread baskets for the sub-region.

Teething challenges – such as the adverse effects of pests and insects on crops, absence of irrigation facilities for most farmers, non mechanised farming practices, obsolete practices that impact negatively on yields –  compete with the hard work of the farming season to rob most farmers of the fruits of their hard labour.  With little or no education, most farmers operate within their knowledge but the introduction of yield-enhancing fertilizer by global agricultural technology giant, Yara, in partnership with John Deere, has brought a breather to keep hope alive.  With a successful demonstration of its efficacy on maize to showcase a healthier and better yield, what is left is the broad sensitisation of this yield-enhancer to rope all farmers into this looming era of bumper harvest which has the tendency to turn the nation’s agricultural fortunes around and set the tone for sustainable development.

Ghana’s agricultural sector is dominated by small-scale producers, with an average farm size of about 1.2 hectares and low use of improved technology; hence, yields are generally low with most crops at 60% of achievable yields.  Some of the yields are also left to perish in the farming communities as poor road networks and lack of proper storage facilities force a lot of them to be disposed of after going bad,  leaving the impoverished farmers count your losses.

That notwithstanding, huge potential exists for the country to move from the predominantly low input use to a more resilient, high technology driven agricultural sector.

According to the Technical Director of Yara Ghana, Derrick Tuffour-Mills, “Yara Ghana continues to promote key agricultural technologies to increase yields and profitability of farmers through the Yara Crop Nutrition (YCN) program. Through partnerships with stakeholders, Yara Ghana establishes trials and demonstrations which shows the added value of the YCN program”.

Agriculture serves as the unmistakable backbone of Ghana’s economy, providing raw materials to industry and employing some 50% of the labour force, while contributing 22% to Gross Domestic Product (GDP). But the sector has largely been left to suffer neglect as most farmers are scarcely educated, with a good number still employing crude implements on their farms, leading to low yields although the nation remains one of the potential bread baskets in the sub-region.

The application of fertilizer and the use of labour-enhancing farm equipment are at a low in Ghana as compared to some African countries despite agriculture’s enormous potential.  For instance, Fertilizer use nationally is 10kg per hectare while in Kenya it is 46kg per hectare.  Ghana uses a total of 11 tractors per square kilometre of farmland while Kenya does 27 tractors within the same stretch. Ghana’s area of irrigated and arable land stands at 0.4% as against Kenya’s 2.5%.

Ghana’s agricultural sector is dominated by small-scale producers, with an average farm size of about 1.2 hectares and low use of improved technology, hence, yields are generally low with most crops at 60% of achievable yields.  Some of the yields are also left to perish in the farming communities as poor road networks and lack of proper storage facilities force a lot of them to be disposed of after going bad,  leaving the impoverished farmers to count their losses.

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) annually collaborates with Yara Ghana on trials for major crops. This year, Yara Ghana has implemented maize and rice trials in collaboration with CSIR’s Savannah Agricultural Research Institute (SARI) at four locations –: Nyankpala, Walewale, Damongo and Yendi – in Northern Ghana, with the regional office of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA), playing a key role.

In the middle and southern zones, trials have been implemented on maize, rice and oil palm. The CSIR’s Crops Research Institute (CRI) and Oil Palm Research Institute (OPRI) are collaborating with Yara Ghana to implement trials on cereals (maize and rice) and oil palm respectively. Maize trials with CRI are established at two locations – Fumesua and Kwadaso – with the Rice trials established at Afari and Sokwae, all in the Ashanti region.

These are, doubtless, laudable initiatives aimed at upping the ante for food security and stepping up productivity in Ghana but a stronger political commitment is needed to give this progress a national complexion. That should go hand in hand with enhanced infrastructure to keep a check on the needless destruction of farm yields owing to poor road networks and the inability to reach the market centres with yields in good time. The time to act is now!