Northern Ghana can be very dry, and due to climate change there is less and less rainfall every year. For farmers, making the most of water is vital. Volunteer Peter Okoth, an agricultural expert from Kenya is working to support the farmers in the region. Introducing new techniques to conserve water, increase yields and sustain farmers’ incomes.
A lack of water
Volunteer Peter Okoth can easily identify one of the main problems facing farmers in Northern Ghana. He says, “This area is very dry and with dry lands the biggest problem is water for production. So at the end of the day most farmers don’t produce because they lack water.”
The issue comes from a reliance on traditional ‘open-farming’ method, where crops are planted outside in an open field. In the heat, this is an inefficient use of water and fuel.
He explains, “Most farmers here, when they do their dry season planting, they waste a lot of water. They use a lot of fuel to pump the field, but even after pumping the water on to the field, because of the heat, it is very dry after only a few hours. So the crops keep on dying.”
The 'sack solution'
The solution is as innovative as it is low-tech. It just needs the old sacks used for transporting dried crops.
“For the last year we have introduced ‘sack bag technology’ ” says Peter, “the bags, used to carry peas or rice can be repurposed to grow crops.”
“We use the 50kg sacks, put soil in, make holes and then plant your vegetables in it.”
The sacks retain the moisture, reducing water needed and producing higher yields. He says, “You keep watering the sack bag and it keeps the water in rather than evaporating. The plants just keep growing.”
“You keep watering the sack bag and it keeps the water in rather than evaporating. The plants just keep growing.”
The use of sack bags has proven to be very successful. Not only is the amount of water reduced, the yields are far higher. Eighty per cent of farmers trialling the new method reported it was very successful, generating higher yields than open farming – even when water was not a problem.
Peter recalls, “Yields they managed to harvest were higher than they would have gotten in open farming, even if they had enough water. According to them they always get between 20-25 fruits per tomato tree, but with the sack bags they were able to harvest around 37 per tree.”
Not only has the method proven effective, the idea itself has taken seed. With farmers from Peter’s original group now offering training to their peers.
This is just one innovation recently introduced by volunteers and partners, all of which are increasing yields. With more fruit and vegetables, local markets are enjoying an unexpected influx of produce across the year. That could have a negative effect, should the market become flooded and prices then reduce too much to increase sales. To avoid that consequence, Peter has also been working on zoning farms.
He explains, “We do also zoning for farmers. We have over 3000 farmers, so when they all produce tomatoes the market becomes flooded. The best thing is to group them. For example, this area we do tomatoes, this area we do onions, this area we do cabbages and so on. So at the end of the day there is a balance to the market, so it is not flooded by just one fruit”
Peter’s influences have not only created a brand new farming techniques that support a sustainable livelihoods. The new methods also reduce waste and ensure the is a range of local produce available for the communities.
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