Feature by Bajin D. Pobia, GNA
Tono, (UER), Nov 22, GNA – Crop production in the three regions of the North is faced with several constraints that adversely affect production and limit productivity.
One constraint is the poor soil fertility management, which includes the use of low rates of fertilizer, poor methods of application and outmoded traditional farming practices. Beside this, the use of bad quality seed and inadequate agricultural practices are resulting in low yields and poor quality paddy.
Rice farmers traditionally broadcast fertilizer for top dressing in a split application. Up to 67 per cent of urea (two bags out of three applied) are lost when broadcast, through volatilisation, leaching and runoff. The economic costs of this are both direct loss of input and indirect crop low yields due to insufficient nutrient availability. Production cost increase without realising a corresponding increase in productivity.
For this reason, rice farmers need exposure and training on new rice production methods including; fertilizer application techniques, use of quality seed and good agricultural practices.
Urea Deep Placement (UDP) technology is one such important rice producing technologies that has the potential to increase yields sustainably by an average of 15 – 30 per cent more.
Since 2014, the Agriculture Technology Transfer (ATT) Project has introduced the UDP technology to rice farmers in irrigation schemes in the three Regions of the North.
At Tono and Vea Irrigation Schemes in the Upper East Region, where the technology is implemented, rice farmers benefited from demonstrations and learning centres, video shows and farmer exchange visit to Bobo-Dioulasso, Nissan and Bama Irrigation Schemes in Burkina Faso as part of efforts to encourage the farmers to embrace the technology.
This effort has been reinforced by 2015 AfricaRice intervention through the promotion of the use of quality rice seed.
The difficulty among farmers in the Northern parts of Ghana has always been the adoption of new technologies that had not been part of them. “No matter how much you feed a wolf he will always return to the forest”.
Farmers fear losing their own technologies and adopting new technologies, even though many of them are now aware that the lack of scientific based technologies are limitations to agricultural production in recent times because of climate change challenges.
And as the saying goes, “He that is afraid of bad luck will never know well”, rice farmers in Tono and Vea Schemes have for the beginning of the project been adamant to accepting or adopting the technologies. However ATT and ICOUR had to collaborate effectively to promote and scale up the use of UDP to at least 50 per cent of the rice farmers in the two irrigation schemes.
Rice farmers, including local leaders, were sensitised on the use of UDP technology, quality seed and good agricultural practices. Women rice trans planters, agro-input dealers and equipment service providers were also educated on the various activities that they are expected to carry out to complement the success story of the project.
This effort boosted the demand for UDP technology resulting in high yields and less use of fertilizer as demonstrated by the crop budget analysis. Consequently, the demand for labour saving equipment increased.
Mr. Fusein Arror Abdul-Rahman, Agronomist with ATT project, said the ATT project's support to rice farmers during 2017 dry season in Tono and Vea came as a package to beneficiary farmers.
The package included; the provision of certified seeds, cost of transplanting seedlings in rows using proper spacing, field monitoring, timely and appropriate pest, disease and weeds management and proper fertilizer use.
The Uniqueness of the package is the urea briquettes, which are placed 7-10cm into the soil between four rice seedlings 7-10 days after transplanting to improve nitrogen fertilization in irrigation rice systems. A total of 283 farmers cultivating 440 acres were reached.
The technology helps to reduce nitrogen losses through runoff, leaching and volatilisation, and enhances the availability of nitrogen for the crop, suppresses weeds thereby reducing cost of weeding while increasing yields and reducing cost of fertilizer.
For the rice crop, this translated into more tillers (25-30) as compared to about 14 tillers for the traditional random method of planting
To facilitate the transplanting, the project trained groups of women transplanters. This created jobs for them and settled those who were traveling down South to look for job. The transplanting activity generated a lot of incomes for the women.
Realising the huge advantages of UDP technology and the gains rice farmers have been making through the adoption of the technology, rice farmers in the Tono and Vea Irrigation Schemes on their own this cropping season, willingly adopted the technology without any support from the ATT Project, with the objective to boost the rice production and maximize their incomes and livelihoods.
During a second visit to the Tono Irrigation Scheme in the Upper East Region within the year organised by Boubakary Cisse (AfricaRice Seed Expert) and Fusein Arror Abdul-Rahman (Agronomist with ATT project), this writer saw beautiful rice fields with farmers adopting the ATT project technology. Unlike the first visit where this writer saw sadness on the faces of several farmers, this time round, booming smiles coming from the farmers greeted the writer.
The current adoption figures show that as for Zone J in Tono, all the 184 farmers (163 males and 21 females) adopted the technology. The average adoption rate is above 80 per cent for the exposed Zones. The non-exposed Zones’ farmers are also adopting the technology as the result of their participation to the Field days and spill-over effect.
The fields are promising and farmers have started counting their blessings and guessing how much they could reap from their sweat if post-harvest losses are curtailed with urgent provision of appropriate machinery such as combine harvesters, threshers, tarpaulin and other important equipment to facilitate easy and fast harvesting and threshing of rice to help reduce post-harvest losses.
BENEFITS AND TESTIMONIES
Referring to the ATT project technology and its benefits, a farmer has this to say “Do not be born good or handsome, but be born lucky”, we are lucky to have had this technology which has come to stay with us forever. The technology is being transferred to rice farmers throughout the entire region, including rice farmers at Fumbisi Valleys and other low land rice farmers outside the schemes.
A young farmer, Mr. Sylvanus Ayamba told this writer that with the application of the UDP technology changed the rice to green till harvesting, and yields are good, one hectare producing about 75 -80 maxi bags instead 50-55 bags, using the random transplanting methods, with farmers profiting more than 20 bags difference.
“We have been cultivating rice but, never had we reaped such good yields as it is now and we want to express our joy and appreciation to ATT and AfricaRice for providing the technology and improved seeds”, Mr. Ayamba said.
At zone “I” and “J” where much concentration use of the technology is applied, rice farmers are getting more yields than before and cost of fertilizer has reduced and less seeds are used on the fields.
A Lead Farmer, Clement Kansaki at zone “J” said that the good yields accruing from the fields have attracted more farmers who earlier on resisted the technology. Many farmers are now interested and are participating actively in the project.
Some farmers who were adamant to accepting the technology, visited the fields to see what they turned “lies” but to their surprise, they saw good yields from the fields and the gains farmers were making, attracted several youth into rice cultivation and more focused to getting good yields.
It is difficult to adopt technologies because farmers fear adventuring into new areas they do not know, but now that the farmers have accepted the technology, the expectations are that more rice would be produced to feed our nation.
These notwithstanding, the farmers said threshing the rice with sticks is labour intensive and the poor will not be able to handle the cost and appealed for more harvesting and threshing equipment to make the technology to have the fullest impact on the farmers.
In all of these, this writer believes that science-based agricultural tools hold great promise for tackling the Ghana’s growing population and food demands. From improved seeds, to modern crop production solutions, to making foods fresher, safer, and healthier along the food chain, the agricultural and food system of the future can be more productive, more sustainable, more efficient, and more interconnected.
Greater investment in and broader adoption of science and technology can enable the three regions in the North to meet the growing demand for food as the population increases, improve the livelihoods of farmers and their families by producing more and higher quality crops for a growing and specific market; enhance the nutritional value and safety of food to improve the health and wellbeing of the people and contribute to agriculture sustainability through reduced resource use.
While technology has a pivotal role to play in achieving global food security, overcoming barriers to acceptance remains difficult. Given the magnitude of our challenge, the agricultural sector must think beyond single solution approaches to feeding the people in the North and give farmers the choice and access to all the tools that can boost productivity safely and sustainably.
Farmers know what is best for them and their land, and should have the ability to choose the tools and technologies that are right for them and the markets they serve. Typically, farmers want access to the tools and technologies that will provide them with the best chance of increased yields and success.
This writer is of the opinion that other factors also play a role in agriculture investment. Governance practices influence the ability of organisations to invest in improved agriculture in the North.
In addition, the availability of financing, capital and insurance enable farmers to make longer term investments in their land. Finally, we will need to support the full array of innovative solutions that are available to farmers to meet food demand.