Feature by Prosper K. Kuorsoh
Kalsagri/Pavuu, (U/W), May 9, GNA – With climate change knocking at the door as a result of increasing deforestation and droughts, the future sometimes looks very bleak and scary. It is even worse for people who live close to nature and are dependent on her for their survival.
In the past, causes of environmental degradation in most rural communities were largely limited to indiscriminate bush burning and the slash and burn type of agriculture practice.
Increased population pressure on the land meant that fallowing, that used to last 10 to 15 years a generation ago, is becoming a thing of the past. More and more farm households were obliged to cultivate their land year after year.
Without fallowing, the trees and shrubs on crop land disappearing. This traditional method of restoring soil fertility is lost. This is the “silent crisis”; the loss of trees and vegetative cover is leading to degradation of land and declining soil fertility across the northern regions.
However, the recent invasion of the already fragile ecology by loggers which I prefer to call “monsters of the forest” further puts the environment under serious threat of climate change and food insecurity.
Statistics and facts
According to the Ghana Forest Investment Plan (FIP) 2016 – 2040, the forests in Ghana are being depleted in an alarming rate from the country’s original forest cover of 8.2 million hectares.
At the beginning of the 20th century, only an estimated 1.6 million hectares remained with 2.0 percent deforestation rate and an annual loss of around 135,000 hectares.
The Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) Readiness proposal for Ghana (2010) identified the principal drivers of deforestation and degradation to include; agriculture expansion 50 per cent, wood harvesting 35 per cent, urban sprawl and infrastructure development 10 percent and mining and mineral exploitation 5 per cent.
It seems as if solutions are further away than ever – and if there is one, it must be very sophisticated and ask for an enormous amount of effort, time and money.
The government’s approach to environmental degradation has always been the sophisticated approach that asked for enormous amount of effort, time and money, but with no or very little results to show.
An immediate example is the GH¢32.5 million Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA) five million tree planting project.
But why must one think it needs to be this way? Sometimes the solution can be very easy. Sometimes you don’t need to fight nature; you just have to use what she provides.
Not only is there a solution for deforestation and agricultural degradation, but also for poverty and malnutrition and that solution is a sustainable one. This is neither daydreaming nor is a fairy tale. It’s called Farmer Managed Natural Re-generation (FMNR).
“The FMNR Hub defines it as a low-cost land restoration technique used to combat poverty and hunger amongst poor subsistence farmers by increasing food and timber production and resilience to climate extremes.”
The Birth and spread of FMNR – The Niger Story
According to Wikipedia, in the early 1980s, in the Maradi region of the Republic of Niger, the missionary organisation, serving in Mission (SIM), was unsuccessfully attempting to reforest the surrounding districts using conventional means.
In 1983, SIM began experimenting and promoting FMNR amongst about 10 farmers. During the severe famine of 1984, a food-for-work programme was introduced that saw some 70,000 people exposed to FMNR and its practice on around 12,500 hectares of farmland.
From 1985 to 1999, FMNR continued to be promoted locally and nationally as exchange visits and training days were organised for various NGOs, government foresters, Peace Corps Volunteers and farmer and civil society groups.
By 2004 it was ascertained that FMNR was being practised on over five million hectares or 50 per cent of Niger's farmland – an average reforestation rate of 250,000 hectares per year over a 20-year period.
This transformation prompted Senior Fellow of the World Resources Institute, Chris Reij to comment that "this is probably the largest positive environmental transformation in the Sahel and perhaps all of Africa”.
The birth of the Kalsagri-Pavuu FMNR Demonstration Site
The wanton depletion of the environment and the impact of climate change on smallholder farmers in the Upper West Region especially in the Lawra and Nandom areas has become a source of worry to the Centre for Indigenous Knowledge and Organisational Development (CIKOD).
This therefore led to the creation of the more than 29 acres Kalsagri-Pavuu FMNR Demonstration Site which is now serving as a learning centre for the rest of the communities.
Mr. Alex Kyaavuure, Secretary of the Kalsagri-Pavuu FMNR Demonstration Site recounted how farmers in the community used to get poor yields as a result of poor soil fertility and negative farming practices such as; indiscriminate bush burning, slash and burn and excessive use of chemical fertilizer.
“Because of bush burning, we use to travel long distances to harvest grass and also get herbs along the Banks of the Black Volta. Sometimes when you are not lucky, your grass or herbs may be seized by people from communities in the area”, he said.
Mr. Kyaavuure noted that with the introduction of the FMNR concept and the creation of the Demonstration Site in their community, they now have a lot of grass and herbs to roof their houses and also treat their ailments.
He said knowledge and skills learnt from the site had also been replicated in their individual farms and their yields had improved significantly, stressing that they now have food to feed all-year-round and still sell the surplus for income unlike the past.
Ernestina Puuvuur, a woman from Kalsagri said previously, they used to cut down trees to harvest firewood due to ignorance, but now the FMNR education made them understand that they could get firewood through pruning while the tree grows instead of cutting it down completely.
“We have also learnt that it is possible to leave trees in your farm and manage them while getting improved yields instead of cutting them down”, she said.
Because of this lesson, the density of indigenous trees on farm land has been steadily increasing for many households in Nandom and Lawra Districts.
Kaara-ib Baanye, Regent of Kalsagri noted that since the community adopted the FNMR concept, he had seen that their yields have improved and poverty and suffering was gradually reducing in the community.
“Our animals do not get missing anymore because they now get enough grass to feed on in the community”, he said and expressed joy that people now come to his community not only to look for grass and herbs but also to learn from them about the FMNR Concept.
“We are very grateful to CIKOD for introducing us to this concept and it is our prayer that we will continue to sustain it to our benefit”, he said.
The FMNR Demonstration Site which was started in 2016 with total membership of 60 now has over 100 members. With high spirit of commitment and unity of purpose, members elected their own executives to take charge of the site management.
A membership register is often marked during pruning with late comers paying a fine of GH¢2.00 while absentees are fined GH¢4.00. Also firewood gathered during pruning is sold out to members or non-members with non-members paying higher than members depending on the quantity of the firewood.
Mr Cosmas Nizu Kuusan, an FMNR/Agro-ecology Practitioner in Ko-Bukon Community in the Nandom District said before the adoption of the concepts, he saw himself to be over working but with very little output.
With his well-constructed composting facility, Cosmas says he had not only saved himself from the high cost of chemical fertilizer, but also the pleasure of eating organic foodstuff.
Cosmas encouraged his colleague farmers to adopt the FMNR Agro-ecology farming concept to improve their farm yields.
He also recommended to government to invest in the manufacturing of compost fertilizer through the “One District, One Factory” initiative to help farmers produce organic food crops instead of investing in chemical fertilizer subsidy.
Mr Gregory Kelle, another FMNR/Agro-ecology Practitioner from Ko Community said his piece of land he had been farming on for over 50 years did not only lose its fertility several years ago, but was also almost turning into a desert.
He said through FMNR and Agro-ecological practices such as; bunding, ridging, composting, crop rotation, green manuring and co-cropping, soil fertility in his farm had rejuvenated and the tree population had increased tremendously.
He said adopting FMNR/Agro-ecology is not an easy task, but with commitment and dedication, the benefits were worth more than the sacrifice and encouraged his colleague farmers who have not yet bought into the concept to do so in order to reap the benefits.
Mr Daniel Banuoku, a Deputy Director of CIKOD noted that farmers combining FMNR and Agro-ecological practices such as; bunding and planting across contours have reduced soil erosion on occasions of rainfall and helped the soil conserve water over a longer period.
Recognising the importance of FMNR/Agro-ecology, CIKOD introduced the concepts to four communities in Lawra Municipal and Nandom District namely; Tanchara, Gengbee, Goziir and Ko resulting in more than 1,500 farmers accepting and adopting the concept.
These practices are resulting in yield increases and smallholder farmers’ wellbeing is being improved, he said and added that based on the successes chalked, the concept had been scaled up to four new communities namely, Eremon, Nanyare, Zimuopare and Danko Communities.
About 225 Voluntary Tree Planters (VTPs) were selected and trained to become volunteer fire brigade in their communities, he said.
The biggest challenge is how to protect the demonstration sites and farms from wild fires coming from neighbouring communities who are yet to adopt the concept.
There is the need to scale up the concept through advocacy for a mass believe among farmers and communities in order to increase agriculture production among subsistence farmers while protecting the environment against degradation and possible climate change.
The adoption of FMNR is more likely when communities acknowledge their situation and the need to take action. This perception of need can be supported by education.
And so instead of investing in sophisticated approaches that yield no or little results in reclaiming degraded lands, government should rather invest in this perception of need to get that critical mass of people believing and adopting FMNR/Agro-ecology.
Indeed, if the future depends on a robust agriculture sector, then the future of the agriculture sector in this moment of worsening climatic conditions certainly depends on a mass believe and adoption of FMNR/Agro-ecology. Time is right to act.