The farming season has begun. Farmers in the Southern part of Ghana are already busy on their farms. Their colleagues in the Northern part of the country are just starting. Never before, farmers are seeing the reality of climate change: unpredictable rains, hot weathers, strong winds, rising sea levels, etc. As the impact of climate change increases, farmers are beginning to fear for their livelihoods and coming generations.
In this era of climate change, what should farmers, especially farmers in Ghana be doing to still produce enough food to feed the ever-growing human population? What practices should they stop, reduce, improve or adopt? Whilst it is widely agreed that farmers need to adopt climate-smart agriculture, the question that remains is what specific practices make farming climate-smart or resilient?
In this write-up, I outline some practices I think farmers should adopt to develop resiliency against climate change. I have categorized these practices into off-farm practices and on-farm practices.
On-Farm Practices: – these are activities farmers should be doing on their farms either during the rainy season or dry season.
- Grow trees, don’t fell trees – Considering the heavy wind blows associated with the rains, it is important to have growing trees on the farm to block the wind from pulling down the crops, especially maize and sorghum. Heavy wind storms do not only have the potential to cause wind erosions of topsoil but also can uproot crops including those nearing maturity. The likely consequence is no crop yield or at best a poor yield.
- Manage your crop residue, not burn or remove them – at the start of the cropping season, as farmers prepare their farmlands, most farmers burn off their last crop residue and even the bushes. This is not a climate-friendly practice and every farmer needs to avoid and discourage others from doing it. Burning crop residue and bushes do not only result in a loss in important soil organic matter but also increases carbon emission that affects the environment.
- Plant improved seed varieties – farmers should buy improved seed varieties certified by the seed inspection division. Seeds with features such as drought-resistant, early maturing, and disease resistance. I encourage farmers to change their seeds every cropping season. Due to cost implications, most farmers do not want to buy new seeds annually but prefer to recycle their old seeds. The impact on yield with this practice is huge but often goes unnoticed or overlooked. Buying improved seed varieties with the above features will help your crops withstand drought and keep growing with little rain. Buying improved seeds helps you optimized fertilizers or the nutrient applied to the crop. Recycled seeds lose significant ability to produce more grains anytime you plant them. It cannot yield up to the amount you harvest when you planted it first.
- Adopt good agronomic practices:
- Plant your crops at the right time and in the recommended spacing to optimize the plant population. For maize, I recommend farmers to plant 1 seed per hill using 75cm by 25cm. This recommendation is often used in planting hybrid seed but I believe, from experience, that planting open-pollinated varieties like this would lead to optimum yield. I recommend 75cm by 15cm for sorghum and 75cm by 10cm for soybeans (that is 10seeds within 25cm).
- Follow the 4R Nutrient Management Principles to apply your fertilizers. The 4R nutrient management principles are a set of guidelines to guide farmers on the effective use of fertilizers to minimize cost and optimized yield. The 4R’s means, the right source of nutrients, the right rate, the right time, and the right place. Below is how you could follow these principles on your farm:
- The Right Source – Buy fertilizers from only registered and approved input dealers who can at least explain the properties of the fertilizers and how it works. Buy fertilizers that would provide the crop the right nutrients. Fertilizers with either nitrogen, phosphorus or potassium formulation less than 5% is not a good source of nutrient for the crop. It is recommended to apply both organic and inorganic fertilizers to your crops so the properties of these fertilizers would complement one another.
- The Right Time – Apply your fertilizers at the right time – apply fertilizers at the time of planting or less than 2 weeks after planting. This gives your crop the ability to grow with vigor after germination. The fertilizer microdosing technique, where fertilizer is applied the same day the seed is planted is highly recommended. The microdosing technique is very important but very difficult to be implemented by smallholder farmers as it is labor-intensive. For commercial farmers who use planters to plant their crops and apply fertilizers alongside, this practice is very easy for them to implement.
- The Right Rate – Apply the correct amount of fertilizers to the crop. Unfortunately for the rural farmer, there are no farm tools to help farmers apply the correct amount of fertilizers to their crops. An improvised tool is the lid of the Voltic bottle. Fill the lid of the Voltic bottle and apply to one seedling. This is why I ask farmers to plant 1 seed per hill so that when you apply the fertilizers, the nutrients belong to just that crop. Otherwise, planting 2 crops per hill leads to competition for nutrients.
- The right place – apply your fertilizers about 10cm away from your crop to allow the growing roots to access the nutrients. Placing fertilizers too far away from the reach of the plants would result in a loss of nutrients and stunting growth. You should apply the fertilizers in a way that is accessible and available to the crop so it can easily take up the nutrient.
- Weeds and Pest control – keep your farm clean of weeds. There are various kinds of complete and selective herbicides you can buy to spray your weeds. Popular complete herbicides are Nwurawura, Sunphosate, Adwummawura, etc. and can use the following selective herbicides among some of your crops: maize/sorghum (Nicoking, Sunfuron, Atrazine, etc), groundnuts/soybeans/beans (Target, Agil, Supremo, Butaplast, etc), rice (Bisonrice, Rice Top, etc). Visit your farm every week and if possible every day to observe any new changes happening on your crops. Spray insecticides once you see signs of pests, insects, or worms invading your farm. The following Insecticides can help in controlling fall armyworms: Eradicoat, warrier, Adepa, Sunpyrifos, k-optimal, Agoo, etc.
- Post-Harvest management – harvest your crops once they are matured and ready for harvest. Do not harvest when your crops are not ready, else you risk losing everything at storage. After harvest, ensure, the crops are well dried to achieve a moisture level of less than 12%. Farmers who do not have tools to measure the moisture content can examine by biting with their teeth. Once it’s dried, store your grains using the Purdue Improved Crop Storage (PICs sacks). You can store your grains in these sacks without using insecticides for 5 years.
Off-Farm Practices – these are activities mostly done outside of the farm but could affect your ability to produce food. Hence, the need to understand what to do when you are not on your farm.
- Join a farmer group – farmer groups are a great platform to learn new information either on farming or opportunities. Farmer groups are easily accessible by NGOs, input dealers, and the agricultural value chain players who may want to disseminate information or organize training for farmers. Being in a group increases your chances of getting agricultural support services including inputs credit and linkage to the market to sell farm produce.
- Attend training – farmers are rarely trained in Ghana. However, if you are fortunate there is a training organized in your locality, attend the training yourself. If you are a male farmer, do not ask your wife or child to attend the training. Attend it yourself. If possible, attend the training with your wife and children. Don’t just attend the training, practices the things you learn at the training.
- Visit your Agriculture directorate office regularly – visit your district or municipal agricultural office frequently and ask them questions. The MoFA offices in Ghana are inadequately resourced and they are not able to carry out their mandate successfully. So do not wait for them to visit you, visit them and ask them questions concerning the challenges or the strange things you are seeing on your farm. They will either advise you what to do or they will follow you to your farm to see for themselves and advise you appropriately. Visiting them is an opportunity for you to show them your work, market yourself and you could win an award at the National Farmers’ day celebrations. This is very important for young farmers who have just started and may need recognition and support from the MoFA office. Also, some agricultural inputs providers like Tieme Ndo go beyond just selling fertilizers and seeds to training and visiting their clients. Hence, visit such shops if there is any in your locality.
- Maintain a healthy business relationship with your input supplier – identify one to two reliable inputs providers in your community. Always purchase all your farm inputs from them and make sure they have your details and your transactions recorded. This would help you trace if there is anything wrong or strange happenings after using the products. Also, when you receive inputs on credit from your supplier, remember to pay back on time and do not default, otherwise, in times like climate change and Corona, you would need credit support at some time. This would help you in the most difficult times
- Plan and save to purchase your farm inputs ahead of the rain – do not wait for the rains to start before you also starting planning the kind of crops to grow, where to grow them, and where to get your farm inputs. Within the 6 -8 months dry season, plan out your farm work and save parts of your income to purchase your farm inputs. If possible, start purchasing your seeds and fertilizers from your inputs supplier ahead of the rains. Organizations like Tieme Ndo have developed a program for farmers to save in bits to pay for their fertilizers ahead of the rains – take advantage of such programs and secure your farm inputs. Do not rely on any government program as a means of getting your farm inputs. You may be disappointed.
Climate change will stay with us for an unpredictable number of years. We cannot change that. What we can do is to reduce our contribution to the causes of climate change and more importantly, enhance our capacity to adapt and become resilient to the effects of climate change. We must eat whether rain or shine. Thus, the need to keep producing food despite the increasing risk of changing climate. Hence, I believe the above guidelines can help you reduce your contribution to climate change and be able to still produce food for your family, your community, your region, your country, your continent, and the entire world.