Posted by: rumnet | July 17, 2012

Will Organic Farming improve Ghana’s agricultural sector?

Will Organic Farming Improve Ghana’s Agricultural Sector? 

(Published in the July 2012 edition of the advocate) 

By Katrina A. Charnley 

While driving in the country side of Northern Ghana, one often sees farmers working under the hot sun. For an average of GHc 3.00 a day, farmers endure the heat, exposure to harmful chemicals and dangerous snakes, all to harvest salvageable produce and to prepare for the next crop. This hard work is also done in the face of climate change defined by increasing temperatures, inconsistent rainfall, soil erosion and degradation. 

In her report “Opportunity in Organics”, Lauren Bain comments on the current state of the agriculture sector in Ghana, concluding that the current methods of agro-education being used, essentially a blend of traditional practices such as bush burning and modern practices such as using harmful pesticides and herbicides, are unsustainable. They are also harmful to the environment and not ideal for healthy food production. Although there are many challenges in finding an effective solution, many share her belief that Ghana’s agricultural sector is in dire need of change. 

The Coalition for the Advancement of Organic Farming (CAOF) presents an overview of organic farming in Ghana, specifically in the Northern Sector, as a possible alternative to negative agricultural practices that remain prevalent today. 

To begin, we need to understand clearly what is meant by organic agriculture. The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) defines organic agriculture as “. . . a whole system approach based upon a set of processes resulting in a sustainable ecosystem, safe food, good nutrition, animal welfare and social justice. Organic production therefore is more than a system of production that includes or excludes certain inputs.” 

Why should farmers consider going organic? According to the report, organic agriculture can increase agricultural productivity while stabilizing returns, as well as incomes, by using local technologies, all without harming the environment. Economically, the local and international market for organic products has significant prospects for growth. This could lead to increased income and improved living conditions for the producers and exporters of organic produce. Other benefits would also include maintenance and building of soil fertility on land that is often threatened by degradation and erosion, as well as putting in place agricultural practices that can contribute to meaningful socio-economic and ecologically sustainable development. In addition to these benefits for the environment and farmers, there are also significant benefits for consumers who buy organic produce. 

Bain’s report mentions the benefits of eating organic food. Limiting your exposure to synthetic insecticides, fungicides and herbicides, as well as limiting your intake of growth hormones and antibiotics are some major benefits to organic produce, meat and dairy products. Certified organic farmers are also unable to produce genetically modified (GM) foods, a controversial subject the world over, due to the unknown long-term affects upon both human health and the environment. 

Other benefits to organic farming is that organic produce tends to have a longer shelf life and is more resilient to pests, diseases and climatic factors, than chemically-grown food. Bain argues that organic farming could revamp produce that is more resilient, creating a more sustainable use of land, more nutritious food, all while maintaining a higher market value. A study by Yaw Bonsi Osei-Asare conducted in 2009 concluded that “consumers are willing to pay a maximum of 20% premium on organic products.” 

There are two significant challenges in developing organic agriculture in Ghana that need to be addressed before all the benefits can be gained. 

One challenge mentioned in the CAOF research report is that although consumers are often willing to pay the extra if the produce is certified organic, the certification costs are very high because certification is often done by foreign organizations, therefore because the produce is not recognized as organic (according to international standards), they do not attract premium prices. 

Another significant challenge is that the majority of the farmers in Ghana have not had any formal education, making their ability to access the best and most up-to-date information on organic agricultural practices difficult. Their ability to communicate and share their knowledge is also limited, especially due to language barriers. 

Some of the major recommendations of the report to the Ghanaian government are to make sure that the processes leading to organic certification are simplified so that organic produce can attract premium prices on the market. The government needs to increase extension services to train and share information about organic farming, its positive effect on the environment, and the fact that it results in healthier foods and farming practices. It would also be of benefit to learn and work closely on all levels with our neighbours in Burkina Faso, who have already had success in promoting and practicing organic agriculture. 

The current research concludes that organic agriculture is crucial for environmental sustainability as well as improving the health of consumers. Other benefits include contributing to employment creation, food security, poverty reduction and health. CAOF call upon the government, the private sector and their development partners to promote the benefits of and strengthen the delivery of organic agriculture.

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Responses

  1. soo educative. bravo!!


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