Ending hunger, achieving food security, improving nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture forms an integral part of the sustainable development goals. But numerous challenges concerning the climate and environment still persist and continues to create more complex problems for societies. It has become necessary to identify some of these challenges and to find diverse ways to address them in order to reach the target for the Millennium development Goals.
The problems caused by weeds is often overlooked in agricultural systems. Very little attention is given to weeds by farmers. However weeds account for about 35% of yield losses in crops. This means tackling the numerous issues associated with weed growth on farm lands would have a worthwhile impact is maximizing sustainable crop growth. Farmers spend a huge portion of their revenue to combat the disturbance and colonization of weeds on their fields. Not only do they lose their monies but also they create more problems to the ecosystem with the introduction of chemicals (weedicides/herbicides) into the environment. This project therefore seeks to address the concerns of sustainable weed management/crop protection system, conservation practices, climate smart agriculture production as well as the proper utilization of regional biological functions.
The target community for the project is Lawra, a small town in the upper west Region of Ghana. Maize and sorghum is the staple crops cultivated by farmers in the area. Livestock productions is also a main feature in the district and it contributes largely towards meeting the food needs and providing income for the farmers.
Lawra is considered the poorest district in the Upper West part of the country. The region has the most people who are food insecure in the entire country thus about 34% of the population in the region. The area is burdened with many agricultural challenges, paramount among them is poor soil quality, weeds and weather extremes. These problems are compounded by socioeconomic problems related to infrastructure, health care, education, technology access etc.
The farmers in the area heavily depend on agriculture for their livelihood. However the development of agriculture is low. Rather than it contributing to the needs of the people, it leads to more unnecessary challenges. The people are mostly smallholder farmers who practice traditional subsistence farming. They also depend much on rainfall for their farming activities but rainfall occurs at only a few times throughout the year (with an annual rainfall of 900mm-1200mm).
Farmers in this area usually practice slash and burn during land preparation. They set fire to their lands after clearing up the weeds for the next planting seasons. They believe it is a quicker and cheaper land preparation method. They also assume that the ash that is produced after burning contains some nutrient which may be good for the soil. This activity leaves the land bare which calls for severe soil erosion after rainfall.
In this one year project, I want to adopt an integrated, multi-stakeholder and holistic cropping systems to handle the pressures of weeds on cultivation to meet food security needs. I want to introduce and promote the use of the direct seeding mulch based cropping system to the local farmers. These techniques involve sowing crops directly in permanent plant cover (residue from the previous crop that has been left on the ground, in addition to mulched dead or live cover). The major crops planted are maize and sorghum. After they are harvested the crop residues and by-products such as stovers, straws, husks and cobs still remains. Sorghum has been reported to have a strong allelopathic potential. The toxicity of its roots exudates and crop residues has been found to inhibit the growth of many common weeds. Since sorghum is already a staple crop in this region we can therefore exploit/harness its activity of allelopathy to control weeds following its utilization as permanent live cover. Weed growth would also be suppressed by the effect of shade by presence of material cover/ crop residue on the field.
To do this, it is important to first raise awareness to the community through a campaign. I will run training sessions and multiple field demonstrations to educate farmers about the concept of the program. Strengthening the relationship between the local authorities, local farmers and community members will be a further step towards a successful delivery of the program. To make it possible to directly sow seed on the fields, necessary equipment and tools such as the jab planters would be provided for the farmers in the area. In order to also enhance early germination of seeds on the fields, landforms such as the broad bed furrow would be created and aligned in rows to raise the soil top for seeding. Also to allow community members to desist from using crop residues, especially sorghum residues, as animal fodder for livestock, a favorable residue management program would be designed. Alternative crops would also be grown separately for the livestock on different plots in a livestock integrated cropping system. There would also be the need to generate the sense of care of the environment among the people through sensitization campaigns and education.
This method would not only provide a cost effective method for weed control and ensure environmental safety from reduced weedicides but would also enhance soil water conservation, biodiversity conservation, reduce erosion and even contribute to carbon sequestration. Increased and stabilized crop yields and decreased labor and input cost is expected after the development of this project. On the national and global level they are going to help combat desertification, decreased food insecurity, increase economic activity and thus reduce poverty substantially.
The level of effectiveness of the project would also be measured and evaluated by assessing the knowledge, attitudes, practices and skills of the farmers. To ensure the progress of the project towards achieving the planned results, regular field visits and observations through a participatory approach would be conducted. Regular meetings and group discussions would also be held among the stakeholders to access the results for any recommendations. Also a special monitoring team would be engaged to take in-depth project evaluations.
It is expected that at the end of the program farmers and community members would derive some skills that would help them become more self-sustaining and self-productive and also to accelerate economic growth in the community whilst ensuring a safer environment for food production.
I have taken several intensive courses and attended public lectures concerning weed management, conservation agriculture and allelopathy. I am also concerned about the crop and economic losses due to weed growth and also the contribution of its crude management to the climate change in my country. Therefore through this initiative I would want to reach out to Lawra community and help reverse the ecological damage and restore the natural environment. I would also want to learn more about the nature of the problem, gain more practical experience, broaden my horizon and improve my problem solving, communication, management and technical skills.
Aboagye Daniel Asiamah, Ghana