“Planting for Food and Jobs” – Doing it a Different Way

The Government of Ghana has announced that it’s headline strategy for agricultural development across the country is “Planting for Food and Jobs”. The policy of the recently inaugurated government is due to be officially launched later this month, on the 19th of April 2017. The Planting for Food and Jobs campaign is expected to initially cost Ghc 560 million.

A field of maize which didn’t yield due to poor soil fertility in Upper East Region, Ghana.

At Trax we are supportive of the government increasing investment in the agricultural sector, especially if this investment is shared equally with farmers in the north and south of the country. However, we have significant reservations about the farming methods promoted through government’s programme.

The Planting for Food and Jobs campaign sits alongside the government’s Food and Agriculture Sector Development Policy (FASDEP II). FASDEP II states that it will oversee the mechanisation and modernisation of the agricultural sector in order to increase yields and income through value chain development.

Although the Government of Ghana and Trax are working towards the same objectives of increased food security, reduced poverty, and environmental sustainability, we seek to meet our objectives through different means.

Why Trax Plant for Food and Jobs in a Different Way

Land degradation in Upper East Region, Ghana

Mechanisation means using tractors to plough fields. In Upper East Region, and across much of Northern Ghana, the soils are highly degraded and have poor soil structure. This means top soil is liable to severe soil erosion during rainfall events as the water will carry the soil, and any fertiliser, with it as it runs over the land.

The use of tractors to plough soil with poor structure exacerbates soil erosion. Ploughing with tractors in sandy soil loosens the top soil, exposing it to rainfall when widespread soil erosion occurs.

At Trax, we know that the soils our farming communities cultivate cannot tolerate heavy machinery or ploughing via tractor. We are concerned about the potential damage that the government’s programme of ‘mechanised’ agriculture will cause. Instead, Trax promotes other methods for land preparation, those which do not damage the soil structure and which reverse land degradation.

What Do Trax Do Differently?

Trax support farming communities to practice agroecological methods by providing necessary training and materials. Agroecology benefits soils by increasing soil fertility and water retention, and prevents soil erosion.

By constructing stone bunds or grass strips on their farm land, top soil is held on the farm instead of being washed away by surface water runoff. Agroecological farming parctices further limit soil erosion by improving soil structure through increased organic matter, because we use compost made from crop residue and farmyard manure instead of chemical fertiliser pellets.

Trax promote agroforestry and afforestation, with the increased tree cover also reducing soil erosion because their root network stabilises the soil. Trees also improve soil water retention so benefit crop production as well as preventing soil erosion.

A healthy, organic maize yield on an agroecological farm supported by Trax.

Having been supporting farmers in Northern Ghana for 28 years, we know that this works. The results are visible in the communities we support, where soil erosion has been halted and land degradation reversed. Farmers using the methods Trax promote have seen yield increases of up to 160% over a five-year period, based on their yield before they started using agroecological practices.

Trax farms prevent soil erosion, reverse land degradation by restoring tree cover and soil fertility, and improve biodiversity of beneficial plants, insects, soil microbia, and animals. While doing all of these beneficial things, the agroecological practices Trax promote also increase crop yields which provide food and income for the farming households, thus increasing food security and reducing poverty.

When it is possible to farm with so many beneficial outcomes, why further degrad the land we depend on by ploughing it with tractors? We know that this will not provide long-term sustainable production. This is why Trax plant for food and livelihoods using a different approach to the government.

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The Value of Dry Season Gardening

Up to 80% of the population of Northern Ghana are farmers and they mostly depend on vulnerable rained agriculture. Due to strong seasonality of rainfall in the region, rainfed farming is limited to only five to six months of the year. So what do farmers do during the other six to seven months? While some take up other livelihoods or seek temporary employment elsewhere, others continue to grow food through dry season gardening.

A farmer who Trax have supported has established an agroforestry garden for growing dry season vegetables. He uses mixed-cropping to grow vegetables, fruit, and establish seedlings for transplanting at the start of the wet season.

Trax supports farmers to take up dry season gardening through training them on agroforestry practices and, in some communities, constructing the necessary well or borehole which provides the critical source of water. Trax believes dry season gardening can contribute to environmental restoration, sustainable livelihoods, increased food security and good nutrition when practiced using agroforestry and an agroecological approach.

For farming communities supported by Trax, dry season gardening not only continues to provide essential income during the dry months, but the vegetables also provide a valuable source of nutrition for their families.

 

What is Dry Season Gardening?

Dry season gardening is typically done on a smaller scale than wet season farming, which is why it is termed ‘gardening’ rather than ‘farming’. This is because it can only be practiced in areas near to a water source where water will be available even during the driest months. As it is done on a small scale, dry season gardening is used to grow vegetables and leafy greens rather than the cereals or roots and tubers grown in the wet season. Typical crops grown during the dry season are onions, tomatoes, chili pepper, bitter leaf, and other green herbs.

A treadle pump used to pump water from a pond to the vegetable beds in a dry season garden.

Vegetables are irrigated by hand, with the farmer collecting water from the local water sources and applying it to the crop, sometimes with a hose or a watering can, sometimes with a bucket. In some areas, farmers will irrigate their dry season crops by digging channels from the water source to the vegetable beds.

Where the water table is high, farmers can dig small pools or ponds on their farms to supply the water. Some will farm around micro-dams, which others will collect water from a nearby well or borehole. In cases where the farmer or community can afford it, a pump run by a generator will pump water from a well to their vegetable beds. A newer addition to pumping water for dry season gardening is the use of a treadle and hand pump which works like a generator pump but using human power instead of fuel.

 

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Trax March 2017 Newsletter Now Available

Trax have launched a monthly newsletter with updates about our work and the farming communities we support in Northern Ghana. The first issue is available here: Trax Newsletter March 2017 (opens pdf).

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Why Water is Central to what Trax Do

Water is an essential part of everyday life. For farmers in dryland environments such as Northern Ghana, water also dictates their livelihoods. That’s why Trax Ghana support rural farming communities to increase availability of water for farming and household use.

The United Nations (UN) in Agenda 21 of the 1992 conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro designated 22 March as International World Water Day. The day since then, is celebrated each year and focuses attention on the importance of universal access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities in developing countries. The day also focuses on advocating for sustainable management of fresh water resources. Trax Ghana is joining in the celebration of this year’s World Water Day, whose theme is “wastewater”.

Girls collect water from a borehole installed by Trax

The Challenge in Ghana

According to UNICEF’s WASH in communities report, hand washing can reduce diarrhoea and pneumonia by up to 50%, yet less than 15% of Ghanaian households have hand washing facilities. Improved sanitation can reduce diarrhoea rates by 36%, but only 15% of Ghanaians have access to improved sanitation, well short of the 2015 goal of 54%. One in five Ghanaians have no access to a toilet and defecate in the open, with open defecation rates over 70% in Northern Ghana, reflecting significant national inequalities.

Drilling of the new borehole for the Trax Norway and Kavli Foundation scholarship farm for small ruminants

Falling within the savannah zone of Ghana, the northern portions of the country generally has a distinct dry season between November and April, with the wet season falling between May and October. During the dry season, water can be a limiting factor for both domestic use and agricultural livelihoods of much of the population and finding a clean and sustainable source of freshwater can be challenging. Furthermore, heavy rainfall events in the wet season have been known to cause damaging flooding in the region, especially for communities on the banks of the region’s three major rivers: The Black and White Volta rivers, and the Oti river.
In Ghana, potable water sources are diminishing at such a fast rate that the country faces a looming water crisis by the year 2030, if conditions continue to persist. The Water Research Institute (WRI) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research has warned that there would be no treatable water source, either surface or ground water by 2030, should the rate at which the country’s water sources are being polluted.

Two farmers enjoy the first bucket of water raised from a new well to enable dry season vegetable gardening

Over the past two decades, Trax Ghana community-based Sustainable Land Management (SLM) interventions to regulate surface water flow and soil erosion focus on reforestation, natural regeneration, grass stripping, composting, crop residue management, wild fire prevention and management, energy-efficient stove use, inter-cropping with legumes, contour identification and terracing, zero or control burning and contour ridging among others.

Our activities increase the water retention of soil, reducing flooding and improving crop growth and biodiversity. We also undertake initiatives for rain water harvesting and providing sources of clean water for communities.

Potable Water for Farming Communities
To address the problem of scarcity of potable water in some farming communities, Trax Ghana in partnership with the District Assembly, John and Katherine Hindson (UK), and Self Help Africa (UK), drilled eleven boreholes in seven different communities in the Bongo District and Bolga Municipal, in the Upper East region of Ghana. Another seven boreholes were drilled in seven different communities in the Bunkpurugu/Yunyoo District, in the Northern region of Ghana.

Constructing a well for vegetable gardening, in partnership with Self Help Africa

Also in partnership with Self Help Africa, Trax Ghana has dug wells to provide a source or water to enable vegetable production, including during the dry season. This valuable water enables hand irrigation of vegetables which provides an additional source of good nutrition and income for farming households. The vegetables are all grown organically using agroecological practices.

Solving the Challenge of Water in Schools
In partnership with the British School of Brussels, a 4-unit KVIP and 2 urinals were completed in 2013 and handed over to the Zuarungu Moshie School in the Bolga municipal. Boreholes were also drilled in Gaare/Gbani, Duusi, Dachio and Zuarungu Moshie schools, in the Upper East region. Prior to the provision of borehole in the schools, students walk long distances in search of drinking water during break periods, and in the process some fail to return to class. The challenge of the schools is now a thing of the past!

Children enjoying the new borehole and hand pump at their school.

Addressing the issue of sanitation and hygiene in schools, Trax Ghana partnership project in 2015, presented sanitation containers and hand washing materials to Gaare/Gbani, Duusi, Dachio and Zuarungu Moshie schools. The donations now serve a dual purpose of clean water storage for drinking and thorough washing of hands after using the washroom and other public places.

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New Women’s Group taken through VSLA Constitution Development

Trax supports women to establish Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLA) to take control of their own finances. Since we began this initiative some years ago, there has been high demand from women’s group to establish new VSLAs.

Providing training of developing a VSLA constitution to a new women’s group

Trax Ghana visited Kabusgo- Adignongo VSLA group yesterday to find out the progress of the program and their businesses as well. The group were very happy to see us and issues concerning the program were discussed.

Women share a joke during their VSLA meeting

We later on proceeded to Mossi Daboro to meet our new VSLA group. Members were taken through how they will develop their group constitution and dates were fixed for the drafting of the constitution.

The new group were keen to start saving so each member made a deposit to the VSLA during the meeting.

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Trax Host Fundraising and Resource Management Intern

Trax has a history of hosting students, researchers, and interns from around the world. We believe this supports Trax’s development and learning opportunities as well as the personal development and growth of the individuals we host. In light of this, Trax is currently hosting an intern who is working on fundraising and resource management.

Janet Nyaaba joined Trax four weeks ago and has already provided valuable insight and development opportunities for Trax. We are delighted to have her on board with us and we look forward to further collaboration.

Janet introduces herself below.

Trax intern Janet Nyaaba

My name is Janet Asane Nyaaba. I completed my degree in Integrated Development Studies (Environment and Resource Management Option) at the University For Development Studies, Wa campus in 2014.
I did my national service with Ghana Education Service in Kamaso D/A Junior High School in the Western Region of Ghana.
I have also worked with Myroc Food Processing Company Limited in the Greater Accra Region. I started as a factory-hand worker and based on my hard work I was promoted to Quality Assurance Assistant and then to Quality Assurance Inspector.

Currently I am doing an internship with Trax Ghana. This is because I am so passionate about what they do. Looking at what they have done so far and still trying to do is so amazing. They have done a lot in the northern part of Ghana trying to fight hunger and poverty. Over thousands of people can now raise their shoulders because they have enough to feed their families and to sell to generate income. That is why I decided to join hands with them and I am so privilege to be part of them. Thanks.

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Celebrating the Contribution of Women Farmers in Northern Ghana

This International Women’s Day we are celebrating women farmers everywhere. Women farmers constitute more than half of the labour force on small farms in Sub-Saharan Africa. Despite this, they typically have little or no ownership of land, property, or income. In Northern Ghana, Trax are working to give women farmers the rights and recognition they deserve.

We pay particular attention to gender equality in our programmes; 50% of our beneficiaries are women. Our programmes are sensitive to the different needs and priorities of women compared to men in this region.

To celebrate the women farmers of Northern Ghana, we want to profile their strength, achievements, and the contributions they make to Trax and their communities.

Better Yields and Better Nutrition

Women in Pelungu construct stone bunds in preparation for the farming season. Stone bunds prevent soil and compost from being washed off the land by rain.

As women farmers constitute half of Trax’s beneficiaries, they are recipients of programmes which support sustainable agricultural livelihoods through the practice of agroecology. Through the application of compost, use of stone bunds, and tree planting, women farmers have increased their yields by reversing land degradation and restoring soil fertility. Women have increased their yields by up to 170% using these farming practices.

Women are also the recipients of groundnut and soybean seeds, both of which are legumes which support soil fertility and are a good source of protein. Trax also support women with kits for dry season gardening, enabling them to grow vegetables using hand irrigation during the long dry season in Northern Ghana. This provides them with an additional source of food and income for thier families.

This woman cared for her OFSP crops while pregnant. Here she is seen with her baby and harvested OFSP. OFSP can support child nutrition due to high Vitamin A content.

Women have benefited from the production of orange-fleshed sweet potato, a variety bred to be drought tolerant and have higher Vitamin A content than the native variety. In just the first year of production, women supported by Trax had yields of OFSP which were higher than the regional average.

Trax introduce sustainable agricultural practices to the farming communities we support, but it is the farmers themselves who make them so successful. In these examples, it is women farmers who have achieved high yields of nutritionally-valuable crops. They have done so while caring for their families and supporting their communities.

Trax recognise the significant contribution women make to the farming livelihoods of rural communities in Northern Ghana.

Taking Ownership of Income

Women in Pelungu at their weekly VSLA meeting

In several communities in Upper East Region of Ghana, Trax have supported women farmers groups to establish Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLA). The women govern the running of the VSLA themselves.

Women in Nakpalig with their VSLA books

During a weekly meeting, each woman will make a small deposit to their collective savings. The women are able to take small loans from the VSLA to respond to any emergencies during the year. At the end of each year, the women receive their savings back with interest. This is not just a financial initiative but also brings the women together in collaborative governance and support for one another, and it is empowering becuase they have access to finance and ownership of the process.

 

Empowerment through Goats

Trax supports women’s empowerment in farming communities in Northern Ghana. One such way in which we are doing this is through our goats payback scheme. Through the goats payback scheme, women have ownership of the livestock and any funds raised they can use to contribute to their household. The goats payback scheme is sustainable because each woman ‘pays-back’ three goats once they have kidded, and these are given to another woman farmer.

Comfort Adongo with her goats

Comfort Adongo (45) is a farmer at Kabusgo in the Bongo District, Upper East Region of Ghana and is the mother of six children.

In 2013, Comfort benefitted from the goat payback scheme and received 2 nannies and 1 billy. After the nannies kidded, she paid back three goats to another beneficiary (woman) in the community in 2015, leaving the remaining stock of six (6) goats as her profit. She also collects the droppings of the goats as manure for her farmland.

Comfort sold two goats and used the proceeds to pay part of the school fees of her daughter who is in Gowrie Senior High School. Comfort now sees herself as someone who is empowered through the goats scheme to contribute to the upkeep of the family. She can still boast of four healthy goats with the nannies currently pregnant.

Tekimore Dong with her goats

Mrs Tekimore Dong (52) is a farmer at Golung, Upper East Region of Ghana and is the mother of five children, 3 girls and 2 boys. As a single mother, she didn’t have any sustained source of income for the family upkeep.

In 2010, Tekimore received 2 nannies and 1 billy as seed capital. After the nannies kidded, she paid back three goats to the next in line beneficiary in 2012, leaving a stock of seven (7) goats as her profit. Tekimore then sold three goats and used part of the proceeds to register and pay the premium for her children under the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS). She used the remaining money to start a table-top provisions business at the Pelungu market. Every market day, she sells her table-top provisions and generates income which she uses to look after her family as a single mother. She can still boast of four healthy goats.

Celebrating Women Farmers

For International Women’s Day 2017, Trax are celebrating the essential contribution which women farmers are making to their households and communities in Northern Ghana. We recognise that they contribute more than half of the labour for farming, yet do so while caring for their families.

A women in Duusi waters her seedlings with her son

In Northern Ghana, women are being empowered by taking ownership of the livelihoods and incomes. Their strength in this undertaking is inspirational.

To women farmers in Northern Ghana, and everywhere, we salute you.

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