Field Activity Report
The Agroecological model of the ProFarms Gateway Project is among a few interventions in Ghana that seeks to promote eco-tourism within the agricultural educational landscape. The concept, which is highly accepted by stakeholders is gradually sinking into the minds of small-holder farmers around the ProFarms Gateway Project communities in Kokofu among others in the Ashanti- Bekwai district of the Ashanti region. The strategic engagement of community members in the initial preparatory phase of the project has indeed demonstrated the high interest of the community members to embark on the ecological agriculture model.
Witnessing the benefits under the framework of ProFarms Gateway's improved cassava and maize demonstration site during the entire preparatory phase of the concept has undeniably convinced farmers of the enormous benefits which include the low cost of weed control, high biodiversity conservation, and high yield among others. This outlook of the ProFarms Gateway project is congruent with SGD 13 and 15. ProFarms Gateway as part of its initial phase has indeed given more women the opportunity to benefit from the “work-based learning experience concept”. The concept takes its inferences from Albert Bandura's theory of learning. The concept allows for interactive sessions and learning that takes place in a real work environment. It provides individuals with the skills needed to successfully obtain and keep in mind relevant things which encourage adoption. The planting phase of the intervention has since witnessed the adoption of this model and continues to adopt the model. This approach by ProFarms Gateway Project has created an opportunity for information sharing, which has anchored the project basis to understand the needs of small-holder farmers across the project location, and consequently to address them through training. The work-based learning approach has changed the perception of small-holder farmers about slashing and burning including dispersed planting. Hitherto, most of the small-holder farmers adopt the dispersed planting method, fortunately, within the space of a month, the majority have changed their planting behavior including land preparation. This was evident during a just ended visit to a beneficiary small-holder farmers' farm in the first week of May 2022.
1.2 Highlight activities
Within the month under review, the project technical lead in collaboration with field supporting staff led the following activities: Planting, weed control and Monitoring.
The ProFarms Gateway Project demonstration farm, which consists of improved cassava variety and maize is currently under a management system. These crops which are closely four weeks old were cleared of weeds this month to promote good growth and development. Other uncultivated areas were equally planted with improved cassava and maize varieties within the month under review. This brings the total area planted for cassava and maize varieties to almost 2.9 acres.
Figure 1:Land-use activity of ProFarms Gateway Project Intervention (Crop demonstration)
Figure 2: Improved Maize and Cassava Demo site
1.2.2 ProFarms Gateway Safety Measures
The safety of small-holder farmers is critical to the ProFarms Gateway Project. It is evident that most farmers in Ghana and other developing countries use harmful agrochemicals while taking few or no protective measures. Many small-holder farmers including stakeholders have suffered the consequences of less protection from chemicals and the working environment. This has rendered some households in Ghana and part of SSA losing many of their loved ones.
Given the concept of the ProFarms Gateway Project as an ecological based non-for- profit organization, the welfare of small-holder farmers is our concern. Therefore, the organization is responsible for keeping themselves and their co-workers, especially small-holder farmers, safe and protecting the environment to ensure the sustainability of their businesses including the plant. In upholding the concept of the ProFarms Gateway Project, a set of safety protective gears (PPE) were given out to some women as part of ProFarms' commitment to ensuring the safety of small-holder farmers during any engagement. This move is also geared towards inculcating the habit of wearing protective gear during their farm work. As a roadmap towards ensuring the safety of these small-holder farmers, the technical lead of the ProFarms Gateway Project told the women to ensure proper handling and storage of chemical products, as inadequate practices lead to contamination and pollution of the environment. Sticking to an ecological farming approach with little or no chemical application was concluded as the best approach to safeguard their health and the environment.
Figure 3: Protective Clothing by ProFarm Gateway Project
1.3 Post Demo planting evaluation
Based on the activity within the month under review, the ProFarms Gateway project assessed some community members' understanding of the concept of the ecological agriculture model. These responses were measured based on a set of questions. From figure 3, it can be observed that the majority of the community members ten (10) out of 27 respondents representing 70 percent indicated having understood the concept of ecological agriculture very well while six (6} persons representing 45 percent of the respondents indicated having highly understood the concept of the ProFarms Gateway ecological Agriculture model. On other hand, five (5) community members representing 35 percent indicated having understood the concept very well whereas four (4) small-holder farmers representing 33 percent of the respondents indicated having understood the concept. Interestingly, all respondents assured the project management team of adopting the concept in their cropping system as opposed to their traditional concept. On the contrary, two (2) out of the ten (10) smallholder farmers engaged in the project during the preparatory phase of the project indicated being indifferent about the concept or did not get a full understanding and prospects of the concept.
Figure 4: Evaluation Response Graph
1.4 Cross-cutting actions
During the month under review, the implementing team of the ProFarms Gateway Project including the Executive Director paid a visit to The Howard G. Buffett Foundation Center for No-Till Agriculture demonstration field at Amanchia, a suburb of Kumasi in the Ashanti region. The Center for No-Till Agriculture is a local not-for-profit organization that is championing the "conservation agriculture" concept. Given the relevance of their intervention to the ProFarms Gateway project and the quest of ProFarms Gateway to meet the training needs of small-holder farmers, the management team visited to understudy certain innovative ideas from the center. Some of the concepts which were understood were Agro-biodiversity and Soil improvement among others.
Figure 5: Soil moisture retention demonstration
Figure 6: Prototype plastic drip irrigation system
Figure 7: Concrete rain harvesting structure
Figure 8: Varieties of mucuna and other cover crops
During the visit, our facilitator took the team through various soil improvement and conservation approaches. The Agro- biodiversity system, which utilizes a cover cropping system to improve soil and conservation played an integral part in the entire training visit. Underscoring the relevance of maintaining agricultural biodiversity due to its long-term food security importance, the Center for No-Till Agriculture encourages the integration of mucuna and other crops as the trajectory to soil management and crop development system. The ecological system of farming dominated the entire training visit session. The visit again taught us many lessons. Among them were rain harvesting systems, and drip irrigation using prototype materials such as plastic bottles including others. This approach demonstrates that maintaining a wide range of crops provides food security throughout the year, an overwhelmingly important consideration for peasant farmers, who are well aware of the dangers of climate change. Apart from the aforementioned lessons, the following were key as part of the training visit:
Soil improvement: Organic farming helps conserve and improve farmers’ most precious resource; the topsoil. Organic farmers throughout the developing world use trees, shrubs and leguminous plants to stabilize and feed the soil. They use dung and compost to provide nutrients, and terracing or check-dams to prevent erosion and conserve groundwater. There is an ‘all-size-fits all’ strategy in the organic agriculture approach being adopted by the ProFarms Gateway project, and consequently, seeks to integrate into the small-holder farmers' farming systems.
Increased yields: Case studies from many countries where there are radically different practices, local conditions and crops show dramatic increases in yields as well as benefits in soil quality, a reduction in pests and diseases and a general improvement in the taste and nutritional content of agricultural produce. The widespread assumption that converting to ecological farming means a tremendous increase in yield, is overwhelming evident.
Figure 9: Water bottles used for irrigation at the base of yam plants
The greatest lesson learned from the Center for No-Till Agriculture is that “Conservation agriculture is the solution to soil health management and food security within the context of climate change”.