Agriculture is the backbone of Ghana’s economy with about 80 per cent of total agricultural production attributed to smallholder farmers including women.
Though the farmers faced problems of climate change, including environmental degradation and poor soil fertility, it is amazing how smallholder farmers are able to generate their own knowledge to mitigate the impact on their livelihoods.
More often, the farmers conduct unscientific experiments on issues including soil fertility, type of crops to sow, rain patterns and what to plant at what time and indigenous mode of controlling pests and diseases.
These might not have been proven in a scientific laboratory, but they have proven to have sustained smallholder farmers over the years, thus the reason Ghana is enjoying a level of food security today.
The key to produce better crops to meet the needs of the growing world’s population may lie in combining the traditional knowledge of subsistence farmers with the scientific knowledge that would better inform policy makers in the policy formulation.
The livelihood of hundreds of millions of people living in smallholder farming systems depends on the products they obtain from the fields.
Smallholder farmers are very knowledgeable in what they grow, because they must be efficient in selecting the crop varieties that will ensure the subsistence of their household.
In Ghana, however, the existence of a knowledge gap between smallholder farmers and policy makers has brought in its wake, a situation in which many programmes and policies have not yielded the desired results over the years.
Perhaps, policy makers have not yet realized that peasant farmers have a lot of knowledge that could help them better shape policies and programmes that would best fit their situation to increase production.
Mr. Ben Y. Guri, Executive Director of the Center for Indigenous Knowledge and Organisational Development (CIKOD) said it was out of place for educated scientists to think that farmers have no knowledge about what they have been practicing over the years.
“Farmers are also scientists”, he said and explained that in every difficult situation they also have their own indigenous experimented methods they would always use to overcome the situation.
Mr. Guri said it was therefore prudent that before one could take any policy decision aimed at influencing their activities, there was the need to find out their perspectives and experiences regarding the decision in order to better shape the policy decision.
The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) team of researchers have established that with climate change, population growth and changing diets increasing pressure on the natural resource base, smallholder farmers are faced with difficult choices regarding allocation of assets (land, labour, capital knowledge and so on) to achieve multiple household objectives.
Also, programmes aiming to increase agriculture productivity often do not consider farmers’ perceptions of trade-offs and synergies in addition to many interventions not reaching some of the poorest and most vulnerable farmers, including women.
Despite this, farmers are still able to ‘produce more with less’ by intensifying their production in a sustainable way that also increases their resilience to shock and stresses.
It is therefore clear that decision makers working in agricultural development and research need to better understand household, intra-household and community-level decision-making processes on Sustainable Intensification of Agriculture (SIA) and how these are influenced by the enabling environment in order to design more supportive agricultural policies, programmes and investments.
For this reason, the Sustainable Intensification: Trade-offs Agriculture Management (SITAM) Project; an action research project seeking to understand how smallholder farmers in Africa manage the trade-offs between production, sustainability and other economic and environmental factors is said to have arrived on time.
SITAM, a four-year project (2016-2019) which is being led by IIED will address the challenges and opportunities of smallholder farmers, in particular poor farmers and women farmers in managing the trade-offs between production, sustainability and other socio-economic and environmental factors.
The project also hopes to co-generate research findings with communities and local stakeholders in Eastern Burkina Faso, northwest Ghana and Central Malawi, using household and community level processes.
It will further engage decision makers through National Learning Alliances (NLAs) in order to bring about changes in their knowledge, awareness, attitudes and capacities.
Dr. Barbara Adolph, IIED’s Principal Researcher and Team Leader for Agro-ecology explained that SITAM was being implemented by a partnership of ten organisations who shared a common vision of sustainable agriculture that left no one behind.
She was speaking during an interview with the Ghana News Agency (GNA) during the opening of a four-day workshop dubbed “Supporting Smallholder Farmers’ Decision-making: Managing Trade-offs and Synergies for Sustainable Intensification (SITAM) project workshop”.
She said the expected outcome of SITAM was that “Decision makers and other actors at local and national level change their knowledge, awareness, attitudes and capacity in support of proven pro-poor approaches for scaling up sustainable intensification that recognized farmers’ perceptions of synergies and trade-offs”.
Madam Barbara explained that this would be achieved through three outputs which would involve co-generating research findings with communities and decision makers at different levels, based on rigorous and inclusive methods.
She said by engaging with the NLA, they would have the opportunity throughout the research process to continuously feed the results to the decision making process at the national level such that knowledge, perceptions and investments would be changed in favour of smallholder farmers towards achieving sustainable agriculture.
Dr. Peter Gubbels, Groundswell International Director for Action Research and Advocacy West Africa said investigating the things smallholder farmers do and why they do those things in order to establish whether their pathways were towards sustainable agriculture or just a short term measure was impressive.
He said the investigation would help bring out some of the factors that really influence decision-making by smallholder farmers and how they could support them to adopt methods of farming that would not only meet their immediate needs but that would lead to long term environmental sustainability.
Dr. Gubbels noted that finding ways to link smallholder farmers to policy decision makers would enhance the understanding of their needs leading to better policy and programmes formulation using the best practices that would promote sustainable agriculture.
Dr. Naaminong Karbo, Facilitator of the Ghana NLA said if certain evidence was generated at the end of the research, then the NLA would facilitate the engagement with policy makers.
This would make the policy makers to begin to appreciate the role of small scale farmers in policy decision making that would give them the enabling environment to benefit from sustainable agriculture intensification.
The SITAM project is funded by the Sustainable Agricultural Intensification Research and Learning in Africa (SAIRLA) programme which is also funded by the United Kingdom (UK) Department for International Development and managed by WYG International Limited and the Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich.
The SAIRLA project seeks to generate evidence and design tools to enable governments, investors and other key actors to deliver more effective policies and investments in sustainable agriculture intensification that strengthen the capacity of poorer farmers, especially women and youth, to access and benefit from sustainable intensification in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia.
IIED of UK is the project lead organisation while two organisations including the Association Nourrir sans Detruire (‘feeding without destroying’) and the Institute of Environment and Research (INERA) are the implementing partners in Burkina Faso.
CIKOD and the University for Development Studies (UDS) constitute the project implementing partners in Ghana while the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR), Practical Action Consulting and Total Land Care (TLC) formed the project partners in Malawi.
The rest are Wageningen University of Netherlands and Groundswell International of the United States of America (USA).