Out of Ghana’s total land area of 23.9 million hectares, about 57% is suitable for agricultural purposes.
The World Bank describes Ghana’s Agricultural Sector as an “important contributor to Ghana’s export earnings and a major source of inputs for the manufacturing sector.” The country’s Agricultural Zones could be classified into three main groups, i.e. The Forest Vegetation Zone, The Coastal Savannah and the Northern Savannah Zone.
This article focuses on the Northern Savannah Zone. Although this is the largest agriculture zone, it has only one major rainy season. This area produces most of the nation’s supply of rice, millet, sorghum, yam, groundnuts, tomatoes, cattle, sheep and goats. The zone could also boast of exclusive production of cotton and shea; two very critical items in the Ghanaian society.
About two years ago, farmers across the country were devastated when the fall army worms hit their farms. In 2017, a Deputy Minister of Food and Agriculture (MOFA), Dr. Sagre Bambangi said government had to spend close to 10 million Ghana Cedis through MOFA to address the problem.
It was however, clear that farmers had lost hundreds of thousands of hectares of maize, even before the arrival of the insecticides.
In 2018 however, there were some reductions in the number of farms that were destroyed by the worms.
Over the past few years, the emergence of the fall army worms has not been the only challenge of farmers, particularly those in the Northern Savannah Zone.
In fact, until farms were devastated by the worms, the main challenge of farmers was the unreliable rainfall pattern.
The planting season has gradually shifted from April to June. Although some farmers are able to plant in the early weeks of June, others do it in the last weeks of June or early July.
All these situations, farmers say have undesirable effects on their crops. After planting, farmers still face long dry spells, hampering the successful growth of their crops. These changes have been attributed to Climate Change.
Climate change is defined as a change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns when that change occurs for an extended period of time.
As farmers await the onset of the 2019 plating season, there are two major questions that are on their minds. Are they going to experience late rains coupled with long dry spells? Is there going to be a reemergence of the fall army worms?
This is where the Savannah Agricultural Research Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR – SARI) comes in.
CSIR – SARI
SARI is one of the 13 research institutes of CSIR. Their mandate is to research into soil fertility, climate change and variability as well as cost of new and modern technologies adapted for agriculture in the three regions of the North, i.e. the Upper West, Upper East and Northern Regions.
Climate Change and Life Cycle of Insects
Dr. Jerry Nboyine is a crop research scientist and an entomologist at the Wa Station of SARI in the Upper West Region. His job is to study the bio-diversity of insect-pests, their life cycles, their benefits to food crops and the possible dangers of insect-pests to the growth and wellbeing of plants. As an Entomologist, Dr’ Jerry says farmers have to come to terms with the continuous presence of insect-pests like the fall army worms on their farms year after year.
In an interview with GBC’s Mark Smith at Wa, Dr. Nboyine explained that insects are poikilothermic organisms which means they are warm blooded.
He added that the growth and lifecycle of insects are largely dependent on temperatures. This is to say that the warmer the temperature, the faster the growth of insects.
According to Dr. Nboyine, insects accumulate specific amounts of heat to be able to move from one developmental stage to the other. This period is called ‘Degree Days.’
The crop researcher argues that the variability of climate change which include continuous increase in temperature, humidity and irregular rainfall makes it very conducive for insects to thrive.
He explains that “if for instance an insect requires 30 days from the time the eggs are laid till it becomes an adult and dies [the life cycle], and this is tied to a particular temperature, [for example it completes its life cycle in 30 days at 25 degrees Celsius], if there is a rise in temperature, even by 1 Degree Celsius, its effect is that the same insect is going to take 29 or 28 days to complete its life cycle.”
Dr. Nboyine is of the view that there are going to be more generations of insects pests attacking plants within the same planting period than before due to the constant increase in temperature.
Again, more insects on crops mean farmers would have to spend more resources on combatting the insects attacking the crops.
Another thing to consider is that the crops are going to be under a lot more stress than usual from external factors like irregular rainfall, pest attacks and constant use of chemicals.
The unusual stress means that plants would be unable to produce as much as they are supposed to produce in terms of yields.
A possible rise in Fall Army Worms?
According to the Biotechnology and Nuclear Agricultural Research Institute (BNARI) of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission, farmers should not expect anything less than 10 generations of fall army worms in 2019. Dr Nboyine said unlike the temperate countries, Ghana; particularly the northern sector might experience more generations of the worms.
Parasidose and Predators
Predators are insects that complete their life cycle by feeding on other harmful insects like pests. They include the Praying Mantis, Ladybird beetles and the Assassin bug. Parasidose are organisms that lay their eggs into other pests. These eggs then hatch and feed on the pests.
These organisms are also directly affected by climate change and climate variability. In advanced countries, multinational companies farm predators and sell them to farmers to control the presence of pests like the fall army worm.
This method albeit quite expensive is very popular among farmers practicing organic farming or bio-dynamic agriculture.
The process of introducing Predators or Parasidose unto a farm for the sole purpose of fighting pest infestation is called Augmentive Biological Control.
For many farmers in Ghana, this farming method would prove too expensive to sustain, thus the need for scientists and crop breeders to create seeds that are adaptable to drought, disease and pests. In this way crops are still able to yield what is expected of them.
Climate Change and Market Prices
Before any product reaches the final consumer, there is a calculated cost of every single process the product went through from production to market.
It is the same for food produce. Cost of ploughing, cost of sowing, cost of all inputs [fertilizers, insecticides et al], cost of transportation and all other expenses incurred by the producer and marketer is passed unto the final consumer.
Dr. Iddrisu Yahaya is a Crop Researcher and an Economist at the Wa Station of CSIR-SARI. His mandate is to put cost to all the interventions and best farm practices SARI would want rural farmers to implement.
From his point of perspective, as there is a continuous increase in temperatures, there would be a consistent and considerable increase in insect-pests on the farms.
Farmers would then have to use more resources to purchase insecticides to combat the pests leading to consumers paying more and more for food items as temperatures continue to rise.
For example he mentions that bags of maize now costs about 120 Ghana-Cedis and could rise to between 150 and 170 Ghana-Cedis later in the year. He opines that the variability of climate is what is having an indirect impact on the price of maize which hitherto would have been a lot cheaper.
There is also an element of supply and demand. Dr. Yahaya is a small scale farmer himself. During the last planting season, he decided not to plant maize because he didn’t want his farm to be infested by the fall army worm.
Many other small scale farmers like Dr. Yahaya might have also decided to steer clear of cultivating maize for the same reason. This means that there might be a lesser quantity of maize on the market than there should have been. In the realms of economics, when demand outstrips supply, prices rise.
As the world continues to grapple with rising temperature, the effects continue to grow. For the Northern Savannah Zone, farmers have to brace themselves up are for this global crisis and make the best out of it. Pragmatic steps must be taken by all players in the agricultural sector so that farmers can adapt to climate smart agriculture.
Story by Mark Smith