Farming in Northern Ghana
The dryland savannah zone of the Northern region of Ghana occupies 40% of the country. It is comprising sub-humid to semi-arid guinea and sudan savannah. Although there are many constraints to farming, there are considerable opportunities too. Farmers succeeded to intensify land use significantly. To continue this increase in food production for the exploding population is an enormous challenge. (ILEIA)
ILEIA Newsletter • 11 nº 4 • December 1995
Farming in Northern Ghana
The dryland savannah zone of the Northern region of Ghana occupies 40% of the country. It is comprising sub-humid to semi-arid guinea and sudan savannah. Although there are many constraints to farming, there are considerable opportunities too. Farmers succeeded to intensify land use significantly. To continue this increase in food production for the exploding population is an enormous challenge.
Complicated communal land tenure disfavours women, encourages farm fragmentation and constrains the use of land as collateral security for bank loans in a capital-short, poverty-stricken region. But, perhaps, the most serious farming constraint lies in the dry moisture-deficient climate. It is characterised by low and erratic rainfall less than 1000 to 1250 mm. The prolonged November-April dry season includes a period with exceptionally strong and dry winds, the harmattan. A further problem is accelerated desertification, most especially in the overcrowded once floristically rich Upper-East Region.
However, there are also considerable farming opportunities in the form of extensive grassland for livestock and arable farming. Rich indigenous agroecological knowledge underpins the diversified farming systems involving the hoe, burning, organic fertiliser and other low-external-input technology.
The farming systemsUnder a relatively low population density until the beginning of this century, the main system of farming was shifting cultivation, which involves the intermixing of the drought resistant principal crops, millet (Panicum miliaceum) and guinea corn (Sorghum guineense), with yam (Dioscorea), pulses, vegetables and other crops to minimise soil erosion, maintain ecological stability, optimise utilisation of the different soil nutrients, and enhance food security and a balanced diet. This migratory farming system is now modified into the more sedentary bush fallow and compound farming systems in response to the growing pressure on the land.
The bush fallow system typically involves intercropping among natural economic trees in the form of agroforestry in out-fields operated on a rotational basis 1-6 km from the compound house. It comprises lowland bush fallow farms, upland bush fallow, and faddama, floodland and irrigated farming. This last category involves swamp rice cultivation in naturally flooded areas, artificial irrigation farming, and vegetable farming in naturally moist valleys and other depressions, especially in the harmattan season. Many dams and major irrigation projects were introduced from the 1950s to sustain year-round production.
Compound farming is an in-field relatively permanent mixed cropping system centred on the compound house. Soil fertility is regenerated by techniques traditionally involving mainly household refuse and manure from the livestock kept by virtually every household. The land immediately surrounding the compound is the most intensively cropped. It usually comprises an inner "kitchen garden" subzone with vegetables, and a sub-zone with the staples millet, guinea corn and maize, and melon and cowpea.
The first major zone is succeeded by a second, much larger rarely manured area of short fallows dedicated mainly to millet, guinea corn and groundnuts. This zone and the surrounding outer unused common land serve as grazing grounds. Beyond lie the out-field bush fallow farms with the staples including yam. Specialised livestock raising centred on ruminants, especially cattle herded by children and Fulani herdsmen is fairly extensive.
Mixed farming widespreadAdvanced mixed farming involving bullock ploughs, contour farming, grass bunding, stone terracing and other soil conservation measures, which were introduced from the 1930s, is widely adopted. A 1991 survey showed manuring to be the most popular soil fertility regeneration technique, followed by chemical fertilisation and bush fallowing. Others were green manuring, mulching and modern agroforestry. Anti-erosion practices, most especially contour farming, grass planting and terracing had become fairly widespread.
Rain season cultivation was the most popular form of drought-risk adaptation. Others were irrigation, cultivation of drought resistant crops and the increasingly popular valley bottom cultivation, all of which, together with farm land extension, chemical fertilisation and other high-external inputs have come to constitute major strategies for coping with the prevailing conditions (IFAD 1990).
ConclusionFarming in the northern region of Ghana shows considerable adaptation to the spatially and temporally variable agroecologial conditions. But the serious challenge remains to promote appropriate affordable technologies to sustain production for the exploding population in this underdeveloped near semi-arid environment.
Edwin A. Gyasi, Ass. Professor, Dept of Geography and Resource Development, University of Ghana, Legon.
- Benneh G. and Agyepong GT. 1990. Land degradation in Ghana. London, Commonwealth Secretariat.
- Benneh G. and Gyasi E. 1993. Adaptation of traditional farming systems to environmental stress in Ghana's Upper East savanna region. (unpublished) Legon, Dept of Geography and Resource Development, University of Ghana.
- IFAD 1990. Ghana Upper East Region land conservation and smallholder rehabilitation project appraisal report. Working Paper No. 7.