Biodiversity is the variety of life in our world or in a particular habitat or community.
Green Tropics Group as an environment-oriented non-governmental organization is committed to strengthening the smallholder agricultural sector in the country by promoting and supporting farmers to adopt ecologically sound, practical and sustainable agricultural practices. By ecologically sound agricultural practices we mean practices that do not negatively impact biodiversity or the natural environment.
Smallholder cocoa production in most part of Ghana including GTG’s area of operation is mostly done in a semi-natural agro-forestry setting; i.e. under shade trees. The farms often provide a rich and stable habitat for many species (biodiversity). It is common to find on smallholder cocoa plantations shade trees and other tree crops such as citrus, avocado, oil palm as well as varieties of root crops such as yam and cocoyam. Although cocoa is usually the dominant crop, these other crops and shade trees together with other living organisms such as snails, insects, rodents, etc. help to retain biodiversity.
Farmer support initiatives
The concept is an essential theme that runs through most of GTG’s training, extension and other smallholder farmer support activities. The relevant activities may be grouped under the following initiatives
- Nursery establishment and management for production of hybrid cocoa and other seedlings for supply to smallholder cocoa farmers
- Young Farmers Support Scheme (YFSS) that trains and supports young and enterprising persons to establish and manage sustainable cocoa farming ventures
- Special radio programme targeted at smallholder cocoa farmers on best practices in cocoa production
- Establishment and management of demonstration farms
- General farmer training and extension support
The closest to a biodiversity specific initiative is perhaps the young farmers support programme. The programme has been initiated among other objectives to turn the teeming youth in GTG’s operational area away from uncontrolled and illegal logging, hunting and mining which are highly destructive of biodiversity.
As indicated above, biodiversity conservation and sustainable cocoa production practices constitute an essential theme that runs through GTG’s farmer support initiatives.
Key issues in sustainable smallholder cocoa production that have engaged GTG’s attention
These issues include the following:
· Choice of planting materials
· Land preparation
· Soil fertility and moisture management
· Weed control
· Pest and diseases control
The establishment and management of nurseries by GTG aims essentially at improving access of smallholder farmers including young farmers to early maturing and higher yielding cocoa varieties that are disease-resistant and also have good bean quality. Improving access to these hybrid varieties is an essential part of GTG’s efforts aimed at encouraging farmers to farm more intensively and profitably and thereby reduce deforestation caused by the removal of original forest cover for the establishment of cocoa farms.
One of the initial steps in the recruitment of candidates for support under the young farmers support scheme is the inspection of the piece of land the young farmer proposes to develop into a cocoa farm. The inspection is conducted among other objectives to assess the capacity of the proposed piece of land to support ecologically sound cocoa production and to offer advice and guidance on land preparation that incorporates shading practices for biodiversity preservation. The package of support to young farmers include the supply of seedlings of fast growing economic trees. The supply of these fast growing shade trees are targeted at farmers whose farms have too few shade trees.
Young farmers are also strongly dissuaded from the ‘slash and burn’ technique of land preparation as the technique has been identified to be destructive of biodiversity and accelerate land degradation.
Soil fertility and moisture management
GTG encourages and supports soil fertility improvement strategies that maintain and improve organic matter and good drainage. Farmers are educated through radio and farmer training programmes on the problems associated with continuous use of inorganic fertilizers such as the depletion of soil organic matter, the deterioration of soil structure, and the acidification of the soil
Skill trainings are offered on composting, mulching, cultivation of plants that fix nitrogen in the soil, etc. with the aim to build famer capacity in accessing and applying organic fertilizers
GTG encourages and supports farmers to adopt manual or mechanized slashing methods that maintain the leaf litter on the soil to serve as mulch. Smallholder farmers are advised to minimize or avoid the application of weedicide as it is associated with the depletion of soil organic matter, etc.
Pest and diseases control
GTG’s approach to pest control emphasizes the development of smallholder farmers understanding of the agro-ecology of their areas which then enables them to identify, protect and make the most use of natural enemies already present in their fields. GTG educates farmers through radio and farmer training programmes to preserve and rely on these natural enemies and other natural approaches for environmental and health benefits.
GTG has over the years devoted a lot of attention to educating farmers and other stakeholders on the negative impact of the indiscriminate and inappropriate application of pesticides, fungicides and other chemical control methods in the cocoa sector. The negative impact on the natural environment include the pollution of soils and water bodies, destruction of natural pollination agents, etc.
Pruning is another ecologically friendly way of pest and disease control. It involves the thinning of the cocoa canopy to allow more light to filter through, reduce humidity in addition to improving air circulation on the farm. The technique helps to reduce the impact of black pod disease and pests such as mirids.
GTG through its demonstration farms seeks to demonstrate the above and other practical ways of growing a healthy cocoa crop in a sustainable way, utilising management methods that are cheap and sustainable for the small farmer, and reducing his/her dependence on costly inputs such as pesticides, chemical fertilizer, fungicides etc.