One does not need a soothsayer or a man of God to be told that nutrition plays a major role in the proper functioning and development as well as the growth of the human body.

In spite of this fact, it appears that key decision makers value food security more than nutritional security, thus vegetable crops are not given adequate research investment and production.

Background

However the problem of malnutrition could be addressed through the availability, affordability and consumption of nutrient-dense vegetables and pulses as told by some Scientists.

Statistics show that the consumption of vegetables in Ghana has declined considerably despite its numerous nutritional benefits.

For instance, a research conducted by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in 2017, on the consumption rate of an average Ghanaian per day with regards to fruits and vegetables indicated that the rate falls below the World Health Organisation (WHO) standard.

Research

The findings revealed that an average Ghanaian consumes 1.5 per cent portion of fruits and 2.3 per cent portion of vegetables daily as against the WHO requirement of four to six per cent per daily leading to high incidence of non-communicable diseases, particularly among the youth.

Some of the reasons that accounts for the low consumption rate are the poor living conditions of people coupled with the high cost of fruits and vegetables.

The study indicated that although 50 per cent of Ghanaians knew the benefits of fruits and vegetables, they did not have the financial muscle to buy them, especially on daily basis thereby affecting their regular intake.

Way out?

To tackle low vegetable consumption, there is the need to promote its cultivation and make it less expensive for people to be able to afford and so Soilless vegetable production becomes the best way.

What is soilless vegetable production?

Soilless Vegetable Production, as the name suggests is a new technology of producing hygienic and large quantities of vegetables without the use of soil.

The system makes use of locally available materials such as sawdust, rice husk, coco peat and cow dung or poultry manure and these materials have the ability to retain water and release nutrients for the plant’s growth.

It involves making substrates called organic manure that would provide nutrients for growth of the vegetables.
In preparing the substrates, one could choose to mix sawdust, rice husk and cow dung or poultry droppings together and then add water and compost and leave it in the shade for 12 weeks.

On the other hand, one could mix cocopeat and cow dung or poultry manure with water together which can be used anytime after preparation.

After the substrates have been prepared farmers need to fill it into nursery boxes which could be wooden boxes, buckets, plastic planting troughs, plastic bags among others and plant seeds directly or transplant seedlings into them.

Has it been tried in Ghana?

The writer first got to know the potentials of soilless vegetables to increasing nutritional value, when in the latter part of 2018, the innovation (Soilless Vegetable production) was first introduced to two smallholder women farmer groups in the Upper East Region, the Nyariga-Doone Women Association in the Bolgatanga Municipality and Bongo-Nyariga Cooperative Farmers Association in the Bongo District.

The project, which aims at empowering farmers to produce vegetables without necessarily demanding for land was introduced by the Department of Crop Sciences, School of Agriculture at the University of Ghana, with funding support from the Skills Development Fund (SDF), a Non- Governmental Organization (NGO).

In this project, the farmers were sensitised on how they could use the technology to empower themselves economically and ensure nutritional security.

In addition to the general sensitisation, two lead farmers and a representative from the Department of Agriculture in the Municipality were given practical training at the University to enable them replicate the skills acquired to their colleague farmers.

Speaking with the Ghana News Agency, Dr Eric Cornelius, Senior Lecturer with the Department of Crop Sciences, University of Ghana, indicated that the method was less expensive to practise because it was not labour intensive and did not require big land space to practise in large quantities.

Impact of the system

He indicated that with the use of the new technology, vegetables could be produced anywhere including; cemented backyard, and added that crops grown using the soilless method were free from some of the soil diseases such as fungi and nematodes as well as being environmentally friendly.

Dr Cornelius stressed that the new technology, which had more women benefitting would enable farmers to produce vegetables in commercial quantities to ensure vegetable security and augment their incomes and improve their livelihoods.

The Senior lecturer explained that the system generates pure organic and higher yields compared to traditional agriculture methods.

According to the FAO, the vegetable yields of soilless systems was 20 to 25 per cent higher than in traditional systems, because the former confine the roots in smaller spaces, which means the number of plants per square metre is higher.

In an interview with some of the beneficiaries of the project, they expressed gratitude to the University of Ghana and the NGO for the training and support and indicated that they now produce quality vegetables at less cost.

Living Testimonies

The demonstration farm of Reverend John Akaribo, the Coordinator for the women farmer groups, shows various kinds of vegetables including; chilies, sweet pepper, lettuce, cabbage, carrots, garden eggs, onion and tomatoes among others were grown.

Reverend Akaribo told GNA that he harvested his vegetables every 30 days after transplanting them into the boxes and since he started producing the vegetables his wife did not go to the market to buy vegetables for cooking.

He said it had improved the nutritional consumption rate of his family and added he was putting measures in place to expand the scope and make it commercial.

Madam Adombila Awelgya, one of the beneficiaries informed GNA that the technology empowered them economically and enabled them to contribute to the family upkeep as they did not have to ask their husbands for money to buy vegetables and other ingredients as they used to do.

She indicated that she sells some of the vegetables at the market to help her to provide basic needs for her children and asked that if government could assist them with seedlings, they could produce in large quantities for commercial purposes.

Madam Akolpoka Atindaana, another woman told GNA that the system best suits women because of the rigid land tenure system in their communities that do not allow women to own land.

She encouraged other women in other communities to adopt the innovation and improve on the nutritional needs of their families for healthy growth especially among children.

Challenges and recommendations

Speaking to most of the beneficiaries, the major problem facing its effective implementation was the extreme poverty among the women that made it difficult to acquire vegetable seeds and in some cases seedlings.

The Soilless systems are especially interesting, when the arable land is polluted, as is often the case with urban and peri-urban soil.

These systems can also be useful in geographical areas, where the soil is not fertile or there is no access to soil especially the Upper East Region, where the porous soils are not fertility and the rains are not reliable.

Moreover, these systems require less water than soil-based cultivation, which helps preserve this valuable resource.
The practice of such systems are also an option in areas with limited access to water resources.

With the springing up of numerous hotels and restaurants across the country, government may have to consider investing in soilless vegetable production to meet the increasing demand from these hospitality facilities especially urban areas, where large agriculture activities could not take place.

Empowering rural communities especially those in northern Ghana by supporting them to acquire improved seeds and seedlings would not only help to fight poverty and unemployment, but would improve the consumption of vegetables and nutritional security.

If government could incorporate the innovation into its flagship programme,Planting for Food and Jobs (PFJs), to enable more farmers have access to improved seeds, it would help boost Agriculture production and minimise the use of chemicals in the process.

In order to create sustainable markets for the products, the vegetables could also be supplied to schools especially those under the school feeding programme.

This would not only provide organic nutrients to the students, but would further increase the income levels of people and boost the agriculture sector.

It would promote healthy growth, accelerate the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) especially goals one and three.

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