The University of Ghana (UG) has held a day’s engagement workshop with farmer groups in Northern Ghana to ensure sustainable adoption and use of biochar to increase crop yield and productivity.
Biochar is a soil enhancement material produced from the burning of biomass or organic materials under the limited oxygen condition and stored in the soil as a means of correcting soil acidity and enhancing soil fertility.
The workshop was also to create a platform for stakeholders to share experiences as well as put in place suggestions that would help move forward the institution’s agricultural productivity project agenda and for purposes of up scaling.
The project, supported by the USAID and known as “USAID-Ghana/UG Institutional Capacity Building for Agriculture Productivity project”, seeks to improve on sustainable agricultural productivity and food security through the training of scientists in plant breeding, biotechnology, economic policy management, business capacity building in response to the need for augmenting the human and institutional capacities of targeted Ghanaian institutions for improving service delivery to enhance economic growth.
The project, which started in February 2015 and expected to end in February 2020, has so far trained farmers in the preparation and use of biochar compost in the cultivation of three selected crops of the US Government Feed the Future Initiative, including rice, maize and soybeans in three locations namely West Mamprusi in the North East Region, Bawku, in the Upper East Region, and Lawra in the Upper West Region respectively.
Dr Eric Nartey, Head of Department of Soil Science at the UG, speaking on sideline with journalists during the workshop, said most of the soils in the country were acidic as result of continuous application of ammonium sulphate fertilizers into the soil by farmers.
This, he said makes the soil loose, and therefore, there was the need to provide organic matter or a conventional liming material to neutralize the soil acidity which were sometimes expensive, adding that even those available on the market tended to be low quality or fake.
He said most of the biomass and organic waste in the country contained calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium and could help solve the acidity problems, should farms adopt biochar production and application.
He said some farmer based organisations in the project focus areas (West Mamprusi, Bawku and Lawra) have been trained on how to sort biomass or organic waste to produce biochar and biochar-compost (biochar and compost) using house waste such as groundnut husk, saw dust, and rice husk.
He said biochar when applied to the soil reduces the potential Hydrogen (pH) level of the soil and increases its fertility.
He, however, advised farmers to test and check the soil pH or soil acidity before cultivating on their farms to boost their soil fertility.
He said the production and use of biochar would help in managing and handling waste, produce rich organic fertilizer for the soil, as well as serve as economic empowerment for farmers.
Professor Daniel Bruce Sarpong, Dean of the School of Agriculture at the University of Ghana, urged farmers trained under the project to extend and share what they had learnt with other farmers in their communities to help ensure its sustainability and increase the productivity of farmers.
Mr William Kpengnon Lanuzie, Secretary to the Nyognye Women Farmer Group in the Lawra Municipality, said results from farm trials on two soya beans farm plots involving biochar and non-biochar composts in Lawra showed good drainage, high yield and grain quality from the biochar-compost plots as compared to the produce from the non-biochar plot.
He said “the seeds from the biochar plot also looked bigger and clean” and therefore indicated that the quality would attract higher markets if produced in larger quantities.