A BETTER FUTURE FOR gHANA'S FARMERS
Fertilisers are costly, so for many farmers the solution is to encroach on virgin forest, felling trees to gain access to fresh soil. This is both unsustainable and a source of greenhouse gases as the carbon locked up in the ancient forests is released through the felling and burning of the trees.
Working with Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana, Reading’s Professor Paul Hadley is leading soil science research to discover how composted cocoa farm waste could be used to improve soil in an affordable way. This could help farmers achieve better yields and maintain their livelihoods while preventing the environmentally destructive conversion of forests to farmland.
The research aims to discover if adding composted cocoa pod husks and cocoa tree prunings to degraded soils can improve the growth and health of established cocoa trees across a network of cocoa farms in Ghana. Biochar, a substance created from burning cocoa husks and leaves in the absence of oxygen, will also be analysed by the researchers for its potential as a soil improver.
Potted seedlings are being grown at both the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana and at the University of Reading in soil treated with the compost and biochar. They are subjected to drought conditions, diseases and pests to see how well they fare. The research will also look at nutrient availability and changes to microorganisms in the treated soils.
If successful, low-cost soil improvers like these could secure the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and make them less dependent on commercial fertilisers. New sources of income for both farmers and local entrepreneurs who adopt the techniques laid out in this research could spring from making compost and biochar to sell commercially.
Field school events will be held towards the end of the research project to explore with farmers the cost-benefit ratio of using composts and biochar, as well as providing demonstrations of how to make them. Key players from the cocoa production chain will also be invited to a workshop summarising the project’s findings.