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11: Ability of the farming systems to cope and strategies for sustaining farming

The agroenvironmental changes and adaptations
Declining yields
Strategies for sustaining farming

Edwin A. Gyasi

The farming and other systems of utilizing the biophysical environment in the forest-savanna zone have evolved through:

This agricultural evolution exhibits some positive agroenvironmental traits. They include enriched agrodiversity through the introduction of new crops. Another is land-use intensification. Other traits, however, appear to be agroenvironmentally negative. They include the loss of indigenous or traditional crop species, as outlined in chapter 9. Others are widespread deforestation, loss of natural biodiversity and soils deterioration, which we interpret as symptomatic of environmental degradation, which implies endangerment of the productive or lifesupport capacity of the land.

Our central concern here is to discuss and assess how the farming systems have adapted to the environmental deterioration, with a view to drawing constructive lessons.

The agroenvironmental changes and adaptations

Before about 1850, most of the present southern sector of the forest-savanna zone consisted of virtually uninhabited virgin high forest owned largely by the Akyem people. Elsewhere, including the Akuapem hill areas which already supplied food, palm oil and bush meat to the coastal settlements, was found a lowimpact economy based upon hunting, gathering and shifting food crop cultivation on agroforestry principles. From about 1850, pressure on the uninhabited forest areas increased substantially due to the migration by Krobo and Akuapem farmers in search of more land, initially for the export-oriented production of palm oil and kernels from both wild and cultivated palms. The oilpalm expansion lasted up to about 1900, when the cocoa expansion for export began, with both events facilitated by the "company" system of group purchase of land, called huza by the Krobo people who initiated it. Cultivation of palms and cocoa closely mimicked the forest ecosystem by the integration of food crops under and among trees and shrubs. None the less, the widespread cultivation of palms and cocoa exerted a disturbing effect on the fragile forest ecosystem through the widespread removal of the ground storey of the natural forest, through the erosion of the soils and leaching of their nutrients and through the loss of natural plant and animal species.

From the 1930s, cocoa farming was devastated by swollen shoot disease. Since that time, disturbance has grown far worse by a shift to staple food crops, especially cassava, which, being tolerant of low soil fertility, has continued to expand as degradation has proceeded (Field 1943; Huber 1963; Johnson 1964; Dickson 1969; Kwamena-Poh 1973; Howard 1978; Dickson and Benneh 1988). Among household heads surveyed, cassava as dominant crop is followed by maize. Subsidiary crops include plantain, cocoyam (taro) and yam, and the vegetables pepper, tomato and garden egg (egg plant). Some crops, most notably cocoa, yam and cocoyam which thrive in humid forest environments, had ceased to be grown by some of the farmers beginning in 1960. Only 12 per cent of those operating the generally old cocoa farms had attempted to rehabilitate them.

Now, however, some farmers are incorporating new crops led by the bean, a leguminous plant, and the vegetables garden egg and tomato, followed by cassava, maize and pepper. Among the varieties of cassava identified by their popular names are ankra, agbelitomo, katawire, abontem, asramnsia and tuaka , which, according to the people, were being replaced by the hardier calabar, biafra or agege, train wusiw and bankye nsantom. The high crop biodiversity, involving over 20 different crops (table 11.1), thus represents a transition which still includes some traditional humid forest crops together with cassava and maize, and is now augmented by a less dramatic but none the less significant shift toward vegetables and legumes, cultivated increasingly on an intensive basis by hand irrigation, manuring and the use of agrochemicals and higher yielding crops.

Table 11.2 summarises the cropping practices prevalent today. The traditional intercropping remains the leading practice, followed by the traditional bush fallow, which continues to be the major system of soil fertility regeneration before recropping. These are followed by backyard farming, another practice with a long history in the study area. The other practices, row/line planting, monocropping and agroforestry are relatively new and less widespread. However, their popularity is growing mainly because of the influence

Table 11.1 Crops Grown by Yensiso, Sekesua and Amanase Farmers

Perennial tree crops Seasonal staple food crops Vegetables/
Cocoa Cassava Bean Sugar cane
Oil-palm Maize Garden egg Groundnut
Citrus Yam Tomato Pineapple
Mango Plantain Pepper Banana etc.
Coconut Cocoyam Okra etc.  
Pear etc. Rice    
  Sweet potato etc.    

Source: PLEC 1993 questionnaire surveys.

Table 11.2 Major Cropping Practices among Yensiso, Amanase and Sekesua Farmers (Average Percentage of How Frequently Mentioned)

lntercropping Bush fallow Backyard farming Row/line planting Mono-cropping Agroforestry
90.7 66.5 27.6 12.9 8.2 4.1

Source: PLEC 1993 questionnaire surveys.

Of governmental and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), notably the Ghana Rural Reconstruction Movement, an NGO which has made an appreciable positive impact on rural development, including the agroenvironmental situation in the Yensiso area over the past 20 years (Schott 1978; Gyasi et al. 1990; Gyasi 1991,1996).

Declining Yields

Since 1960, declining yields have been commonly reported and are generally associated with deteriorating soil conditions. These reports have been most common among the older farmers, who recalled the "good old days" when the yams were of giant size, compared to their present diminutive dimensions, and when the harvest from a small farm was much greater than what could be obtained from a much larger farm today. Comparative yield statistics were not available to substantiate these claims of a decline in yield. But the widespread nature of the claims, coupled with the frequent complaints of food inadequacy, point to a real fall in agricultural yield, most probably associated with the population increase and with declining soil fertility, which 70 per cent of the farmers cited as the major cause of the yield decline.

A factor which probably contributes significantly to the declining yields is the high frequency of cropping without much artificial soil regeneration inputs in the surveyed areas. One measure of the high frequency of cropping is the cultivation period, which generally ranges from one to over five years. Another is the common fallow of one to four years. This range of fallow found in our study sites is considered by experts to be inadequate for soil fertility regeneration, unless it is accompanied by artificial soil improvement measures such as chemical fertilizer application, agroforestry, manuring and mulching, which are practiced only to a limited extent in the study sites (table 11.3; Nye and Greenland 1960; Foggie 1962; Nye and Stephens 1962; Wills 1962). A third measure is the permanent cropping practiced by 18 per cent of the farmers, especially in the backyard, but with only limited application of artificial soil fertility regeneration techniques (tables 11.2,11.3).

Table 11.3 Strategies Used by Yensiso, Amanase and Sekesua Farmers to Adapt to the Declining Soil Fertility (Average Percentage of How Frequently Mentioned)

Bush fallow/land rotation Constant weeding Chemical fertilizer Agroforestry Manure Mulch
37.6 20.8 19.5 3.2 1.9 0.6

Source: PLEC 1993 questionnaire surveys.

Table 11.4 Mode of Access to Farm Land among Yensiso, Amanase and Sekesua Farmers (Average Percentage of How Frequently Mentioned)

Own family land Sharecropping Own private land Rental Other
47.1 38.4 24.2 17.5 1.3

Source: PLEC 1993 questionnaire surveys.

Cultivation methods and tenurial relations are further problems. The hoe, used by Ayigbe and Ewe migrant tenant farmers, appears less selective in the removal of natural flora, and of the seed stock in the soil, than the cutlass used by the other ethnic groups. Monoculture, with all its risks, is practiced by 8 per cent of the farmers, who combine their monocultural practices with the still predominant traditional intercropping. Among the localities where the environmental problems appear worst are the denuded Kokormu grasslands heavily farmed by the Ayigbe and Ewe migrant settler tenants. It appears that a major factor compelling these and other tenants to overexploit the land by the hoe, fire, and cultivation of cassava (either alone or in combination with maize) is the seemingly usurious sharecropping and land renting arrangements whereby the tenants usually have access to farming land (Gyasi 1976; Gyasi et al. 1990). Typically, one-third or even half of the maize and cassava goes to the landowners, who usually farm on their own family lands (table 11.4). In some huza linear farming areas of the migrant Adangbe people, the production capacity of the land appears to be undermined by the inheritance system, whereby the land is progressively subdivided among succeeding generations into increasingly narrow strips, which results in small, uneconomic plots (Field 1943; Hill 1963; Huber 1963; Benneh 1970; Gyasi 1976). For these and other reasons, difficulties in land acquisition are reported by 24 per cent of the farmers.

From the preceding analysis, it appears changes are necessary in the systems of farming to stem degradation of the environment and to secure food production; sustainable food production systems need to be encouraged.

Strategies for sustaining farming

Farming may be sustained by population control measures, so that more land becomes available for the kind of environmentally sound indigenous cultivation system based on agroforestry principles that predominated in the past, and which is still practiced, but on a considerably reduced scale. An excellent example of this indigenous system, which involves periodic fallowing of the land and in which the crops grow alongside native trees and shrubs, is found at Gyamfiase in the Yensiso area (see fig. 6.1 on p. 44).

There are other possibilities, including modern agroforestry, which is being promoted by the Ghana Rural Reconstruction Movement. Others include farming systems based upon big-intensive organic principles, which depend upon organic matter to maintain soil fertility, biological methods to control pests, and crop rotations and intermixture of species adapted to local conditions to sustain agroecological stability, food security and balanced utilization of soil nutrients. Approximate examples in Ghana include the following:

The indigenous systems could serve as prototypes for more sustainable systems of food production.

The success of these recommended agronomic measures would be enhanced by a more efficient administration of Ghana's Land Title Registration Law (PNDC 1986), to secure the tenurial interests of the tenant farmers so as to discourage their exploitative transient farming, in favour of a more settled sustainable farming.


Farming has brought about major changes in the biophysical environment of the forest-savanna zone. These environmental changes, in turn, have triggered changes in the systems of farming. Generally, the changes appear to have been negative in terms of environmental quality and farm yields. A solution to this problem would seem to lie in building upon the indigenous agroforestry and big-intensive principles.


Benneh G. 1970. The huza strip farming system of the Krobo of Ghana. Geographia Polonica 19: 185-206.

Dickson, K.B. 1969. A Historical Geography of Ghana. London: Cambridge University Press.

Dickson, K.B. and Benneh, G. 1988. A New Geography of Ghana. London: Longman.

Field, M.J. 1943. The agricultural system of the Manya-Krobo of the Gold Coast. Africa 14(2): 54-65.

Foggie, A. 1962. The role of forestry in the agricultural economy. In: Wills (1962), pp. 229-35.

Gyasi, E.A. 1976. Population pressure and changes in traditional agriculture: case study of farming in Sekesua-Agbelitsom, Ghana. Bulletin of the Ghana Geographical Association 18: 68-87.

Gyasi, E.A. 1991. Communal land tenure and the spread of agroforestry in Ghana's Mampong valley. Ecology and Farming 2: 16 17.

Gyasi, E.A. 1996. Planning agroforestry dissemination for sustainable environmental use: lessons from an NGO project in Ghana. In: Global Environmental Change, proceedings of IGU Seminar on Monitoring Geosystems: Perspectives for the 21st Century, 6-9 December 1991, University of Delhi, New Delhi. Forthcoming.

Gyasi, E.A., Amaning-Kwarteng, K. and Oware-Gyekye, L. 1990. Mampong valley agroforestry baseline and evaluation survey report for the Ghana Rural Reconstruction Movement, University of Ghana, Legon. Unpublished.

Hill, P. 1963. The Migrant Cocoa Farmers of Southern Ghana: A Study in Rural Capitalism. London: Cambridge University Press.

Howard, R. 1978. Colonialism and Underdevelopment in Ghana. London: Croom Helm.

Huber, H. 1963. The Krobo: Traditional Social and Religious Life of a West African People. St. Augustin near Bonn, Germany: Anthropos Institute.

Johnson, M. 1964. Migrants' progress. Bulletin of the Ghana Geographical Association 9(2): 4-27.

Kwamena-Poh, M.A. 1973. Government and Politics in the Akuapem State: 1730-1850. London: Longman.

Nye, P.H. and Greenland, D.J. 1960. The Soil Under Shifting Cultivation. Farnham Royal, Bucks: Commonwealth Agricultural Bureau.

Nye, P.H. and Stephens, D. 1962. Soil fertility. In: Wills (1962), pp. 127-43.

PNDC. 1986. PNDCL. 152: Land Title Registration Law 1986. Accra: Ghana Publishing Corporation.

Schott, J.R., ed. 1978. An Experiment in Integrated Rural Development: The Mampong Valley Social Laboratory in Ghana. New York: International Institute of Rural Reconstruction.

Wills, J.B. 1962. The general pattern of land use. In: Wills (1962), pp. 201-25.

Wills, J.B., ed. 1962. Agriculture and Land Use in Ghana. London: Oxford University Press.

12: Gender and non-governmental organizations in environmental management

Gender and non-governmental organizations
Environmental and agricultural changes
Measures for coping with the adverse changes
The relative roles of NGOs and GOs

Elizabeth Ardayfio-Schandorf

Gender and non-governmental organizations

The link between women and environmental management is becoming increasingly recognized in sustainable development. However, this connection tends to be underplayed when environmental issues are studied within a general context, with negative repercussions on effective development in local communities. It is for this reason that non-governmental agencies are currently targeting women in their development goals, and that this section of the paper is focused on the role of women and NGOs in managing the environment. Specific consideration is given to women's perceptions of environmental degradation, access to fuelwood and other trees and countermeasures for environmental degradation, based principally on information provided by the 30 women involved in the group discussions, and on information from the questionnaire survey in 1993. These women are mainly farmers cultivating cassava and maize and processing agricultural produce into gari (dried grated cassava) and agblema (cassava dough). The women are mobilized by local non-governmental organizations for other economic activities, including agroforestry and fish and snail farming organised at the Yensi Centre, the field headquarters of the NGO Ghana Rural Reconstruction Movement (GhRRM). In addition, women are encouraged and supported in productive activities aimed at enhancing women's productive and earning capabilities by the 31st December Women's Movement, a women's NGO.

Environmental and agricultural changes

As important farmers, the women have noticed tremendous environmental change in their farming activities since 1960. Formerly their farms were more productive, so they could cultivate more varied and nutritious food crops. In this regard yam, which does better in good soils, has given way to cassava and other root crops that do well in impoverished soils. Environmental degradation is also evidenced by:

Major factors acknowledged by women to be responsible for the change in the natural vegetation include population growth, culminating in scarcity of farm land, shortening of the fallow period, commercialization of agriculture, indiscriminatory felling of trees, fire outbreaks and rural poverty, especially among women.

Measures for coping with the adverse changes

In response to the increasing environmental problems, the women recommended various measures, including support for agroforestry. However, agroforestry has not always been viable in the Yensiso community, for example, where women do not own land. It is important to ease the land pressure by providing more job opportunities relating to both agricultural and nonagricultural production. Afforestation and reforestation are also recommended by the women. Another recommended measure is population control through resettling of the population in less populated areas, thus easing congestion in the farming areas. Also recommended is enforcement of proper land management, so that trees are not completely cleared during the farming season. To achieve this they suggest the promotion of fertilizer use. Finally, they think that population pressure and poverty force people to degrade land, and so to help solve the problem, they call for government and external assistance in the area of critical inputs such as seeds and credit. Though the women are silent on other factors that constrain their environmental management, sociocultural factors like family relationships and decision-making are important. Access to critical resources like land, technology, training skills and extension services also affect their level and efficiency of management.

Table 12.1 Services Provided by Global 2000 and GhRRM

Service Share ( % )
Technical advice 42.4
Agroforestry 1 1.8
Others 10.0
Training 9.4
Extension services 9.4
Financial assistance 4.7
Provision of inputs 4.7
Row planting 4.1
Inspection of farms 3.5
Total 100.0

Source: PLEC 1993 ouestionnaire survey.

Table 12.2 Effectiveness of the External Agencies as Assessed by the Respondents in the PLEC Study Areas

Effectiveness Percentage
Effective 49.5
Ineffective 21.7
Very effective 9.6
Satisfactory 9.6
Do not know 8.4
Poor 1.2
Total 100.0

Source: PLEC 1993 questionnaire survey.

The relative roles of NGOs and GOs

Few external agricultural and environmental agencies operate in the selected study areas, as is the case in the Eastern region as a whole (Assimeng 1987). NGOs such as the GhRRM operate in the Yensi area, as does Sasakawa Global 2000 in the Sekesua area. Their roles, though significant, are far smaller than those of governmental agencies such as the Cocoa Services Division and the Agricultural Extension Services. There is an exception in Yensiso, however, where the GhRRM is by far the most popular external NGO involved in providing support services to farmers. In the Yensiso area, 44 per cent of those interviewed were aware of this NGO, and a substantial number of them saw it as helpful in their agriculture, through the provision of various services (table 12.1). Global 2000 is the other external NGO active in all three areas, especially through the provision of farm credit, fertilizer, and technical advice, which help to offset the loss of the inherent productive capacity of the soils. In spite of the limited operations of the external agencies operating in the area, the people generally acknowledge that their services are effective (table 12.2).


Although this section on gender and NGOs in the management and sustainable use of the environment has been only exploratory, it is hoped that it will serve as a basis for further research into the gender and NGO issue, with special reference to women's access to critical resources such as training in farming systems, extension services, land, technology, credit, farming inputs and strategies for wood-fuel management to stem the environmental degradation.


Assimeng, M. 1987. Women's Organisations in Ghana. Legon: University of Ghana Press.

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