Thursday, June 27, 2013

Sheini Mining Concession: Who Owns It?– Journalists Ask

The whole of this mountain is iron ore

The extractive sector particularly gold, iron ore, limestones, diamond mining among others, could be an important source of development for Northern Ghana. In spite of its potential to turn over huge revenue for development and job creation, mining communities continue to suffer from serious environmental cost associated with mineral extraction. 
The wanton destruction of the environment, air and water pollution among others by mining companies has been a matter of concern to many right thinking citizens of this country in recent times culminating in the formation of an interministerial taskforce to deal with the situation. 
While it has been reported over the years that the activities of some mining companies were having negative effects on the environment, the rate of destruction of such activities seemed to be on the ascendancy.
In view of this development, it is important for individuals, groups and organizations with interest in environmental management and sustainability to play an active role in helping stakeholders to ensure that Ghana’s environments were safe even as her mineral resources were exploited. 
Against this background, the Media Advocates for Sustainable Environment (MASE) in partnership with the Rural Media Network (RUMENT) has taken steps to monitor mining activities at Sheini in the Tatale District of the Northern Region to ensure environmental sustainability and to prevent further depletion of the country’s ecological system. 
Thus, one important issue currently being monitored by MASE is the Sheini iron ore that  was discovered in the 1960s and drilling and exploration conducted between 1961 and 1965 by Soviet Geologists covering a very large area of the eastern part of the Northern Region.
That exploration test confirmed that, the Sheini iron ore deposit was the largest, finest and in commercial quantity in the whole of Africa. Other geological surveys had shown that Sheini ironstones react extremely well to a magnetizing reduction roast process, which reduces iron in the form of hematite (Fe2O3) to magnetite (Fe3O4) and ultimately to metallic iron (Feo) and that its quality was uncomparable while its quantity could be extracted continuouly for 100 years.
National Coordinator, MASE Npong Francis
At a press briefing in Tamale, MASE disclosed that information received from sources within Ghana’s Minerals Commission indicated, that the Sheini Iorn Concession had been given out to a joint-venture company through a process that was concealed because there was no wide consultation. 
According to the group, it appeared therefore, that the government had given out the only northern strategic asset without the full involvement of chiefs, communities and stakeholders whose livelihoods would directly or indirectly be affected. 
“This is a cause for concern realizing the impact of mining on the environment. The failure by the government to let communities, and the general public know, understand and exercise their democratic rights including their right to “free prior informed consent”, compensations and resettlement if any, and the right to prevent conflict arising from the development of the concession are disturbing”, MASE Spokesperson Npong Balikawu lamented.
MASE called on the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, the Minerals Commission and the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation to tell the people of the Northern Region whether the Sheini Iron Ore deposit had been given out as a concession to a company or not.
It also wanted to know the name of the company, who the managers were and how the selection process was done, stressing “We also want to know what arrangements have been made in consultation with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to mitigate any environmental degradation that may occur”.
MASE hinted that a time bomb was waiting to explode in the area if issues relating to Sheini iron ore were not handled transparently and in consultation with the various stakeholders.   
The Media Advocates for Sustainable Environment is a network of environmental journalists formed in 2009 under the auspices of the Rural Media Network and the KASA environmental governance project. The core membership of MASE are environmental reporters and advocates. 
MASE members work to promote best environmental practices for development and also educate people on best sanitation and agricultural practices and climate change issues.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Ghana: Cycling for Necessity, Not Ecological Reasons

According to Alhassan, between 1962 to 1989 rice farming was booming in the area and farmers had to get to the farm early to provide security to the crop against rodents. A lack of public transportation to and from farms and market centres, where farmers would be selling their produce, required another solution – and it was the bicycle. “Mobility became very important: you need to be on the farm on time, else the birds will destroy the rice. So bicycle became the most important thing in our life,” he said.
Today, the bicycle is still the most important means of transportation for rural farmers in northern Ghana where access roads are non-existing. “We prefer bicycles to other forms of transportation because it is cheaper, easy to repair, and does not pollute the environment,” said Moses Binjo, a 46-year-old farmer. Small carriers can also be attached to the bikes to carry foodstuff enough to feed a family for a day.
For Binjo, riding a bicycle is also a comfortable exercise that “relaxes our muscles when we are not doing any hard work during lean farming season.” He himself suffered from knee injury but says that cycling frequently had fixed that.
Although the exact number of bikes in Ghana cannot be calculated, there are some 700, 000 vehicles registered, according to Ghana’s Driver’s License and Vehicle Authority (DVLA). “There are thousands of bicycles in use in Ghana, particularly within rural communities,” says Awuni William, an environmentalist. He believes that most people in urban centres would love to ride, but there are no bicycle lanes which would make it safer.
According to William, in rural Ghana almost everybody knows how to ride a bike. For women, cycling reduces the fatigue from carrying workloads and babies on their backs.
Adult states that riding a bike increases cardiovascular fitness, strength, balance and flexibility, stamina and endurance and helps burn lots of calories, all of which improves the overall health of an individual. Cycling is also a stress releaser.
Hafisatu Adams learning how to ride a bike. Picture by Npong Francis/
But for the poor rural farmer, health and environmental cleanness reasons are not the main concerns; for them, cycling is just a matter of necessity, a means of livelihood, transportation and communication.
Adams Fuseina, a farmer, said: “My farm is miles away [from my home]. Before, we used to sleep in our farms and come home over the weekends, but with the help of a bicycle we could easily visit our farms and come back the same day.” She wanted to be close to her children – a challenge successfully eliminated by the bicycle.
“You can go and come back to sleep with your family, so we don’t bother too much managing our farms and families at the same time. The bicycle has bridged the gap that previously existed between our farms and families,” she said.
Fuseina’s youngest child, 4-year-old Hafisatu Adams, is currently learning how to ride a bike. She will soon join her friends who ride their bicycles to and from the community school.

Farmers in Upper East Region Livelihoods Threaten

Farmers in some communities in the Upper East region livelihoods have been threatened
because of poor yields recorded in 2012 farming season.
The poor farmers who are now relying on water melons for their livelihoods sustainability experienced poor yield when they allegedly used same foundation seeds (improved seeds) from the previous farming season which affected the performances of farms leaving farmers deeply
disappointed in the so-called improved seeds.
The fears of these farmers heighten because of the fast perishability and un-dependability of
water melons putting their livelihoods under a critical condition. Speaking in an exclusive interview with the Enquirer, the assembly member for Bantafarigu/Farfar Electoral Area in the Garu-Tempane District of the Upper East Region Mr. Joseph Duut Yennukor who disclosed this said, farmers were alarmed
by the failure of the crops. He said they have to resort into the cultivation of water melons as a adaptation and mitigation measures to sustain their livelihoods.
The assembly member however, could not tell what caused the failure of the crop but blamed it on the foundation seeds they acquired from the Presbyterian Agriculture Station in Garu (PAS-G), erratic rainfall and expensive agronomic practices or the lack of knowledge of it. “We adopted the cultivation of water melons as alternative livelihoods strategies which we sell to buy foodstuff”, he said. He said that, the farmers have to resort into water melons farming adaptation and mitigation processes to sustain their
“But this crop is perishable and anytime soon its season will be over and that means that a lot of us will sleep without food”, he said. The assembly member said the farmers are in a distress situation challenged with a
life threatening condition and were now relying on sales of water melons for survival either then that it would be difficult for these farmers, he said.
When contacted the manager of Presbyterian Agriculture Station in Garu, Mr. Solomon Atigah said, the affected farmers used the foundation seeds supplied to them by his outfit the previous year and that affected the output of their farms. He explained that genetically modified or improved crops could not be planted twice
and that farmers who adopted hybrid crops would have to buy seeds each year to be able to increase their productivity adding that this farmers failed to heed to the directive of his outfit.
“The yield was good the previous year so they thought it will be the same when they used the same seeds but that does not work with hybrid or improved seeds”, he said. Mr. Atigah pointed out that these community farmers also failed to follow the prescribed agronomic practices relating to hybrid seeds.
He said, it is this reason that most farmers even in advance countries are against the introduction of genetically modified crops because it makes farmers “more vulnerable and more dependable”. “Farmers who use genetically seeds always have to buy the seeds, but the cost of buying such seeds are high and their availability not reliable”, he said.
He said the flooding of ‘killer seeds” and banned agro chemicals in the market without a clear governmental policy to deal with it would affect greatly the agriculture sector of the country in the long run. The Manager alleged that some banned agro chemicals that found their way into the country are repacked
by some unscrupulous individuals without recourse to national food security the situation he said must be checked.
The influx of such banned agro products in the Ghanaian market he said was an evident of porous, weak and failed systems.
The Director of Ministry of Food and Agriculture in charge of Garu-Tempane District, Mr. Paul S. Ayagiba told the Enquirer that the affected farmers situation arose as a result of inappropriate agronomic practices. He hinted that the farmers were adopting too much to the use of chemicals and that even the water melons from the region are fast losing it value and consumption rate because of the chemicalization of the crop. “People are now conscious of their health and are selective of what they eat explaining why the consumption rate of water melons in the region is reducing drastically”,he said.
The farmers made this rather disturbing revelation at a climate change adaptation review workshop organised by Care international Ghana under the auspices of Adaptation Learning Programme for Africa (ALP). The farmers were alarmed by the influx of “killer seeds” and alleged banned agro chemicals in the market saying if the situation was not control could put their lives in danger.

Friday, October 26, 2012


THE importance of forests to human life cannot be overemphasized. According to agric scientists, forests, apart from conserving nature, are a source of life.

They purify the air that we breathe, serve as habitat for the animals that we feed on, and preserve climatic temperatures to protect our bodies. In Africa, in particular, forests are the main source of herbs and many of the food we eat.
Experts have also noted that forests play a crucial role in helping mitigate the impact of climate change on humans.
Some illegally-sawn timber that were recently seized in Saboba
According to the Director of the United Nations (UN) Forum on Forests Secretariat, Mr Pekka Patosaary, forests can act as a ‘sink’ to absorb greenhouse emissions and store large quantities of carbon for extended periods of time.
No wonder the developed world is now committing itself to invest in afforestation projects in Africa under the United Nations’ Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) initiative.
One is therefore at a lost why forests in the Northern Region of Ghana are being depleted at such an alarming rate, in spite of how essential they are to the livelihoods of the people in the region.
Checks at the Forestry Commission indicate that there are 24 forest reserves in the Northern Region.
The region even boasts of having the largest forest reserve in Ghana, the Yakombo Forest Reserve, near Buipe, which occupies an estimated land area of 1,160km².
Each year, more trees are planted in various parts of the region so as to create new or replenish existing woodlots and forest plantations.
Currently, the Forestry Services Department (FSD) of the Forestry Commission is establishing large acres of forest plantations in various parts of the region through the National Forest Plantation Development Programme.
During a recent visit to the Northern Region by the Parliamentary Select Committee on Lands and Forestry, the Northern Regional Forestry Manager, Mr Ebenezer Djaney Djagbletey, revealed that the region had exceeded its targets for the plantation programme.
“A total area of 3,309 hectares had been planted by the end of December, 2010, which is far higher than the 2000 hectares target that had been set,” he told the committee.
He said in Yendi alone, a total area of 1,126 hectares was planted in off-reserve areas and 200 hectares in existing forest reserves.
In Tamale, a total area of 462 hectares was planted in off-reserve areas, whiles 70 hectares of areas located within forest reserves had been planted.
In spite of all these glamorous statistics about the establishment of large acres of forest plantations, the question to ask is “how many of these trees would survive?”
How many would become prey to the painful blade of chain-saw operators and how many would crumble when the dry season fires start?
Statistics from the EPA paint a gloomy picture about the depletion of forest resources in the Northern Region.
According to the EPA, the region loses 38, 000 hectares of its tree cover every year due to activities such as indiscriminate bush burning, deforestation, use of chemicals in fishing, over grazing by livestock and illegal commercial logging.
Just recently, the FSD intercepted large quantities of illegally sawn rosewood, which had been felled from forest plantations in the Saboba district.
Due to the depletion of forests and the vegetation, some parts of the region are being reduced to desert-like conditions and this has caused a reduction in food and water resources and also increased the intensity and duration of droughts and disasters in the north.
It is sad to note that many community folk do not seem to know about the harm they cause to the environment and future generations when they run down forest resources.
The extent to which they cut down trees for firewood and to make space for farming and settlements exposes the region to desertification.
Unfortunately, forest conservation issues do not receive adequate attention from local government authorities and politicians in the region.
Under the noses of District Chief Executives, Members of Parliament, Co-ordinating Directors and traditional rulers, forests are destroyed and no one seems to border.
It is high time that the nation’s leaders and the entire populace were reoriented on the importance of forests and the need to conserve them.
Politicians, chiefs and opinion leaders in the region must stand up now to protect the region’s forests and not wait for calamity to befall us.

Ghanaian Crop Scientists Divided Over GMOs

2 Votes

Dr. Abdulai Lansah, CSIR
Crop Researchers at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research Institute, Ghana (CSIR) are extensively divided over the introduction of Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) crops into a Ghanaian agricultural sector.
While some scientists brushing aside the adoption of GMO crops for the bases of uncertainty health risks, others are of the view that, conventional crop breeding has not withstood the test of time hence the need for all new methods to improve food production.
A Crop Researcher from CSIR Dr. Abdulai Lansah in an exclusive interview with the Enquirer in Bolgatanga, Upper East region, said “Even scientists at CSIR are divided over GMO introduction with the basis of uncertainty health risks”.
There had not been any laboratory analyses that pointed to the fact that, the consumption of GMOs are dangerous to human health according to scientists. However, the introduction of GMOs has sparked various protests from religious, political to traditional raising fears about the introduction ofGMO products.
Dr. Lansah explained that, unlike the conventional crop breeding system that allows natural modification, genetically modified crop procedures use laboratory techniques to change the genes or characteristics of crops. “The genes or traits maybe from animals to crops, from one different plant to another and even from human beings to crops depending on the desired traits”, he disclosed.
He said this methods are raising a lot of questions and created a controversy over the GMOs products the world over. In US, UK and other developed countries, people some cases governments outlawed the importation of GMO products because of alleged health dangers associated to it.
Dr. Lansah explained that questions raised against the consumption of GMO products are most related to beliefs and alleged uncertainty health risks associated with such crops modification processes. However, he said scientists are still researching details about GMO products and until that “we can not confirm or deny questions raised against the consumption of GMOs”.
“For now, Ghana has officially adopted GMO cotton but scientists at CSIR are still testing genetically modified crops which are strictly confined” the crop researcher told this reporter when asked whether or not there are GMOs in Ghana.
Dr. Lansah said, though there is/are no known GMO crops Ghana except Bt. Cotton, people are however, suspecting some brand of soy beans in Ghana to be that of genetically modified. “Some of the seeds come into the market with no labels so it is difficult to differentiate between genetically modified and non genetically modified”, he said.
On food security, he said industrialize agriculture was the sure way out for Ghana. The industrialization he explained would resolved post harvest loses in agriculture sector in Ghana. He disclosed that not less than 40% of total food produce in country is lost in transit because of unavailability of preservation and storage facilities, and good infrastructure such as roads.

Eight Deprived Communities in Ghana Take Destiny to Own Hands

A decision making for climate resilient livelihoods and risk reduction training workshop aimed to build capacity of vulnerable communities in the northern and Upper East region has ended in Bolgatanga with a called on the stakeholders in development to as a matter of urgency integrate climate change into community development projects.
The training workshop organised by CARE International under the auspices of Adaptation Learning Programme in Africa (ALP) used participatory Scenario Planning approach to support eight participating vulnerable communities including Garu, Farfar, Tariganga, Akara Kugri in the Upper East region and Zambulugu, Jawani,  Demia and Saamini in the northern region to develop climate response livelihood strategies.
This is not only to prepare these poor communities to adapt to climate variabilities and climate change but also to build their capacities to be able to recognise the underlying causes of their vulnerabilities to help them design coping strategies to effectively adapt to climate change and climate variability.
Addressing the participants, the Manager of ALP, Mr. Romanus Gyan said that, the weather pattern has become erractic and climate systems now unpredictable. This, he said makes communities whose livelihoods largely depended on weather more vulnerable.
Community Strategy mapping, Picture: Npong Francis
He said, it is against this background that CARE International Adaptation Learning Programme in Africa (ALP) was developed to support poor and vulnerable communities in Africa to effectively adapt to climate change and climate variability.
Working in partnership with local civil society and public institutions, the Adaptation Learning programme is being implemented in 40 communities across some selected African countries including Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, and Niger.
The training workshop assisted the participating communities to develop the most important climate change adaptation strategies after identifying the underlying causes of their vulnerabilities. The strategies proposed to be implemented by these communities to help them cope with the changing climatic events include tree planting, dry season gardening, livestock rearing, use of organic manure and engage income generating activities.
Other strategies these communities proposed to adapt were; drought and disease resistant crops, early maturing crops, formation of community savings and loan schemes, encourage the youth in vocational skills projects, advocate for good road network to connect them to markets centers  and construction of strong foundation for their houses to withstand floods and rainstorms.
These proposed strategies they said would not help to supplement their income but also improve the soil fertility and protect the environment. Speaking to the Enquirer after the training workshop, the National Advocacy Manager for Care International Ghana, Mr. Baba Tuahiru said diversification of livelihoods activities was the sure way that can reposition the poor communities to be able to cope with the effects of climate change and climate variability.
According to him, ALP is currently being piloted in some communities in the northern and Upper East region of Ghana considered to be vulnerable and that the programme is empowering the people to not only diversify, design coping strategies but also demand for accountable from duty bearers.
The Monitory and Evaluation officer for Care International Ghana, Mr. Thomas Ayamga who took the participating communities through the processes of Community Adaptation Planning (CAAP) helping communities to design their strategic plans would help them redirect their attention to the most important and pressing development projects that can help improve their living conditions.
section of participants at the training workshop. Picture Npong Francis
The governance officer for Care International Ghana Mr. Avura Francis urged the government institutions to always consult communities when they intend to undertake development projects in communities. He said this help them to design such projects to feed into the community development plan else the projects might impact positively on the livelihoods of the people.

My life depends on good harvest - groundnut farmer

Afa Alhassan being assisted by mom and auntie to dry his nuts

EACH year between August and October, one can see chains of women carrying sacks and pans filled with freshly harvested groundnuts and walking along dusty or muddy paths in villages in Northern Ghana.
It is that period of the year when groundnut farmers harvest their groundnuts, which were planted earlier in the year.
Groundnut or peanut happens to be one of the most farmed food crops in Northern Ghana due to its health, culinary and economic values.
In 2011, the Ministry of Food Agriculture (MoFA) indicated that the total output of groundnut produced in the three regions of the north accounted for about 80 percent of the nation’s total groundnut production.
In a recent trip to Zokuga, a farming community in the Savelugu/Nanton district of the Northern Region, I met with a 44-year old farmer who has been cultivating groundnut since childhood.

It was midday and Afa Mohammed Alhassan as he is called was busily drying groundnut he had harvested from his 10-acre farm. He was being supported by his mother, Mma Salamatu and auntie, Mma Maata.
In the interaction that followed, he mentioned that although he farms both maize and groundnut, it was the latter that was so dear to his heart.
Afa Alhassan speaking to me
“I focus much of my attention on farming groundnut because it is through this that I get enough income to take care of my family,” he said, adding that his favourite variety is ‘abaen’.
Afa Alhassan was unequivocal in stating that his life as a groundnut farmer depended on good harvest.
“When harvest is good, I can get about seven bags of groundnuts from an acre and this happens only once a while,” he stated.
At the time, a bag of groundnut was selling between GH¢50 to GH¢70 and this in an incentive to Afa Alhassan.
“When prices are good, it helps us farmers to reap what we have sown,” he said with a smile.
I asked him what were the factors that can account for a good harvest and he mentioned good rains as paramount.
He noted that having a good harvest depended also on planting at the right time, adding that to plant one needs to mobilise the seeds and get the land prepared.
Unlike maize and other crops, groundnut does not depend heavily on fertilizer and this, in the estimation of Afa Alhassan, is one thing that makes farming groundnut conducive for the rural poor.
In spite of this, he thinks that groundnut farmers, like other farmers, need some support from government and other organisations.
“When the season arrives and there are no tractors to prepare the land, then it could affect planting,” he said.
Afa Alhassan said the lack of equipment for harvesting and shelling groundnuts makes the work of harvesting groundnut a bit laborious.
During harvest, he and other farmers use either their hands or hoes to uproot the vines from the ground, depending on the texture of the soil.
“When the ground is still wet, we can use our hands, but if it is dry, we have to use hoes,” he said.
He said after the vines are uprooted, he employs the services of some women to separate the nuts from the vines, assemble them in heaps and transport them in pans and in sacks to his house.
It is then that another process begins as the nuts have to be dried for a period of time, before being shelled, separated from the kennels and packed into sacks.
“It is a painstaking process,” he said.
Of course, Afa Alhassan is also concerned about getting the needed technologies to increase yield.
“If we can get help to enable us get better yields, it would help us a lot because our lives depend on it,” he noted.
Like many other rural men, Afa Alhassan has two wives and four children, but is not satisfied.
“I want to have more children,” he intimated, adding that “Three of the children are for my first wife and so my second wife would also be delivering two more.”
He admitted that taking care of his four children, together with his mother and other extended family, is quite a challenge, especially in keeping his children in school.
Three of them, Zakaria, Alhassan and Memunatu attend the Zokuga nursery and primary school.
“Sometimes, the teachers ask us to pay some dues and buy some items for the children and I try to get it for them,” he said.
Afa Alhassan's children are in school
“They tell us that education is good, but I am yet to feel it because none of my children has gone far with their education,” Afa Alhassan said, with a sense of uncertainty.
“Have you not heard of family planning,” I asked him and his response was expected: “I have heard of it, but I want to have more children because I do not know which one of them would prosper in future.”
Efforts to explain that family planning is about planning child birth would however not sink.
Well, it appears that Afa Alhassan’s 44-years of farming has shaped his idea of life and what he considers the most important is how to get a good harvest each farming season.