Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Adopt Bioscience to Increase Food Production

By: Francis Npong
Professor Walter S. Alhassan, a member of Bioscience for Farming in Africa’s Scientific Advisory Group (B4FA-SAG) has said It is relevant for Africa to rely on bioscience and new technologies to boost her agriculture.
Bioscience, he explained is not about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) but scientific and new agriculture technologies that are proven to be effective and efficient in food production and processing.
Prof. Alhassan in an exclusive interview with the Enquirer during the 6th Africa Science Week Conference held in Accra which sought to find lasting innovative ways to increase food production in Africa said, Africa weakness in food production is not about the lack of lands or human resources but the failure to combine conventional, scientific, research and development in agriculture.
He said Africa has not been able to move forward in agriculture because of inconsistent funding of agriculture research and development. Scientific or bioscience, Prof Alhassan explained to the Enquirer is methods of maximizing production with deployment of few inputs.
He said that, though the conventional crop breeding system is still viable but when it is combined with new found agriculture technologies, it could be more effective.
Africa, he observed though is endowed with vast lands and human resources it was still faced with low productivity as a result of poor yields.
The problem of poor yield he said is a combination of factors including poor seeds, infertile lands, crops diseases or the combination of all these factors.
Prof. Alhassan pointed out that for Africa to be able to feed itself well there was the need to deal with the factors mentioned above and that could easily be done with the adoption of bioscience technologies, he said.
In spite of it’s vast lands and relatively good weather, Africa still faced with the problem of food insecurity. This often trigger mass exodus of the youth from rural communities to urban centres to create not urban slums but also streetism, armed robbery, prostitution, conflict among other social vices.
Prof. Alhassa however stated that the problem of food insecurity could be properly tackled by the use of bioscience and new agriculture technologies such as crops modified scientifically to be drought, diseases and pests resistant crops, high yielding and nutritious crops to also deal with malnutrition in Africa. “Bioscience can change the story of Africa food production when effectively deployed”, he said.
The campaign for adoption of bioscience to boost food production has met with stiffer opposition from both scholar and religious groups because of the fears of health risks associated with the use of bioscience technologies in crops.
For example genetically modified crops they claimed pose cancer risks to human beings. However, all these claims about the negative effects of GMOs have not been scientifically proven.
Prof. Alhassan said the bioscience technologies is one of the effective option that could help Africa produce enough to feed itself in the next 10 years to come and that failure to pay attention to the development of agriculture could spell doom for the continent in future as its population increases rapidly. The UN estimated that the world population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050 and that there was the need to step up food production to meet the daily food needs of the increasing population.
Also published in The Enquirer 7 Aug. 2013 page 3.

Rural Farmers Diversify livelihood

.cultivate export crop
ButternutFARMERS in Tamaligu, a farming community in the Savelugu-Nanton District of the Northern Region have resorted to the cultivation of exports crops as part of livelihood diversification process-thanks to the Northern Rural Growth Programme (NRGP).
Last year for instance, farmers in this community exported about 15 tons of butter nut squash and cash in thousands of Ghana cedis after the NRGP introduced irrigation for dry season farming and butter nut squash crop to these farmers. This was harvested in a 15 acres land cultivated by a group of farmers with technical, and irrigation facilities support from NRGP.
“It was easy to transport the commodity to the market because of the access road. Our road that used to be un-motorable has also been paved by the NRGP linking us to various market centers and cities where the demand for farm produces are high’ says a farmer.
Butter nut squash, also known as butternut pumpkin, is a type of fruit or vegetable that has a yellowish skin and pulp with a sweet taste when it is well-ripen.
It can be eaten either by roasting, toasted or mixed into soup or other food. The crop is also noted for its high level of vitamins, fibre, potassium and other essential nutrients.
It is a popular vegetable in Europe and was introduced in Ghana to rural farmers by the Northern Rural Growth Programme (NRGP) in partnership with the Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA). The NRGP and SADA, both the government of Ghana’s initiatives aimed to improve the livelihoods of rural northern farmers and bridge the development gap between the north and south are impacting positively in the lives of poor farmers in region.
The butter nut squash is suitable for savannah soil and needs little water for production. However, the changes in rainfall pattern as a result of climate change in northern Ghana favours the production of crops such as butter nut squash.
The crop is in high demand in Europe because of its nutritional value and rural farmers in Ghana are taking advantage of the long drought to grow butter nut squash for export during dry season.
Speaking in an interview with the Enquirer,  the Secretary to Suglo-Viela Farmers Group in Tamaligu, Ibrahim Mohammed Muniru said NRGP trained them from the land preparation stage through to the farm management and to harvesting and packaging of the butternut squash for export.
“We have realized that the production of butternut squash can improve our livelihoods activities so we adopted it”, he said. He said the diversification of their livelihoods became necessary because of the consistent failure of the traditional crops and unpredictable rainfall patterns.
He said in addition to the cultivation of butternut squash, the NRGP had also supported the farmers in Tamaligu to cultivate maize, sorghum, soya beans and vegetables both in the dry and raining seasons. “We are busy all year round live in the community is getting more meaningful and better”, he stressed.
He said last year for instance, they cultivated about 300 acres of maize, 30 acres of sorghum and 50 acres of soya beans and hoped to improve on this in the next two years.
Farmer group was formed through the NRGP and comprises 76 farmers out of which 41 are females. The group was linked to a commercial farmer, one  Mr Mahama Alhassan through whom the NRGP channeled its support to them.
The secretary said the commercial farmer aided them to acquire irrigation pumps from the NRGP at a subsidized cost under the NRGP’s matching grants scheme.
“We are to pay a part of the cost of the machines and the NRGP would also pay a part,” he explained.
Mr Mahama Alhassan, the commercial farmer told the Enquirer that the farmers have been trained and acquired the requisite knowledge to cultivate butternut squash that meet international standard. Mr. Alhassan opearates, the Savannah Agro-business Services, that renders services to farmers. He said farmers now have the capacity to produce more of these crops but would need a sustainable market with a good price for their produces to remain self-sustained and food secured.
He appealed to the NRGP to construct a warehouse for the community to enable them store their maize due to the huge volumes that was being produced by the farmers.

Focus on Develop’t of Root and Tuber Crops, Prz Mahama urges Scientists

wpid-IMG_20130809_114205.jpgFrancis Npong, Acccra, Ghana: The president of the Republic of Ghana president John Draimani Mahama has said that root and tuber crops provide great opportunities for long-term poverty alleviation and food security in Africa and urged researchers to focus on the development of these crops to help reduce poverty among poor and vulnerable families in Africa.
According to the president improving competitiveness of root and tuber crops would help reduce poverty not only in Ghana but Africa at large. He said about that 80 percent of people living in rural communities depended on agriculture as a source of livelihood in which root and tuber constitute the chunk of food stuff consumed.
“Root and tuber crops (sweet potato, cassava, and yams) provide great opportunities for long-term poverty alleviation and food security much more than any other staple foods produced in the African, Caribbean and Pacific regions,”, said the president.
Delivering a speech on behalf of the president at the 12th Symposium organized by the International Society for Tropical Root Crops-Africa Branch (ISTRC-AB) in Accra by Mr. Mohammed Alfa, the Deputy Minister of Environment Science and Technology the president said root and tuber crops have the potential to increase food security.  
The 12th ISTRC Symposium was supported by the government of Ghana, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), IITA, CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Banana, Harvest Plus, African Development Bank-funded Support for Agricultural Research and Development of Strategic Crops (SARD SC) project, IITA-Yams Improvement for Incomes and Food Security in West Africa (YIIFSWA), Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA), National Root Crops Research Institute, Umudike; the Federal Government of Nigeria, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO),  International Potato Center (CIP)  among other organizations and aimed to develop agriculture in Africa.
Dr. Richard Okechuku, IITA Cassava project Coordinator
Dr. Richard Okechuku, IITA Cassava project Coordinator
The symposium provided opportunity to scientists and development partners to re-examine the competitiveness of root and tuber crops to harness their potential to accelerate Africa economic growth and food security.
Dr Nzola Mahungu, ISTRC-AB President, said, “Root and tuber crops play an important role in ensuring food security in Africa, and we must tap the opportunities of these crops to increase food security in Africa”
He said the root and tuber crops are widely consumed across Africa and could play a key role in providing incomes generation for farmers. According to him, cassava as a tuber crop was a source of livelihood for over 300 million people in Africa but was less affected by climate change.
He said the root crops have become increasingly important because its ability to withstand drought and grow on soils with marginal fertility. “But the potentials of these crops are yet to be fully exploited,” Dr Mahungu pointed out.
The Deputy Director General (Partnerships and Capacity Development) of IITA, Dr Kenton Dashiell stressed that mobilizing investors for sustainable root and tuber crops research and development was crucial to the fight against food insecurity in Africa. He said the rising unemployment food insecurity could easily be solved by harnessing full potentials of root and tuber crops. “If properly harnessed, the root and tuber crops development can help to enagege the number of unemployed youths in the continent”, he said.
He called on scientists to ensure that their research outputs were creating the desired change both the community and farm levels and address the constraints in agriculture development.
people picking pieces of broken Yams after accident
people picking pieces of broken Yams after accident
 The programme that brought over 200 local and international scientists, donors, farmers, and other development partners also discussed interesting topics including African root crops trade and market scenarios, Policies favorable to competitiveness of root crops in Africa, African scenario on production and utilization of root and tuber crops, Business and investment scenarios on competitiveness of root crops in Africa—benchmarking Latin American, Asian and European markets (Learning from Latin American, Asian & European industries).
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Sunday, September 1, 2013

Revenue Watch Institute to the Rescue of Mining Community

Francis Npong, Kintaka, B/A
RWI Africa Co-ordinator, Emmanuel Kuyole-Picture Francis Npong
RWI Africa Co-ordinator, Emmanuel Kuyole-Picture Francis Npong
The Revenue Watch Institute (RWI) has donated unspecified quantity of Treated Mosquito Nets worth thousands of Ghana cedis to Kantinka community in the Brong Ahafo Region. Dormaa-Kantinka as the village is popularly known is located in the Newmont Mining concession near Kenyasi.
The donation, according to the Africa Regional Coordinator of Revenue Watch Institute (RWI), Mr. Emmanuel Kuyole, is to help protect the community members including children from being bitten by malaria infliction insect- mosquito.
He explained that the gesture was also part of the organization’s efforts to help prevent or minimize malaria infections and other stinging insect attacks on the community.
This was when he led about 45 people from 12 different countries including Nigeria, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Ghana, Mauritania, South Africa, Switzerland and Zimbabwe among other countries who participated in the 2013 Summer School to the community to learn for themselves the impacts of mining activities on communities’ livelihoods.
The learning programme organized by RWI was also supported by GIZ, a Germany International Development Organization. Dubbed, “Regional Extractive Industries Knowledge Hub (REIK HUB) Summer School 2013 focused on the governance of oil, gas and mining revenues.
The participants who were drawn from Civil Society Organizations, governments departments (especially revenue departments), senior journalists and environmental advocates also visited the Newmont mining concession where they were conducted round various mining pits, including Cyanide Containment Dam, reclaimed land site by the officials of the company.
Most of the participants were shocked when the team got to the Kantinka community where the community members raised various allegations against Newmont Ghana Gold Limited for worsening livelihood situations. “All that Newmont told us about Newmont Ahafo Development Foundation and it activities were actually not exactly what existed on the ground? I am not surprised mining companies always told their own stories to please the shareholders”, said Mauritania representative Mr. Balious Coulibaly.
Earlier officials from Newmont Ghana Gold Limited at a briefing indicated that the foundation established by the company took care of communities needs including resettlement  and infrastructure.
Briefing this reporter after addressing the delegates, the Assembly woman for Atoa-Odumasi Electoral Area, Madam Afia Sampong who commended RWI for the gesture stressed that the community was now living under appalling conditions since the commencement of commercial mining activities some years ago.
“The first to be destroyed were our water bodies and farmlands” the assembly woman said and that when they complained Newmont dug a borehole and that it was later realized the borehole was infected with some worms. She said the community complained again to the company to disinfect the borehole to make the water safe to drink but they refused claiming “we were making up stories”. She showed to the participants a container of water full of unknown worms allegedly drawn from the said borehole. Currently she said for fear of infections, the community abandoned the borehole and went back to the streams that have already been contaminated by cyanide as a result of flooding.
She claimed the community experienced some strange deaths few years ago and suspected the pollution of water bodies was the cause. “We complained the deaths to the company and they said we should take the bodies to the hospital to autopsy and bring the result. We could not do that because of the bills involved so we have to bury the bodies without being able to determine the cause of their deaths”, she said.
The communities she stressed are now living in fear. Madam Sampong also revealed that, the communities including Kantika of late have come under insects’ attacks including mosquitos. These insects increase in the communities she alleged was as a result of mining activities saying “the stagnant waters in the mining pits were breeding places for these stinging insects”.
She said the insects gave them sleepless nights however, in spite of the complaints to Newmont Company nothing has been done about it. Coupled with the insects attacks are frequent flooding and that the flood waters which are reportedly contaminated by cyanide run into their sources water. Cyanide is a mining chemical and is said to be very dangerous to human and animals health.
The company, the Assembly woman alleged was running away from its responsibilities to the communities after seizing hundreds of their farmlands. The communities are pre-dominantly farming communities and depended largely on food crops.
Currently, the Public Account Committee of Parliament (PAC) is considering setting up an investigation to unravel the circumstance that led to the government of Ghana granting Newmont Ghana Gold Limited 100% retention, a deal unheard of in the country.
The Kantinka Community members say Newmont is also concern about it profit at the expense of communities livelihoods. Kintanka is currently a dumping site for Newmont and that the noise from blasting alone is unbearable to them.
The Communications Officer for Newmont Ghana Gold Limited Mr. Agbeko Kwame Azumah however explained in an e-mail to this paper that the company was still holding dialogue with the community through the Resettlement Negotiation Committees made of representatives of the community to have all issues relating to the community critically looked at and work on and that the community would continue to be engaged to ensure that all issues are settled.
He however debunked claims by the community that the Newmont Ahafo Development Foundation was dictating to the communities and was not opened or transparent in their financial transactions relating to the projects cost and that communities do not have a say.
From Left Mr. Agbeko K. Azumah and Mr Emmanuel Kuyole
From left Mr. Agbeko Azumah, Communications Director, Newmont Ghana Ltd and Emmanuel Kuyole, Regional Coordinator RWI. picture Francis Npong
The Communications officer also indicated that each of the 10 communities have representatives in the Sustainable Development Committee, a steering committee whose duties are to plan, and take decisions on what is to be done at which community and that the company do not have influence on the decision making processes of the committee.
On financial transparency, Mr. Azumah said the foundation publishes its annual and presents same to the Responsibility Forum which comprises about 50 member diverse stakeholder group representing all the 10 host communities. He said the 10 communities benefiting from the foundation regularly receive reports indicating how much is collected and spent and on which project at each beneficiary communities.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa Commends Ghana for Improved Agric Policy

Francis Npong 
Dr. Tiemaoko Yo, the Chairman of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) has commended the government of Ghana for adopting innovative agricultural policy that enabled the country to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in hunger. “Ghana is ahead of UN deadline for the achievement of MDGs in Hunger after “.
Speaking during the open space side event on Monday to about 1,200 delegates including Ministers of agriculture, scientists bioscience technologists, researchers, farmers, extensionists, agricultural reporters, civil society organizations  from across Africa and the world in Accra, Dr. Yo said Ghana had demonstrated great leadership to the rest of Africa by adopting innovative ways to improve agricultural sector.
The 5 days conference which is organized by Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) in collaboration with the Government of Ghana would discuss innovative ways to improving productivity and resilience in food production.
The forum is under the theme “Africa Feeding Africa through Agricultural Science and Innovation” would among other things discuss and propose how Africa could move from competition to collaboration as parts of efforts to finding lasting solution to low productivity in Africa.
 Vice President Hands Over 100 tractors to Northern Farmers
The chairman urged other African nations to follow Ghana’s example by committing themselves to innovative agricultural policy to improve food production. He said adopting innovative ways was the only means to boosting African agriculture and improving food security.
The Minister of Agriculture Mr. Clement Kofi Humadu urged African agricultural scientists and researchers to come out with a result oriented researches to improve low productivity in agricultural sector in Africa.
The minister observed that for Africa to improve and increase productivity there was the need for what he called specialize manpower training.  He said, Africa needs to modify systems and policies in agriculture to be able to meet the growing need for food. He urged the adaptation of value chain and private partnership approach to enhance agricultural commodities.

Banana Bunchy Top Virus Spreading in Nigeria

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732943595By: Francis Npong
Agricultural Research Scientists are battling yet with another challenging banana virus- Banana Bunchy Top Disease (BBTV ) said to be spreading across Africa.
The disease, according to scientists was spreading at alarming rate and needs to be curbed immediately before it causes havoc to banana plant in Africa.
In a statement issued by Dr. Lava Kumar, the virologist with the International Institute of Tropical  Agriulture (IITA) in Nigeria said the disease was devastating banana across West Africa with more farms in Nigeria—West Africa’s second largest producer of the crop. “If not checked the virus will devastate banana farms, and jeopardize the livelihoods of millions of farmers who earn their livelihoods from the crop”, he said.
Dr Kumar whose statement came after a visit to farms ravaged by the disease in Idiroko, a border town in Ogun State.
Mr. Charles Onyeani, Head of the Post-Entry Quarantine, Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS) has warned against the movement of banana planting materials from infected areas to uninfected areas to check the spread of the disease.
First discovered in 2012 by IITA in collaboration with the University of Ibadan and the Nigerian Agriculture Quarantine Service (NAQS), the disease is now widespread in Ilashe, Odan-Itoro, Ido-Ologun, and Igbogila, in Ogun State.
“Systematic studies on yield losses have not been done but empirical observations indicate 50 to 90% loss in the affected region,” Dr Kumar added, stressing, “There is a severe shortage of clean planting material.
The urged urgent actions to prevent further spread and also help farmers in the affected areas.
” Nigeria produces 2.74 million tons of banana, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, making the crop one of the important staples in the country.
Devastation by BBTV on banana fields will have a negative impact on the country’s economy, and thwart efforts towards food security.
Caused by a virus called, Banana bunchy top virus, BBTD is a serious threat to banana in SSA. The disease has been recognized in 14 countries in Africa; 13 of these are in SSA which represents a combined banana production area of 2.28 million ha, contributing 19.75 million tons of fruit per annum (FAO 2011).
The disease is known to occur in all the major banana production regions in DRC, Congo Brazzaville, Burundi, Rwanda, Malawi, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, and Zambia. Whereas, disease spread is limited to a few regions in Angola, Benin, Cameroon, and Nigeria.
BBTD was first reported from the continent in 1901, however extensive spread into new production areas were observed during the last two decades.
The disease has very recently invaded the BĂ©nin (first reported 2011) and Nigeria (first reported in 2013) in West Africa. “The virus is also spread through an insect, banana aphid (Pentalonia nigronervosa), which is widespread in all the banana and plantain-producing areas in Nigeria and many parts of the world, said Dr Rachid Hanna, entomologist at IITA.
Infected banana plants become progressively smaller and stand more erect giving the plant a bunchy appearance.
Plants infected early in their growth do not produce fruits resulting in total loss of yield, while plants infected at later stages may produce deformed fruits.
The plant may eventually die, but often remains with its lateral shoots which serve as a source of infection for further spread.
The spread of the disease into new areas can initially remain undetected, complicating timely eradication work and prevention of new outbreaks. Once the disease is present in a region, it is extremely difficult to eradicate.
No durable sources of resistance have yet been identified. Eradication of infected plants and planting healthy planting material is the best available solution.

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.