Chaka Uzondu: On poultry manure and the National Fertiliser Council

chaka uzondu on poultry manure and the national fertiliser council
Farming Fertilizer

An agricultural worker shows a fertilizer before spreading it in a soybean field, near Brasilia, Brazil February 15, 2022. Picture taken February 15, 2022. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

Poultry manure is being promoted by representatives of the Food Ministry (MoFA) and Cocobod. They are encouraging farmers to turn to poultry manure in the face of scare and very expensive inorganic chemical fertilizers.

Then in March this year, the board of the National Fertiliser Council (NFC) was inaugurated. Both are potentially positive developments. It is good that state actors are promoting the use of poultry manure by farmers. It is well known that manures do what synthetic fertilisers cannot do – build soil structure in a sustainable way.

The production of organic fertiliser in Ghana is long overdue. That government has now established a National Fertilizer Council, which suggests, at minimum, that there is a growing impetus for local production of fertiliser.

But there is work to be done by active citizens, including farmers.  The promotion of poultry manure and the inauguration of a Council also highlight important issues for critical discussion and action.

Does the recent promotion of poultry manure by different state actors signal a fundamental shift away from the promotion of the use of synthetic fertiliser by the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA )?  Is there a growing realisation that for Ghana’s agriculture to be not only “productive” in the reductionist yield per hectare sense, but to be sustainable, especially in the context of climate change, there must be a greater focus on increasing soil health? Manures and compost, not synthetic fertiliser, no matter how “scientifically” designed or applied, will always be better for soil structure and health.

If there is a national move away from synthetic fertilizer, some may ask: “is there enough manure?” There are more important questions to ask, such as; other than manure how else can we build soil health and fertility?  And are farmers utilising important practices –e.g. green manures, nitrogen-fixing crops, and the integration of crop cultivation with animal rearing– extensively enough on farms, especially large-scale commercial farms?

 Given the hike in synthetic fertilizer prices, policymakers need alternatives and they want them now. Poultry manure can potentially contribute to soil health and fertility, but it is not enough.

Here comes the Fertiliser Council and plans for a fertilizer producing company. Questions should be asked. Is the National Fertilizer Council designed to promote local organic fertiliser production by Ghanaian-owned companies? Are there any actual smallholder farmers on the newly inaugurated board of the Council? Why do its board members include a representative from YaraGhana, a subsidiary of Yara, the Norwegian multinational corporation, which is one of the world’s biggest producers of synthetic fertilizer?

If MoFA remains wedded to promoting industrial agriculture, then there will not be a lasting commitment to the use of manure and organic fertilizers. The call for the use of manure will be only a measure for desperate times. Indeed, a representative of Yara and fertilizer importers are on the board of the Council, suggesting that promoting local production of synthetic fertilisers is likely to be its primary focus. And surely, since Ghana is an oil-producing company, there will be many who will see Ghana producing synthetic fertilizers as a good thing. Synthetic fertilizers are after all a by-product of fossil fuel, so Ghana’s production of it might seem a logical step in the right direction. But to choose this path requires that we forget that synthetic fertilizers are a major producer of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and thus a major contributor to climate change.

Transformation of the agriculture sector is necessary. However, transformation cannot be based on an agriculture system dependent on synthetic fertilizers. These cause too much land degradation and pollution. Ghana needs an agriculture and food system that provides nutritious food, creates quality jobs, and has no (or at least minimal) negative impact on the environment.

In the face of shortages of chemical fertilizers, these are four steps to be implemented now: (1)provide substantive cash rewards to existing agroecological and organic farmers to help them scale up production; (2) develop a farm-to-markets transportation support system to facilitate farmers getting food to markets at fair prices to farmers as well as minimize post-harvest losses and (3) support farmer organised seed sharing systems and (4) establish an incentive scheme for farmers interested in transforming their farm with agroecology (with explicit criteria for practices such as utilising green manures). See, for example, a recent initiative by the UK government in its response to the global fertilizer price hikes.

 These recommendations are not quick fixes. There are no shortcuts. It is time to rethink our entire food system and begin changing it so that we have adequate nutritious and quality food for all and smallholder farmers thrive. It is time for food sovereignty.

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Chaka Uzondu (PhD) is a researcher and policy analyst. His writings cover topics ranging from agroecology, climate change, economic justice, food sovereignty, health, housing, political ecology/economy, and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH).

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