Fertiliser credit and agroecological use of organic soil amendments in northern Ghana
Contemporary African agricultural policy embodies the African Green Revolution’s drive towards modernisation and commercialisation. Agroecologists have criticised this movement on ecological, social and political grounds. Northern Ghanaian fertiliser credit schemes provide a good example through which these critiques can be examined in a context where agricultural policy reflects the African Green Revolution’s ideals. This study aimed to determine the relationship of such credit schemes to farmers’ use of organic amendments, elucidate other factors related to organic amendment use, and comment on the relevance of this modernisation policy and its relationship to agroecology. A first research phase employed semi-structured key informant interviews. Qualitative data from these informed construction of a semi-structured questionnaire that was used in a survey of 205 farmers. Multistage sampling purposively identified five villages and selected farmers within who had joined government and donor-funded fertiliser credit schemes. The use of organic and inorganic amendments was compared to that of peers who had not taken part in such schemes. Quantitative data were used in binomial logistic regression, inferential and descriptive statistics. Qualitative data were content analysed. Credit group membership was associated with higher fertiliser application and yield, but had little influence on the extent of commercialisation. Farmers who applied organic amendments were 40% less likely to belong to a fertiliser credit scheme than not, indicating substitution between organic and inorganic fertilisers. Organic amendments were 40% more likely to be applied to compound farms than outfields and six times more likely to be applied by household heads than other household members. However, household heads also preferentially joined credit groups. This was part of an agroecological soil fertility management strategy. Household heads appreciated the soil moisture retention properties of organic amendments, and applied them to compound farms to reduce risk to their household food supply in a semi-arid environment. They simultaneously accessed fertiliser to enhance this household provisioning strategy. They appreciated the increased yields this achieved, yet complained that the repayment terms of credit schemes were unfair, fertiliser did not enhance yields in dry conditions and fertilisers were supplied late. Farmers’ use of credited fertiliser alongside their existing agroecological strategy is helpful to the extent that it raises yields, yet is problematic in that it conflicts with risk-reduction strategies based on organics. There is some potential for modernised and agroecological management paradigms to coexist. For fertiliser credit to play a role in this, schemes must use fairer repayment terms and involve a focus on simultaneous use of organic amendments.
Keywords: Agroecology, compost, Ghana, fertiliser credit, Soil Fertility Management, maize