My attention was drawn to a news item aired on the radio on the 2nd of December, 2015 about an issue which sounded very alarming to the Ghanaian Agricultural Sector and the ecosystem as a whole.
In an article first reported by the Ghana News Agency; rice farmers in and around Ho, the Volta Regional Capital were lamenting over “poor rice seed” supplied to them under the Rice Sector Support Project of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture. According to the farmers, the seed was very poor and contaminated. The main issues raised were that:
1. The seed was made up of different varieties of rice; some of low economic value
2. The grains even had some wheat included
3. The seed was mixed with weeds of types never before seen in that area
4. Loss of important income due to mix of seed and weeds
Implications for farmers and the environment
A project that was supposed to help cultivate high yielding commercially important rice turned to be a curse in disguise as farmers were left with nothing. The loss of revenue and income after tilling, fertilizing and weeding among other things cannot be quantified if all that was gained from it was rice and weeds that cannot yield any revenue. Environmentally, the introduction of foreign weeds and wheat of all things in the seed supplied is very worrying. When a plant or animal is introduced into a new, non-native environment, it is known as an exotic species. Exotic species often tend to have the capacity to quickly propagate and overrun their new locations due to the likelihood that their natural predators may not be present to keep their populations in check. In the absence of local predators, or effective knowledge by the farmers and officers on how best to tackle them, they often colonise large swathes of land and even waterways in some cases. In this era of climate change and mutations; it is a very risky business introducing new species into areas without any proper measures in place for containment. Farmers lost a lot of revenue because sections of their arable land had been taken over completely by these plants
Who was given the contract to supply the inferior seed? Where was it obtained from; and what was the country of origin? What has been done to remedy the situation? Our Universities, especially the University of Ghana readily come to mind. Could the seed not have been sourced from the various Agricultural Research Stations available in Ghana which have carried out painstaking research into the cereals and other plants? These institutions have developed high quality, fragrant rice varieties that are resistant to a lot of stressors and are readily available. What is the relevance of painstaking research by dedicated scientists if the Government is not ready to make use of what is locally available? In the unfortunate event that the weeds become established in our lands; what measures are in place to contain their spread? These are the few questions we need answers to, even as we hope this unfortunate incident is no more repeated.
Jemimah Etornam Kassah is a keen environmentalist on issues of biodiversity and conservation. Currently a PhD student in Fisheries and Aquatic Science at the University of Cape-Coast, she will be found writing poetry, reading history books or cooking in her spare time. She is married with a daughter.
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