Monday, January 20, 2014

Read my New Book on Indigenous Agricultural Adaptations to Climate Change in Ghana

I have e-published a book based on my research on indigenous adaptations to climate change in rural Ghanaian farming communities.

You can find it here.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Why Ghana Needs to Save Its Forests and Become a Leader in Environmental Conservation

Why Ghana Needs to Save Its Forests and Become a Leader in Environmental Conservation

By Douglas La Rose

In 2007, I was an American Peace Corps Volunteer in Ghana working with the government of Ghana on the “Greening Ghana Initiative.” As part of Ghana’s 50th anniversary celebrations, the government of Ghana mobilized environmental NGOs and farmers from all around Ghana to plant seedlings along roadsides, in the middle of farms, and in busy marketplaces. Many people were inspired by the message that the program was getting across - that we need to plant more trees and cut down less. The benefits of planting trees and keeping forests intact far outweigh the benefits of cutting down forests and continuing on the same path Ghana has been following. But five years later, the discussion of the environment has all but left the national conversation. The big questions are: why did we stop talking about the environment in Ghana?, and why is the issue of the environment important for the nation of Ghana to consider?

Ghana, as we all know, is the beacon of democracy in Africa. There have been five elections that have taken place over the past twenty years that have all gone relatively smoothly. The resulting political stability in Ghana has attracted foreign investment and inspired the economy to grow at rates faster than any other country in the world. While Ghana holds a reputation for having one of the most vibrant democracies in the world, it lags far behind on another measurement of success: environmental conservation and natural resource management. What is so surprising about this is that these two measures of success are interdependent. Ghana cannot continue to have a vibrant democracy if the agricultural – including cocoa production – sector collapses. Democracy and food security need each other to survive. At the heart of this crisis are Ghana’s forests and the timber industry.

As a foreign investor in Ghana who has a sustainable agroforestry project in the Volta Region, I am disturbed every time I see a truck strapped with native logs tearing down the road in a cloud of dust. I see the forests of Ghana literally disappearing before my eyes. With every native tree that gets cut down, the integrity of Ghana’s ecosystems becomes weaker and weaker. The forest belt of Ghana plays an important role in the microclimates of Ghana and regulates the rainfall patterns while producing oxygen and absorbing carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that causes climate change. Though the science behind all this is quite complicated, there is one important point to be taken away from it: without its thick forests, Ghana will be put in a situation where it cannot produce enough food to sustain itself. The rest of the world will suffer as well because of the cumulative impacts of deforestation and climate change, and that is where Ghana can have a huge impact. If Ghana puts in place legislation to preserve its forests, the rest of the world will see Ghana not only as a vibrant democracy, but also as a vibrant democracy that is sustainable and environmentally conscious.

Ghana needs to stop cutting down its native forests. Other countries, including the United States, have been able to curb deforestation by planting woodlots on deforested lands and sustainably harvesting timber from them. Of course, this cannot be done overnight. Ghana should create an eight-year plan that helps transition the timber industry from logging forests to logging woodlots. The Ministry of Forestry could train timber contractors how to develop woodlots that they could harvest in less than eight years. After eight years, a moratorium would be placed on the logging of Ghana’s rainforests and afforestation efforts could help restore some of Ghana’s damaged ecosystems. In the end, the timber industry would remain intact and even produce more revenue than they currently do. By planting woodlots and curbing deforestation, the forests of Ghana would absorb carbon dioxide and keep microclimates in the necessary health to sustain farming. Woodlots would also work to absorb carbon dioxide and could be harvested on a sustainable basis, making the operation effectively carbon neutral.

Ghana doesn’t just have to be a beacon for democracy, it can also be a beacon for environmental conservation and the battle against climate change.

Monday, May 27, 2013

La Rose Agroforestry Update

Starting a business is notoriously difficult and undeniably risky. Some businesses – restaurants, bars, hotels, just to name a few – are avoided because of their infamous record of seemingly inevitable failure. But farming perhaps takes the top position for “bad business ideas” in the popular imagination. All of the external factors – weather, wavering demand, the short shelf-life of produce – make farming seem like a preposterous proposition.

When I first embarked on my personal farming journey more than two years ago, I was given a lot of feedback about my decision. First of all, farming has a reputation of being a (at best) “breaking even” kind of business. The popular press talks about farmers staying afloat through subsidies and kick-backs. In Ghana, where I farm, no such mechanisms are in place to buffer a farmer from economic disaster. Aside from subsidized fertilizers, agro-chemicals, and hard-to-get seedlings, the government doesn’t do much to make sure a farmer will be protected in times of crisis. And that’s only if you are farming a cash crop that the government can reap some revenue from. 

But if farming is done well and envisioned as a long-term activity, it can be very enriching. I don’t mean this just economically, but also spiritually and socially. To work with other farmers is to work with the craftsmen of our contemporary society. The small-scale farmer is the origin of the "modern" world. The native Americans who domesticated maize in Meso-America, the Mesopotamians who domesticated various edible grasses in the fertile crescent, the West Africans who domesticated yams and oil palms, the south Pacific islanders who domesticated taro root – these were all small-scale farmers who selected better and more nourishing varieties of crops until towns and cities grew and populations expanded. Farmers created this world that we live in. To work with them has been the most enlightening and inspiring experience of my life.

But I don’t want to digress too much here. I want to provide an update on the state of La Rose Agroforestry here in the Volta Region of Ghana.

In mid-2011, La Rose Agroforestry started with eight acres of land in Guaman-Odumase. We then went on to purchase 20 more acres of land in Guaman-Oqui Kator and Atakrom. As of now, all 28 acres of that land is under cultivation with cocoa, plantains, ginger, and bananas. We also have another 15 acre plot of land that remains fallow in the hills of Ketse-Nkwanta along the border with Togo.

The 28 acres of land under production, in terms of crops, breaks down like this:

Cocoa: 12,200 saplings (most of which are nearing their first yielding period)
Plantains: 10,000 corms (each corm containing three or four “shoots” that will yield one head of plantains each)
Bananas: 2,200 corms (see above)
Palm Trees: 70 (to be uprooted and tapped for palm wine, and then replaced with cocoa and plantains)
Ginger: 3 acres, planted with over 27 kilograms of rhizome cuttings

Intercropped among these five major crops, we also have taro root, cassava, papaya, mango, and kola trees.

So far, we are producing revenues of around $2000 per month in plantain sales. We also get a further $200-$300 from selling bananas. Our expected revenue for our first year of cocoa sales (probably one year from now) will be about $15,000. That number will increase as the trees become more productive. Ginger has a return value of %500, so the $1500 we invested should yield about $7500 within seven or eight months.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

How to Protect Yourself From Crop Thieves *WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES*

Have an itch to crop raid? Want to steal someone's bananas or plantains? Want to profit off of someone's hard work by simply just taking their produce? Think twice.

West Africa is famous for its traditional religion and rites. Togo and Benin in particular are famous for being the "heartland" of voodoo (as it is called in the Americas) and in Africa the heartland of "juju." When I informed my farm hands and supervisors that I would be leaving for six months, right as the major plantain harvests are starting to come to fruition, they all immediately instructed me to perform the necessary rites to secure my land and scare away/punish thieves.

So at 6 A.M this morning I drove my motorcycle on a narrow and dusty path to a mud-brick house on the outskirts of Attakrom. One of my farm hands, Francis, met me on the way and told me how to get there. He had a black polythene bag with him and sat on the back of my bike pointing at diversions in the path here and there. When we pulled up in front of the house, a middle-aged man emerged from behind a curtain and asked his daughter to bring us a bench. His son and some friends explained to me in Ewe that they had heard I needed protection for my farm when I was gone. When I answered "yes," they brought out a jerry can of palm wine and poured a libation invoking the ancestors to mark the beginning of the rite.

I had been told a few days before that I would need a few "things" for the rite. The list was pretty atypical: a dog's head, a small black goat, a baby chicken, a full grown chicken, a machete that has been worked down to its stub, a bottle of gin, black cloth, red cloth, and some black and red yarn. Luckily, all of these things are easy to come across in Ghana.

I was told that the rite they were going to perform would protect my farm from thieves and people who wanted to dispute land sales. When I asked them how this protection worked, I heard various things. One example was a story about someone entering a farm and digging up some cassava. As he hurried away from the farm, his body seized and he became paralyzed - stuck on the farm and unable to move. The next morning, when the farm owner came to do some weeding, they found the man laying on the ground with a bag full of stolen cassava and panic in his eyes. In order to have the spell broken, the thief had to be carried to the jujuman and agree to pay a hefty fine before the curse was removed. Other examples were far less gentle on the thieves: getting serious diarrhea, going insane, being attacked during the night by angry spirits, or being attacked by snakes.

Yeah, think twice.

Even though I am very skeptical about such things, I decided that at least it would send a clear message to anyone who might think about stealing from my farm. But as the rite was being performed, the jujuman told me to pick up the chicken and tell the gods what I wanted to be accomplished through this ritual. So yes, at one point on this 2nd of January 2013 I could have been seen talking to a chicken. The odd thing was that the chicken seemed to be listening - looking me squarely in the eyes and not shrieking as it had been doing moments before. After I finished telling the chicken what I wanted to be done, the jujuman rang a bell and the chicken went limp and lifeless on the floor of the house. How the hell did that happen?

The follow-up was even more spectacular. The small black goat had its throat cut and its blood splattered over the sacrificial items. The dog's head was picked clean and its skull placed at the center of the house.More blood was poured on top of the dog’s skull and the old worn-out machete. The jujuman’s wife threw some cowrie shells and announced that the ritual was successful and that no crop raiders could be expected anytime soon and that tomorrow I should come and ingest the fried and ground remains of all the ritual items.

So if you’re in Ghana, think twice before entering a La Rose Agroforestry Limited plot and helping yourself to some bananas!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The irrigation system that was installed last year has undergone a lot stress "in the bush." It seems that it has become a valued meal for bush animals - grasscutters, antelopes, and rats. Here are some pictures of the mayhem:

A chewed pipe along the lateral.

The lateral line coming off the main line.

Chewed pipe.

Chewed pipe along the pipe reducer (2" to 1 3/4")

The well has filled with sediment and is currently around 9 feet deep.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Progress at Three Different Plots

I want to share some pictures that display the nature and progress of the different plots I am cultivating. The first plot is on the road to Guaman-Odumase and is a three and a half acre cocoa, plantain, banana, and palm oil agroforestry plot. This plot is convenient because of the road access, and will be great for harvesting and transporting:

The main road between Atakrom and Guaman-Odumase bisects this plot.

This is a shooting plantain corm.

There are also about 150 oil palms that are about 1 1/2 years old and were purchased with the plot

The second plot is at Guaman-Odumase and is four acres. It is part of a larger eight acre purchase but I will post pictures of that plot once it is weeded. This plot is intercropped with cocoa, plantains, bananas, some oil palms, and some taro root.

The plantains and cocoa saplings were alternately planted every five feet. The plantains will grow to form a canopy by the end this rainy season.

This part of the farm is already developing a healthy canopy.

It is difficult to capture the vastness of four acres of land in a photograph, but this is a photo from the hill-top (bordering the forest reserve) and continuing to the other boundary of the farm. The plot has been weeded up to the cottage but the entire four acres is planted.

This is a healthy cocoa sapling and plantain. The plantain will grow four or five feet within the next month.

This photograph gives you a better idea of how the rows look. Plantain, cocoa, plantain, cocoa, etc.

The third plot shown here was recently purchased and contains a matured palm oil plantation. There are about 300 palm trees. The rest has been planted with plantains and will be planted with cocoa in the next two weeks:
Plantain trees

This plot is also bisected by an access road.

This is the boundary of the palm plantation. These trees are probably four or five years old and are producing substantial amounts of palm nuts.

This is the inside of the palm plantation. Cocoa seedlings will be planted between the trees and, once they reach maturity, the palms will be uprooted and tapped for palm liquor.

These trees were recently harvested, but this tree is producing palm nuts and will be harvested soon.

Cocoa Saplings and Ammonia Sulfate

I've been regularly supplementing the soil on my plots with NPK, but I'm also giving my cocoa saplings a good growth spurt through the application of ammonia sulfate.

This seedling was given a half matchbox of ammonia sulfate and photographed for the first time on 5/3/2012 (Figure 1) and the second picture was taken on 5/12/2012 (Figure 2). Note that two different cameras were used, and that explains the color difference:

Figure 1

Figure 2

This seedling was given a full matchbox of ammonia sulfate for the first time on 5/3/2012 (Figure 3) and the second picture was taken on 5/12/2012 (Figure 4):

Figure 3

Figure 4

If you compare the two, it is quite easy to see that the full matchbox of ammonia sulfate has a far more substantial impact than the half matchbox. This experiment was necessary, though, because ammonia sulfate can kill saplings if it is not given in the correct amounts. From here on out, its matchboxes all the way down!