Ghana — Statistics show 49 out of the 138 districts in Ghana ARE currently in the desert belt, which poses a threat to the national development.
Bearing in mind the importance and the benefits of land as a natural resource for present and future generations, women in northwest Ghana have successively regenerated about 1,000 acres of barren land for agriculture and other purposes.
The women, members of the Kanpour Women Association (KWA) have made it their responsibility to regenerate barren land in Kanpour in the Lawra district and its adjoining communities in the Upper West Region.
As part of the efforts of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to combat desertification in Ghana, KWA initiated the project about five years ago aimed at preventing desertification in the area and to provide environmental management and sustainable livelihoods for the people in the area.
Desertification is the result of degradation of land in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas usually caused by human activities such as bushfires, poor farming practices, pollution, over grazing, among other malpractices, which leads to the destruction of the land.
It is a gradual process of the loss of soil productivity and the thinning of the vegetative cover as a result of human activities and climatic variations such as prolonged droughts and floods
Ghana is a signatory to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and, as part of the effort to address the challenge, the country came out with the National Action Program ( NAP ) years ago.
The NAP sought to emphasize environmentally sound sustainable integrated local development programs for drought prone semi-arid and arid areas, based on participatory mechanisms and on integration of strategies for poverty alleviation and other sector programs including forestry, agriculture, health, industry and water supply into efforts to combat the effects of drought.
Apart from these measures put in place by the government in combating desertification in Ghana , the factors leading to desertification is still prevailing in the country.
According to an EPA report on desertification in 2007, about 35 percent of the total land area in the West African was under the threat of desertification and the phenomena had being tagged as one of the major causes of infertility of soil, posing increasing danger to the livelihood of people and all sectors of the economy.
Statistics released by the EPA showed that 49 out of the 138 districts in Ghana were currently in the desert belt, a situation which posed a threat to the national development.
Even worse, EPA said, desertification was creeping in at an estimation area of some 20,000 hectares per year, with the corresponding destruction of farmlands and livelihoods.
Madam Grace Beliebe, Secretary of the Women Association, told the media that the community members observed that their livelihood and their existence was being threatened by desertification five years ago.
We got scared because our crops were not yielding anymore, water was scarce and we did not know the reason why. A radio news item one evening informed us that desertification had caught up with some part of the country. Our area was mentioned as one of those communities, she said.
The women came together and invited a retired agricultural technical officer in the area to deliberate and find answers to the challenge which was staring at them in the face and threatening their continual existence. The officer advised them to go and talk with the EPA officers in Wa, capital of the Upper West Region.
She noted that with the effective and efficient collaboration with EPA, the desert land had being revitalized and had brought the community lots of overwhelming benefits.
Citing some of the steps towards achieving that milestone, she added that the members of the group who were mainly farmers were taken through a capacity building training and were also equipped with knowledge on various species of trees and the methods to grow them to replace the lost ones.
The women were also trained on best farming techniques and how to prepare local fertilizer with crop residue and cow dump for soil fertilization at the beginning of the farming season.
We were schooled on how to do mix cropping to enhance soil fertility, stone lining to prevent erosion and anti burning strategies, she said.
Madam Beliebe indicated that under the project, fire stewards were trained and were tasked to move from community to community to train the inhabitants on how to prevent fire outbreaks which helped them put off any form of fire in the area.
During our first training, we were informed about some of the causes of desertification such as indiscriminate bush burning, as a result of that, we resolved not burn anyhow and instituted a regulation of the payment of 10 cedis (about 6.66 dollars) as a fine for caught burning indiscriminately, she said.
Mr Eric Kaliebu, Chairman of the association, informed the media that the communities had benefited immensely by way of livelihood improvement, promoting socio-economic development and had become environmental icons which other communities look up to.
Recounting some of the gains the project had recorded, he said farmers in the area presently cultivate crops including yam, millet, groundnut, guinea corn, okro, cocoayam, maize, plantain, cassava due to the improved nature of the soil.
Mr Kaliebu said the community had become attractive to other people in the area due to its abundant natural fruit and herbal plant like the black and yellow berry, ebony, shear, dawadawa and moringa.
He also hinted that the environmental friendly and the fertility nature of soil in communities had curb the high spate of migration of the youth in the village to the south and had rather attracted other people to settle the community.
Mr Asher Nkegbe, Upper West Regional Director of the Environmental Protection Agency, said one of the major causes of land degradation was bush fire which was dominant in the northern.
In its quest to curb bush burning and revitalized land in the region, the agency collaborated with traditional leaders and the district assembly and community environmental group to support and take responsibility of protecting their environment since it was the source of their livelihood.
We have encouraged herbal practitioners who command a lot of respect to establish 216 herbal gardens and enrolled and educated the Tindans (Chief) on the need to preserve the environment thereby fighting desertification to serve both the present posterity, he said.
Currently, Mr Nkegbe disclosed, about 22 communities had passed a regulation of no burning whiles other communities who could not do without burning had establish a community protected area where activities like cutting of trees, burning and farming was not permitted.
The Kanpour community was one of the many successes achieved by the EPA in regenerating project in the region which might be the only alternative considering the level of land degradation.
With the socio-economic impart realized in the communities, many other communities in the nearby districts expressed their interest and the project had been replicated.
The issue of indiscriminate bush burning in the other parts of the country could be curtailed if communities were educated on the need to preserve the environment and be guided to undertake initiatives towards conservation.