Protecting local communities and freshwater sources from environmental pollution in Ghana

© ResouceTrust Network, 2019

Smallholder agriculture is the major land use within the south eastern Cote D’Ivoire and South Western Ghana conservation corridor. Thousands of smallholder palm oil and natural rubber farms are located close to Key Biodiversity Areas, such as the Cape Three Point forest reserve.

In August 2018, the NGO Resourcetrust Network (RTN) with funding from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), rolled out a project aimed at improving farmer livelihoods and supporting biodiversity conservation. The project titled “Supporting the implementation of best management practices in smallholder plantations” addresses smallholder agricultural operational gaps. As part of the project, the RTN team performed assessments in farms to identify and find solutions to gaps on best management practices (BMP) and ascertain the presence or absence of High Conservation Values (HCVs) and High Carbon Stocks (HCS). One of the BMP gap identified was the inappropriate disposal of agrochemical waste. Smallholder farmers had no system in place to manage the waste, with agrochemical containers left on the farms. Further, some were used for storing foods and as drinking cups. “When we got to the farms for the first time, we were shocked by the sheer numbers of agrochemical containers everywhere. We were even more surprised when we saw farmers were eating and drinking from these containers. At that moment we knew we needed to act immediately”, notes Mike Ayeh, RTN project officer.

Some of this agrochemical waste included empty weedicide containers, fertilizers and ethephon. Ethephon is a commonly used chemical stimulant, applied to rubber trees to induce latex flow during tapping. An average of three 500ml containers of ethephon are applied per hectare every month. The average size of a smallholder plantation is four hectares, and with over 1500 smallholder rubber farms, an estimated 250,000 containers of ethephon are used every year. This in addition to thousands of other agrochemical containers used on farms every year underlines the scale of pollution in these small-scale holdings. “Before Resource Trust came to our farms and told us about the environmental and health effect of the containers, we did not feel the need to find a good way of disposing them. I left them on my farm after application and used a few as drinking cups in the farm”, says Augustine Arthur, a local smallholder farmer.

RTN consulted numerous stakeholders including the local communities, agrochemical sellers, Ghana Rubber Estates Limited and Ministry of Food and Agriculture to find solutions to this public health and environmental menace. Following this engagement, it was agreed that farming communities would be provided with pesticide waste receptacles. Secondly, awareness raising activities would be carried out to make farmers aware of the impacts of these agrochemicals on the environment. Consequently, farmers agreed to willingly dispose empty containers into the provided bins, which would then be collected by recycling agencies, and make payments to farmers.

© ResouceTrust Network, 2019

The farming communities elected representatives to manage three bins located in Adelazo, Akodee and Nkwantanan communities. The communities’ response to these bins was positive, leading to the building of additional two containers in Sermowu and Cape Three Point communities. Within three weeks, Adelazo community had their bins emptied and paid GHC 200 (US$40), which would be used to mobilize youth to collect agrochemical waste containers from smallholder farms during weekends. “From the moment RTN told us about the effect of the containers, we wanted to get rid of them, so being able to do that and getting my grandson some pocket money for picking containers from my farm is an initiative am so happy to be part of”, says Kwame Ndah, a local smallholder farmer.

Following this initiative, the project team observed a drastic reduction in agrochemical containers in several farms during their visit. This intervention, and other sustainability efforts, have reoriented smallholder farmers and agriculture stakeholders to consider biodiversity and the environment in their undertakings. “Smallholder agriculture is critical to global commodity supply chains but has also been a major driver of deforestation. The project is aimed at addressing farmer operational gaps to improve livelihood and ensure ecosystem services are sustained. We are proud the outcomes are manifesting as expected”, concludes Joseph W. Osei, the RTN Director.