Secure and efficient irrigation in rural northern Ghana

Local farmers helping with an irrigation experiment. Installed is a soil moisture sensor (white pvc) and a wireless transmitter (on copper pole) that transmits the measurements to a base logger.

Local farmers helping with an irrigation experiment.  Installed is a soil moisture sensor (white pvc) and a wireless transmitter (on copper pole) that transmits the measurements to a base logger.

By Jessica Scates and Xander Percy

Published January 1, 2019

Almost half of Ghana’s labor force are farmers. The crops they grow – cocoa, cassava, yams, bananas, and corn – are largely dependent on rain-fed water sources. With a dry season that typically lasts seven to eight months, agricultural productivity has rapidly declined and farmers face chronic seasonal unemployment, fruitless seasonal migration to urban regions, and food insecurity. Many leave their farms to seek jobs in urban regions.

“Having seen the material conditions of poverty and water insecurity in Ghana, I now have a more grounded understanding of the importance of useful and accessible agricultural innovations.”
Xander Percy, Undergraduate Geology Student

A team led by Dr. Erasmus Oware, assistant professor of geology at UB, along with students and professors from the University for Development Studies in Ghana, farmers and farm workers, and the Ghana Geologic Survey Authority, seek to improve dry-season farming, reduce seasonal unemployment, and increase food security. 

With funding from the Community for Global Health Equity, I collaborated with Dr. Oware to understand how researchers can help farmers to utilize irrigation technology more efficiently and thereby increase dry-season farming and food security. In Ghana, we utilized surveys and tests like hydraulic infiltration monitoring, soil texture analysis, and electromagnetic conductivity soil mapping, hypothesizing that if farmers have access to this information, their dry-season irrigation efficiency and availability might increase. Our team’s objective was to gather data to construct a broad-based soil database with irrigation scheduling recommendations for farmers in the region.

This experience taught me how farming in Ghana and in the United States can lead to financial insecurity – especially for smallholder farmers. Having seen the material conditions of poverty and water insecurity in Ghana, I now have a more grounded understanding of the importance of useful and accessible agricultural innovations. My experience also reinforced my desire to pursue studies at the interface of agriculture and geophysics. This trip and the opportunity to work with Ghanaian partners has cemented my desire to build public understanding around the practices that increase agricultural productivity and improve food and water security.