ACCRA, Ghana — After several decades of limited rice production in Ghana, a new technology is helping to boost the country’s rice harvests.
Urea Deep Placement (UDP) has helped increase rice farmers’ yields by as much as 300 percent and limited the negative impacts of rice farming on the environment, according to the U.S. Agency for International Aid and Development (USAID). The fertilizer application technology has also provided rural Ghanaian women with more job opportunities and independence.
UDP was introduced to farmers in Ghana through USAID’s Feed the Future initiative, which aims to increase agricultural productivity, empower female farmers and generate opportunities for economic growth in developing countries.
Although rice is a key source of food and income for much of Ghana, cheap rice imports — a result of Western subsidies — have hindered the growth of Ghana’s domestic industry since the 1980s. Farmers have struggled to improve their rice yields because the Ghanaian government has been unwilling to subsidize investments in more modern machinery‚ such as rice mills and larger plots of land.
But UDP has made the process of growing rice more efficient and productive in many parts of Ghana.
The new method involves the placement of bead-sized urea fertilizer briquettes into the soil near each plant. Unlike traditional practices in which farmers randomly scatter fertilizer pellets across rice paddies, often contributing to weed growth, the use of urea briquettes maximizes nutrient uptake by crops.
UDP also reduces the potential of fertilizer’s contaminating water sources. According to the International Fertilizer Development Center, when farmers deposit urea across their flooded rice fields, a large amount of the nitrogen from the fertilizer is lost through runoff and atmospheric evaporation. The nitrogen can also convert into nitrates, which can move around in the soil and pollute groundwater.
With UDP, however, the majority of the urea fertilizer remains as ammonium–which is less mobile than nitrates–once it is placed deep into the soil near each plant. More nitrogen is therefore available to each crop and less likely to evaporate or seep into water sources.
USAID has also relied on the new farming technique to help women access more opportunities and increase their incomes.
When USAID introduced UDP to rural farmers, many women learned about the new farming technique and have since become more involved in rice production. In the remote region of Northern Ghana near the Bontanga Reservoir, 144 female farmers now use UDP to provide more food for their families or to turn a profit.
The success of UDP is unique to not just Ghana. Several other African states, including Nigeria, Madagascar, Senegal and Rwanda have seen rice harvests increase as a result of farmers’ use of UDP, according to the International Fertilizer Development Center.
The increase in rice yields as a result of using UDP may be just the beginning of greater rice production in Ghana.
Despite Ghana’s dependence on rice imports, there have been several state-led initiatives to develop the rice production in Ghana, according to Ghana Web.
With the help of Japan, the government launched the Project for Sustainable Development Rain-Fed Rice Production, which is intended to increase local production and improve the economic conditions of small-scale farmers. Foreign companies, such as Global Agri-Development Company, have also been able to invest more in Ghana’s rice farms.
– Sam Turken
Photo: Public Domain Images