Improving fallow productivity in the forest and forest-savanna transition of Ghana : a socio-economic analysis of livelihoods and technologies

Electronic versions


  • Beatrice Darko Obiri

    Research areas

  • PhD, School of Environment, Natural Resources and Geography


Rotational bush fallowing, the dominant agricultural land-use practice in Ghana is no longer sustainable as fallow periods have declined from over 10 to five or less years mainly due to increased population pressure on land, along with inter alia drought and rampant wild fires. Managed fallows have in recent times been useful in improving short fallow productivity in many parts of the tropics including Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). However, adoption of agricultural innovation by smallholders has often been poor. This is attributed to the inappropriateness of sound scientific breakthroughs to the complex socio-cultural and economic conditions that characterize rural livelihoods in the SSA. This study forms part of a bigger project that tested and developed managed fallow technologies in a participatory manner in three villages, Gogoikrom, Subriso III and Yabraso in the Atwima, Tano and Wenchi Districts of Ghana respectively. It involves a socio-economic analysis of livelihoods of farmers and their involvement in the development of the technologies to complement bio-physical aspects to ensure that technologies developed suit the socio-cultural, tenurial and economic circumstances of farmers and are adoptable by the farmers. PRA tools, mainly key informant, group and semi-structured interviews as well as structured questionnaire interviews of 242 households, were employed in collecting data to characterize the livelihoods of the people in the study villages. This guided the identification of suitable fallow improvement interventions and possible domains for their uptake. The data were analyzed descriptively and complemented with a regression analysis and analysis of variance to describe the infra and inter-village similarities and differences. Input-output data on crop, livestock and off farm enterprises were collected and analyzed to estimate farmers' financial resource capacity. Primary and secondary economic data on the technologies were gathered and analyzed through ex-ante cost benefit analysis to assess the profitability of the technologies. A chi-squared analysis was carried out to identify the determinants of adoption of the technologies. Community perceptions of the performance of the technologies and adoption potential were assessed and verified with a survey of 99 non-participating farmers. Farmer indicators were developed for evaluating the performance and the design of the experiments by participating farmers. Technology expansion and diffusion of knowledge gained by the experimenters were also assessed. The study area is characterized by two main classes of farmers, natives (indigenous landowners) and settlers (mainly tenants) whose livelihoods rely largely on the management of natural fallow rotations for the cultivation of a range of crops, i. e. maize, plantain, rice and cocoa for Gogoikrom; maize, plantain, cassava, groundnuts, tomato and pepper for Subriso; and maize, yam, groundnuts and pepper for Yabraso. However, fallow periods have declined and numerous associated problems of which poor soils, high weed pressure, poor yields and low farm incomes are paramount. Four interventions, namely: maize-legume relay suitable for all three districts; plantain-legume for Atwima and Tano; and cocoa-shade tree for Atwima and planted tree fallow for Wenchi were identified for on-farm experimentation after a series of ranking and discussion of interventions proposed at a stakeholder workshop to address the short fallow constraints. The interventions were experimented with farmers over two seasons. Farmers' assessment of the technologies over the two seasons revealed that the weed suppression and moisture conservation or retention potential of the maize-legume relay had been realized, V while they anticipated improved maize yields and a reduction in labour for land preparation in subsequent years. The major limitation to the use of this technology identified during a monitoring process was labour for weeding before and after relaying the legume to facilitate growth and spread. The labour constraint for relaying the legume can be addressed by targeting this activity to coincide with the first or second weeding as appropriate to the fanner. The weeding after the legume relay is a necessity where weed pressure is high as this may retard legume biomass productivity. The potential effects of the plantain-legume, cocoa-shade tree and planted tree fallow are likely to be realized in the long-term. However, farmers were hopeful that these technologies would address their respective targeted problems based on their judgments of the performance of the technologies at the time. The ex-ante economic assessment of the farmer experiments yielded higher gross margins, returns to labour, B/C ratios, NPV, LEV and IRR than the alternative options in the absence of the technologies but were sensitive to reductions in prices and yields. However, tenure, age and gender differences may be important in technology adoption. Although all the main community groupings participated in technology development it was observed that male tenants and landowners are potential adopters of the most preferred cocoa-shade tree technology in Gogoikrom-Atwima while in Subriso-Tano, middle-old aged, landowner men are potential adopters of the maize-legume relay and plantain-legume technologies. Native landowners including women are the potential adopters of the maize-legume and planted tree fallow technologies in Yabraso-Wenchi. The participatory technology development process was documented. It was observed that while the process was interactive, enlightening both farmers and scientists, farmers need to be encouraged to take greater control to enhance innovativeness and reduce research cost. Improving fallow productivity should be a national concern, as it has a wider implication on the livelihoods of rural people and that of the economy of the country. The majority of the producers that are directly involved in crop production may be tenants who are unlikely to improve soil productivity due to tenure restrictions. Government policies that encourage landowners to adopt fallow improvement technologies are required. Policies encouraging education, training or extension of improved fallow techniques are useful. Likewise, participatory policy research for improving traditional tenure systems to encourage sustainable land improvement need consideration. Policies that ensure stability in prices of agricultural commodities will improve farm income gained from improved fallow productivity and encourage the adoption of fallow techniques.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Bangor University
  • Geoff Bright (Supervisor)
Thesis sponsors
  • Natural Resources Systems Programme of the Department for International Development (DFID) UK
Award dateJan 2003