The weather is windy and the sky is partly cloudy, with signs of an early morning rain. Wearing his Wellington boots, Abdul-Razak Fatawu and three labourers rush on two brand new motorcycles to his ten-hectare rice field, about four kilometres from his house.
On arriving, Mr. Fatawu unstraps three boxes of herbicides from the carrier of the motorcycle and instructs the labourers: “Make sure you dress properly before opening the herbicides, and please wait for me to do the measuring.”
Mr. Fatawu explains: “Nowadays, you can’t trust these chemicals to work effectively, so I want to make sure that I follow the instructions on the containers.”
Mr. Fatawu has been a farmer since childhood. He lives in Nandugu valley in Gonja district, northern Ghana. He recalls, “Before I started growing rice, I couldn’t make enough income from other crops that I grow because they are not so profitable.”
But weeds are a major challenge for many rice farmers in northern Ghana and, if not managed, they reduce rice yields. Mr. Fatawu says it’s easier to control weeds in ploughed and irrigated rice fields, and if you have timely access to tractor services for land preparation.
ploughed and irrigated rice fields, and if you have timely access to tractor services for land preparation.
If tractor services are delayed, farmers must hurry to plant so they don’t miss the first rains. He explains: “Sometimes a farmer is forced to instruct the tractor operator to hurriedly do land preparation [and so it] is done haphazardly and this makes the weeds emerge immediately after sowing the rice.”
Although manual weeding is the best method, the most common way to manage weeds is to use herbicides because manual weeding is labour-intensive and expensive.
But, says Mr. Fatawu, chemical weed control has many disadvantages, including the risk of misapplication and a high potential of using incorrect or fake herbicides.
He explains: “A colleague farmer misapplied herbicides and the whole rice field was burnt due to use of the wrong chemical and dosage. But despite this challenge, most farmers gamble and use chemicals to control weeds, not only in rice but in other crops as well.”
According to Mr. Fatawu, managing weeds during dry conditions is very difficult, even when a farmer uses herbicides. He says that, in 2011, the rains were adequate, there were fewer weeds, and many farmers had better yields.
Joseph Tong-Kurubilis is another rice farmer in Kunbumgu District. He has 25 acres of rice, of which five are irrigated under the Bontanga Rice Irrigation Project.
Mr. Tong-Kurubilis says irrigation helps him control weeds and increase yields. He explains, “Irrigation allows me to cultivate rice twice in a year, and because of this, I am able to generate enough money to help me to take care of my family.”
He says that irrigating rice is better for managing weeds because the high water levels can be used to control the weeds. He increases the water level for some weeks after germination. The water submerges all weeds and allows the rice to grow faster. By the time he reduces the water level, the rice plants are big enough to outcompete the weeds when they re-emerge.
For his 20 non-irrigated acres, Mr. Tong-Kurubilis uses herbicides, despite their disadvantages. He says that the challenge is getting the right type of herbicide at an affordable price. He adds, “There are a lot of substandard and fake agrochemicals on the market. Most times you apply the herbicides, they don’t work.”
Maxwell Asante is a scientist at the Crop Research Institute of Ghana. He says that using water levels to control weeds in rice fields is the most efficient method, but it is expensive.
Mr. Asante explains, “It requires a lot of investment because it involves bunding the field to control the water levels, which is something small-scale farmers cannot afford.”
Bunds are small barriers or ridges that channel and store water on the field. They are often made by machines.
Mr. Asante says that if farmers can get correct and genuine herbicides, this could be the most efficient method of weed control because it is cost-effective and saves time, thereby allowing farmers to cultivate larger fields.
Mr. Fatawu says that with proper weed control, rice generates the income he needs for his family. He says: “Last year when I followed good agricultural practices such as weeding, I harvested 35 bags of rice weighing 50 kilograms each from one hectare. I sold one bag for 250 Ghana Cedis ($43 US) and from all 35 bags I made 8,750 Ghana Cedis ($1,493 US).”
This resource was produced with support from Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) as part of the Partnership for Inclusive Agricultural Transformation in Africa (PIATA).
Photo: Tapsoba Honorine (standing) and a group of women of Association des Femmes Laïques de Saponé weed a rice farm in Saponé, Burkina Faso in 2014.