Opinions of Fri, 2 Jan 20041

Water bodies under threat from vegetable farmers

A GNA Feature by Edmund Quaynor

Koforidua, Dec. 31, GNA - The rains have stopped. Some years back, this was the time that farming activities were at their lowest ebb as farmers waited for the drying up of their grains to be harvested while those who had planted perennial crops weeded under them to protect them against bushfires.

However, in recent times, the end of the rains has become the most active time for vegetable growers in the Southern half of the country, especially in the Eastern Region. Most of these farmers now move into the river valleys and the beds of small streams, which serve as the sources of the big rivers, to do their farming.

In December and January the flow of water in most streams is low thereby enabling the vegetable farmers to farm on the fertile sediments left at banks.

Due to the availability of water during the dry season farmers cultivate a variety of vegetables for the market.

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Dry season gardening from January to April is very lucrative as the middle-women struggle for the few vegetables available and compete by offering higher prices to the farmers.

Many farmers are, therefore, attracted into the dangerous practice of farming in some instances on riverbeds.

Though the good prices for vegetables might be a welcome development, unless care is taken there might be catastrophic consequences for water bodies.

A visit to Akwapim North, Suhum/Kraboah/Coaltar and the West Akim Districts in the Eastern Region by the GNA revealed that farming in the valleys and riverbeds had increased sedimentation and some of the streams have been 'killed' and no water flows in them even during the rainy season. This calls for immediate steps to be taken to save the affected streams.

Vegetable farming also requires frequent spraying of agricultural chemicals and these pollute the water bodies.

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Most of the chemicals are known to be harmful to both humans and other living things including fishes, birds and animals that depend on the streams.

Some of the affected streams and rivers are the tributaries for some big rivers that had been dammed to serve as the sources of drinking water for urban communities in the country.

Therefore, if this negative development is not checked soon, there could be a situation whereby the sources of water for those streams and rivers could dry up and the water in many dams would start reducing and the country could have the problem of drying dams for potable water and for agriculture.

Sometime ago, there was a strong advocacy and public education in the mass media to advise farmers against farming close to the banks of rivers and streams to avoid silting.

Unfortunately the education seemed to have ceased and the farmers are not only farming close to the banks, indeed some have even moved right into the riverbeds, yet nobody is talking about it as if there is no more danger posed by the practice.

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Rivers like Kwamo in Akwapim North District, which on several occasions in the past had over-flowed its banks during the rainy season that necessitated the evacuation of the people staying in its flood plains, now barely flows. Gradually, its valley is being turned into a plantain plantation.

Efforts to stop the practice of farming too close to water bodies would need not only the passage of laws but continuous public education and careful study of the situation for appropriate solution. The efforts to stop this harmful practice should go along with the mass development of irrigation farming in the Region.

This calls for a departure from the idea of expensive large-scale irrigation systems, which rely on dammed rivers with its socio-ecological problems and high costs.

The emphasis should be on the development of small-scale irrigation systems that depend on appropriate hand-dug wells that might be fitted with small pumping machines that a group of farmers could acquire and pay back within a year or two.

It is only such a package that could encourage the vegetable farmers, who have been lured by good money to descend into the valleys, to adopt the more appropriate alternative and help save the water bodies.

It is important to recognize that while the cultivation of dry season vegetables is important for the economy, it is also important to protect the water bodies.

Columnist: GNA

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