Abandoning pesticides – a harsh reality

With ATMA Ghana, Umar and Alain have initiated organic farming in 3 communities in Ghana Northern Region. We started these projects because the farmers came to us saying they didn’t want to use the chemicals anymore, but didn’t know how to. “Neither do we, but let’s try” we said.
This is the 4th consecutive year we are planting crops on our lands. We are gaining experience and we are suffering severely.
It is not climate only that makes us suffer. Yes, we lost crops due to extreme drought, the rain coming 2 months later than it normally does and we have lost crops due to too much rain when it comes. The army worm has caused huge damage in Ghana, but our crops were safe due to our organic pesticides
Other farmers noticed, they also see how our land looks compared to theirs and still the step non-chemical farming is too large and too risky for most.
The (international) trade and regulations/procedures on certification of organic crops is a huge problem.
Coming back to the army worm. We had a cheap organic and local solution, Ghana government invested with World-bank money in chemical pesticides from Canada. Farmers could buy them at lower costs, but they were still more expensive than the local alternative. And the money that could be saved or used within the community is going to Canada, the World-bank and Government officials.
For a local farmer, chemical farming is cheap and convenient. You just plant your seeds – bought from a foreign company – put the chemicals en fertilizers – also from foreign companies, often as part of an agriculture aid program – on the land and you wait for harvest.
It works on the short term, but the price on the longer term is high. It is a business model for foreign aid programs and companies. No farmer can allow to lose crops, let alone think more than one season ahead.
Doing non-chemical farming we face issues related to finance. On the short term it is more expensive not to use chemicals; you need to weed and maintain the land which costs labor = money. We have a small shop where we sell organic fertilizers/pesticides, but we are not selling. The chemicals are cheaper; subsidized as developmental aid.
Secondly there is no (access to) market for non chemical farming. That is, unless you have the certification papers to ‘prove’ that you are not using chemicals. The international market requires certifications. But what farmer can afford the costs of certification?
Also most farmers do not have the literacy skills to apply for an organic certification and follow the administrative procedures and requirements. Unless you are working for a foreign owned company who has the certificates, unless you have access to the international organic market, it is slightly impossible for small scale local farmers to go organic.
We have tried to sell our crops to hotels and expats in the area, but they also want to see a certificate before they want to buy. It is a “catch 22” situation.
We are selling our crops on local markets for local prices; meaning we make a loss on each crop, every year again. We take our loss, though we do not have much, because we strongly believe in non chemical farming and we hope to survive long enough for us to bring the farming activities into Leap into Life foundation.
Not without reason, our current focus is on Sheabutter and realizing the Sheabutter production center. It is a crucial base for other future projects as Leap into Life foundation. We are moving towards a Value Based Economy with Shea and farming as key pillars. We are coming from a situation of pure, raw survival on a daily base for most in the communities we work with. Food on the table is priority 1; healthy food on the table comes second, if ever.
Stichting Leap into Life - projecten Ghana
Hopefully we’ll manage to survive long enough to keep up the land and bring the farming activities in Leap into Life.
You can learn more about Leap into Life foundation and our projects in Ghana here:
To conclude; an article about chemical farming in Ghana I wrote while there in 2016.

About Alain B. Volz

Alain Volz M.Sc. (1969) - Social Economy Entrepreneur, founder and director of ATMA - has studied Business Administration and Organizational Psychology. He started his career with Royal Dutch Ahold and has worked with IPMMC and TC&O. For 10 years Alain has been working with Twynstra Gudde Consultants and Managers as senior consultant Human Talent & Change Management. He was responsible for Competency Based Human Talent Management. He is co-founder of the Center for Human Emergence in the Netherlands (CHE), a former member of the CHE alignment circle and founding director of CHE School of Synnervation (currently Synnervate). In 2011 he held the position of partner with the RnR Group in Maarn. Alain is Strategy & Alignment Officer at Dipaliya Women's Association in Tamale, Ghana. In the Netherlands he is board member of the committee for the position of women and minorities in the Dutch Democratic Party (D66 Thema Afdeling V/M Sociale Innovatie). As such he represented D66 in the PVO; a cross party National committee consisting of represents from 6 different political parties (CDA, CU, D66, Groen Links, PvdA, VVD). The office of ATMA is located at the ImpactHub Amsterdam & the ImpactHub Accra.
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