UBC Faculty Research and Publications

African Forest-Fringe Farmers Benefit from Modern Farming Practices despite High Environmental Impacts Acheampong, Emmanuel Opoku; Sloan, Sean; Sayer, Jeffrey; Macgregor, Colin J.


Agricultural expansion has led to a significant loss of habitat and biodiversity in Ghana and throughout West Africa and the tropics generally. Most farmers adopt both organic and inorganic inputs to boost production, with the potential to slow agricultural expansion, but with relatively little consideration of related environmental impacts. In Ghana, where high-input modern farming is rapidly overtaking traditional organic agricultural practices, we examined five stakeholder groups in regard to their perceptions of the environmental, economic, and social costs and benefits of modern, mixed-input, and traditional farming systems. The stakeholder groups included farmers adopting different agricultural practices, as well as governmental and non-governmental natural resource managers. Our findings indicate that the overall perceived costs of modern farming, attributable to large quantities of inorganic inputs, are higher than the overall perceived benefits. Farmers are, however, still motivated to practice modern farming because of perceived higher returns on investment, regardless of environmental impacts, which they tend to discount. Traditional farmers do not use inorganic inputs and instead rely on swidden ‘slash-and-burn’ practices, resulting in declining productivity and soil fertility over time. Since traditional farmers are ultimately forced to encroach into nearby forests to maintain productivity, the perceived environmental sustainability of such farming systems is also limited. Mixed-input farming is not significantly different from modern farming with respect to its perceived environmental and economic traits, because it incorporates agro-chemicals alongside organic practices. Stakeholders’ perceptions and the apparent environmental outcomes of different farming systems suggest that reducing the use of inorganic inputs and promoting the adoption of organic inputs could minimise the negative impacts of agro-chemicals on the forest environment without necessarily compromising productivity. Campaigns to promote low-input or organic agriculture on environmental grounds in West Africa may falter if they fail to recognise farmers’ relatively favourable perceptions of the environmental implications of modern farming practices.

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