Composting to Improve Degradable Lands towards Sustainable Land Management and Climate Change Adaptation in Nabdam and Talensi Districts of the Upper East Region of Ghana.

Isaac Odoi Danquah

Water Resources Engineer, Goldrain Mountain Company Limited, Koforidua, Eastern Region – Ghana.



Degradation of farmlands in the Upper East Region of Ghana has become a great menace to food security as the year proceeds. This results in fertile lands being depleted of all organic matter and nutrients that support plant growth. The practice of farming around households built in lands is seriously practiced hence continuous cropping on the same land each year. Various methods of land reclamation such as afforestation are still being practiced but not yielding the needed results due to continuous cropping over the same land year in year out. This paper sorts to discuss one specific composting method adopted within seven communities of the UER to obtain compost materials for plant growth. A number of composting methods is practiced by farmers within these communities to improve the fertility of their lands. Some of the methods employed includes the pit method, the pile method, composting barrels, sheet composting, compost piled in a structure etc. The last technique is piloted during the study to obtain the nutrients and assess its potential in improving the soil fertility. This specific method explains the composting process and how the finest compost material is obtained for application on farmlands. Precipitations needed for decomposition of carbonated and nitrogenous materials on farmlands are of lesser quantities. This keeps the soil almost dry always resulting in vast areas of degradable lands and low crop yields each season. Research findings indicates that, fine rich black compost of 97% nutrients potency was obtained to improve soil fertility. When used on farmlands, it increased yields by 90% as compared to previous years as indicated by the farmers of around 80%. Practicing this composting technique has increased interest in composting by farmers by 75% in the seven piloted communities within the Nabdam and Talensi district of the Upper East region of Ghana.

Key WordsClimate Change, Compost, Drought, land Degradation, infertility, farmlands, Upper East Region (UER).



1          INTRODUCTION 

Compost is partially decomposed organic material which upon adding to farmlands improves both the physical structure and fertility of the soil (Garber, 1994). Nutrients such as Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K) are required by the soil in large amounts and should be applied in a concentration form such as 10:10:10 fertilizer for maximum yields. Decomposition of organic materials needs microorganisms such as fungi and bacteria and smaller animals such as earthworms, nematodes and beetles. These microorganisms eat the organic matter and produce humus. A soil fertility test is usually used to evaluate the nutrients supplying power of soils. Soil tests combined with crop nutrients requirement forms the basis for nutrients recommendations. Recommendations guides for vegetables, tree fruits, field crops, nursery crops and turfs were published by Rutgers Cooperative Extension (Heckman, 1898). Plant growth is affected by numerous factors including climate change, pest pressures and nutrients availability. Well prepared organic compost builds and stabilizes soil structure reducing potentials for soil erosion. It improves porosity, allowing water to move through the soil promoting holding water capacity used by plants. Composting is a natural process which provides several benefits such as reducing one of the world’s largest contributor’s to Greenhouse gases (Hoornweg et. Al., 1999). Maintaining appropriate levels of soil fertility especially plant nutrients availability through composting is important if agricultural lands in the seven communities are to remain capable of sustaining crop production at acceptable levels (Johnston, 2011). Composting is been used to address the degradable lands problem since it’s a method of speeding natural decomposition under controlled condition. Raw organic materials are converted to compost by a succession of organisms such as bacteria, fungi, protozoans, centipedes, millipedes, sowbugs, earthworms and other organisms. This organism increases the rate of chemical reaction in order to obtain rich fine compost. Humification depends on feedstocks, composting method and management. Scientist working in most African countries such as East Africa on sustainable land management confirms of human induced land degradation as negatively affecting food security (Slegers and Stroosnijder, 2008). Land degradation in the UER has rendered large fertile crop lands unproductive contributing to depleting income and low farm yields. Ploughing of farmlands with cattle’s and tractors serves as the main means of turning the soil in early may for crop planting. The long drought from October to May results in high rate of evaporation from both the soil and harvested crops. Hence the rate of decomposition of plants on the surface of the soil as manures to increase soil fertility is around 20% and even zero in some areas. This document is out of a project to combat climate change and sustain lands to address food security within the region. This called for the implementation of the PRGDT program by CILSS in three districts in UER. Preparation of compost using carbonated and nitrogenous material in the ratio of 3:1 to assess quality and quantity for farmlands formed one of the interventions under the project. Biodynamic compost is a fundamental component of the biodynamic method which Serves as a way to recycle animal manures and organic wastes, stabilize nitrogen, and build soil humus and enhance soil health (Diver, 1995) for the production of crops. Production of crops yearly especially during the dry season in UER will result in increase of yield if practices such as composting is practiced to back ploughing by animals and other methods.



2          METHODOLOGY

Seven farmers within seven communities are sampled and trained by Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) stuffs on composting procedures from the two districts. Detailed methodological procedures is as follows;

·      Construct an 8m×4m rectangular structure and divide into two [4m2 each] compartments with local clay materials1. This gives you two compartments compost structures.

·      Plaster inside and outside of structure with sand and cement.

·      Arrange stones to a height of 4cm as ground floor bed.

·      Arrange maize stocks or any grass materials as the down floor layer.

·      Mix completely the carbonated materials (maize, grass, millet stocks and plant materials) and nitrogenous materials (cow dungs, guinea fowl remains, goats/sheep’s remains etc) in the ratio of 3:1. It should be done by adding little quantities of water and mixed scrupulously.

·      Perform the sponge test.

·      Put the mixed materials in the compost structure and press down firmly.

·      Add some quantities of ashes and water before adding the next layer of compost materials.

·      Step 5 – 8 is repeated with different materials till the compost structure is completely filled.

·      Depending on site of compost structure and exposure, cover with an apron to avoid direct contact with the sun to decrease the rate of evaporation.

·      Put a stick in the center of the filled structure to assess the temperature and decomposition state of materials.

·      Observe compost materials regularly and add water when necessary in appreciable amounts to accelerate the rate of decomposition.

·      Turn/Move the filled materials to the empty compartment after two weeks.

·      Perform 12 and 13 again after every two weeks. Turn decompose materials into the other compartments. This is repeated till the final compost material is obtained in its finest state for application (98% decomposition).



Table 1: Common Feedstock’s used and their characteristics


Moisture Content


High Carbonate Materials




Maize Stocks






Maize Silage



High Nitrogenous Materials




Fowl/Guinea Fowl Manure



Goat/Sheep/Cow dung



Sewage Sludge



A time series of temperatures and rate of decomposition are recorded for observation.  A maximum of 1 month 2 weeks is used for the composting activity to obtain good compost for application on farmlands.

Estimating the carbon content of feedstock’s


               % carbon = %volatile solids



Where % Volatile Solids = 100 - % ash (material incinerated @ 723K



Plate 1: Compost structure


3          STUDY AREA

Seven selected communities from Talensi and Nabdam district are selected for this study. Total land area of Upper East Region is 8800Km2 covering 3.7% of the total land area of Ghana. The total population of the region is 1031478 (2010, Population census) with an annual growth rate of 1.1%. The upper east region is hot and dry with temperatures ranging between 46.5˚C maximum and 13.5˚C minimum usually during drought period and rainy season respectively. The land surface is flat with gentle slopes less than 1% having scarce trees, 35m apart. Activities within the seven communities of the two composting districts is mainly farming, rearing of animals and fishing. Animal rearing is by the extensive system but always controlled in cages during the farming season. Cattle, donkeys, guinea fowl are the most prominent animal and birds reared with few goats and sheep’s. Farmers are usually dormant especially in the dry season as farming activities are rain fed. Crops produced by the community’s ranges from beans, rice, millet, maize, sorghum to groundnuts. Water resources such as dams and reservoirs are undergoing varied forms of defects such as siltation and seepages. Canals and laterals are not in good condition hence reducing dry season irrigation farming. Farming activities in these districts of the Upper East Region (UER) is around households which differ from the southern part. Areas with 10% are embedded with stones making farming difficult. Stone and earth bunding is therefore practiced. The soils are light textured surfaces varying from coarse material either gravel and stones which affect their physical properties particularly their water holding capacity. The rainfall pattern affects fruits such as mangoes and oranges production.  Due to the one seasonal rainfall regime, cocoa production is not supported within the region to boost economic growth among the indigenes. 




4.1       Composting Analysis

Upper East Region is part of the savanna zone where land degradation is an issue as a result of the one seasonal rainfall period within the period of January to December. Rainfall which moistens the soil increasing plant growth and foliage coverage hence the resultant decomposition of woodlots and leaves to increase fertility is less. This has created a big problem on the land hence the use of inorganic manure during the planting season. Organic composting which is less expensive and easy to prepare is recommended as an alternative to improve soil fertility and support crop production. Inorganic fertilizer is applied but its disadvantage of affecting the soil texture continues and increases the infertility of the soil. The possibility of proportionality in fertilizer application is also another problem as beans and groundnut are left yellowish and withered after the application of fertilizers during site visits. This leaves farmers at a lost especially after buying fertilizers at high prices and wasting of time to apply on farmlands. This work therefore established organic manure preparation as a model to show its importance and cost effective in the seven communities.  Committed farmers selected were trained on composting procedure and taking through one day compost preparation. Farmer’s enthusiasm towards the preparation resulted in the various percentage of organic manure preparation after training. Rate of decomposition (RD) of manure was 40% after two weeks of observation and 96% after one month two weeks. Its fine, smooth black textured nature gave a clear indication of rich compost (97%) with greater percentage of improving the soil fertility.  Such compost is the most attended and well concentrated ones which farmers sprinkle and monitored compost materials in sequential times.  The minimum temperature recorded is 30˚C and this is recorded among farmers whose arrangement of farm materials was not well done. This gave the opportunity for air to stay within the stocked compost materials (plate 1). This decreased the decomposition rate hence not obtaining a better decomposition after two weeks turning observation (15% decomposition rate).


Table: 1st composting observation


Community Site

№ of Tuning(T)



Rate of Decomposition [RD] (%)

Pitanga 1




Pitanga 2




Yakote 1




Yakote 2




Ndong 1




Ndong 2




Pelungu 1




Pelungu 2




Kaare 1




Kaare 2




Wikongo 1




Wikongo 2





 Application of water was a major problem for most of the farmers as some finds it difficult applying water in the right proportion. A maximum of 90m3 is used during a turning and this is sprinkled and well mixed before being moved to the other compartment. Proper spreading and compartment is recommended in order to avoid air and holes as it decreases the rate of decomposition. Two weeks turning should be well monitored and applied in order to obtain uniform decomposition (Plate 2). A maximum temperature of 60˚C is recorded as the highest temperature over the period. This is the temperature at which fungi and bacteria activity on compost materials is very high. The RD differs from 74% to 96% as depicted in Fig. 1 due to different turning techniques by farmers over the period. 74% - 88% recording was observed for farmers who moved compost from one compartment to the other without thorough mixing, water sprinkling and compactment. 88% - 96% was recorded for highly attended compost structures where farmers monitored compost materials consistently. Turning procedures and techniques was well complied as water application, turning and compactment in layers was 95% achieved by 60% farmers. Turning of compost from one compartment into another takes 45-minutes maximum for the 4m × 4m double compost structure. Uniform rate of decomposition was not recorded during this work as farmer’s seriousness play part greatly. This is the reason for equalities at different turnings (T1, T2, and T3).


Fig. 1: Rate of decomposition (RD), turning (T) and temperatures during compost preparation


Plate 2: Mixed nitrogenous and carbonated materials in Compost structure

4.2       Rainfall Season impact on soil

Long drought period with less precipitation within the region continue to derail the soil fertility each year. To worsen this scenario, subsistence farming practices which is practiced each year around households has resulted in serious land degradation over the years. Plant foliage which is a great contributor of water into the hydrological cycle and the resultant precipitation is scarce as trees are few and widely apart. Climate changes resulting in long droughts between October and May always enters the farming season with soil infertile to support plant growth and production. Rainfall for 2014 (Fig 2) was analyzed to see its impact on the soil as it’s the year before this work. The maximum rainfall recorded was 57.9mm in May and is the highest for the whole season. The rainfall pattern for the rest of rainfall period ranged from 27.5mm maximum to 0.2mm minimum. This is sparsely recorded over the period hence less to enrich the soil. Woodlots, animal droppings, leaves and other wastes materials which needs water in right proportions continues to remain dry and thereby unable to decompose due to no water to enhance the process. Decomposition of such materials adds different kinds of nutrients to the soil and by that increasing the organic matter content of the soil. 


Fig. 2: Rainfall pattern for 2014


This has been the pattern over the region resulting in the continued degradation of farmlands. Activities such as deforestation for fire woods and charcoal burning are all forms of activities affecting the hydrological cycle resulting in the long droughts. The drought period between October to April was intense with 25.6mm received as the highest over the period. 


Fig. 3: Drought period for 2014


Drought period in the Upper East region and hence the seven communities is so intense as temperatures ranges from 42.1˚C maximum and 35.5˚C minimum as depicted in Fig 3. Humidity during such times records around 96% of which the weather becomes very hot. Such periods never support plant growth as evapotranspiration is very high leaving all decomposable materials very dry. Withering and shedding of leaves is also high leaving the soil bare decreasing sunlight exposure and increasing evaporation. Water table decreases at faster rate decreasing water holding capacity of tap roots of plants and root tapping depth for plant growth is increased considerably.




5          CONCLUSION

 Climate is a big parameter when it comes to plant growth and crop production in the Upper East Region. Variability in the rainfall pattern will always result in different amounts of rainfall and long droughts each year. Organic manure application is a good method of obtaining manure to improve soil fertility towards reclamation of degradable lands in the Upper East Region of Ghana. This model work reveals that, compost can be obtained by using local available compost materials enriched in Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium in their right proportions. From compost analysis, compost obtained was 97% rich in nutrients to enrich the soil for the production of maize, cowpea, groundnuts and millet within a harvesting rate of 90% to support life during the dry season within the region.

Therefore, fine black textured compost is obtained at a decomposition rate of 96% over a period of one month, two weeks. Soil fertility in these communities can be improved if the obtained compost prepared is applied in the right proportion. This will give the desired increase in yield within a season to address the problem of food insecurity in the Upper East Region of Ghana especially Nangodi and Talensi district and its environs. 



It’s unto him the Almighty God who made this modeled climate change study a success. Thanks again to all Staff of CILSS for their good will for humanity and their willingness to help the vulnerable. Thanks to Mr. Adams of MoFA, Nangodi for his time during this study. Grateful I am to CILSS for the selected farmers and people of Nangodi and Talensi district for the project. God bless you all.




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