Socioeconomic Assessments of Organic Fertilizer Use Among Smallholder Farmers in Northern Ghana
Abstract Food insecurity and poverty continue to be major challenges for human development in Sub-Saharan Africa due to low agricultural productivity, linked to deteriorating soil conditions and inappropriate agrarian technologies. Green revolutionary measures, particularly increasing mineral fertilizer application, have always been proposed as natural remedies for resolving the yield crisis. However, Sub-Saharan African farmers face a myriad of challenges regarding mineral fertilizer use amid poorly developed input markets. Moreover, recent advances made towards fertilizer access in countries like Ghana have shown that merely increasing mineral fertilizer application is no panacea to African's farm productivity crisis, where arable lands have degraded. Meanwhile, organic fertilizers play a significant role in improving soil conditions for effective mineral fertilizer use. Thus, the focus on fertilizer use has shifted towards combining mineral with organic fertilizers for improved soil health and productivity. Towards this goal, agricultural development agencies in Northern Ghana, for the past decade, have been priming farmers to access and use more organic fertilizers, but the input's use remains low for many reasons, including a general lack of biomass in the area. This study explored rural farmers' motivations, decisions and behaviors regarding organic fertilizer use in the northeastern part of Ghana. It thus contributes insights from farmers' perspectives to the growing literature on organic-inorganic fertilizer use debate in Sub-Saharan Africa. Specifically, the study first examined observed farmer-decisions to identify decision trajectories (management approaches) that lead rural farm households to organic fertilizer use and related the decision classes to farmers' socioeconomic factors, including farm-resource base, using seemingly unrelated regressions to adjust for correlations between decisions. Second, it evaluated behavioral costs (difficulty) associated with prevailing organic practices and scaled farmers' attitudes towards organic fertilizer use, using the explanatory Rasch model to account for influences of farmer-characteristic difference on the scale. Third, following the potential outcome framework, an endogenous switching regression is employed to control for observed and unobserved organic fertilizer use selectivity as well as endogeneity biases while examining the input's effects on per capita food expenditure, food gap, and farm labor use. The final part of the study evaluated the possibility for municipal solid waste compost producers to market their products to rural farmers in Northern Ghana. Applying the generalized multinomial logit model on choice experimental data, the study account for preference and scale-heterogeneity and estimated farmers' willingness to pay for attributes of a hypothetical municipal waste compost. The typological analysis revealed four management approaches (decision trajectories) among the farmers. Three of these are borne by strategic motivations and actions, which, if supported, could lead to a significant increase in organic fertilizer use by the farmers. The seemingly unrelated regression analysis showed that uptake of each approach is affected by a subset of farmer characteristics. However, all include participation in training on organic fertilizer management. The empirical results also show that organic fertilizer practices in the area are generally moderate in behavioral difficulty. However, most of the farmers have weak attitudes; hence, they cannot effectively exploit over 80% of the practices. This attitude weakness is strongly related to farmers' socioeconomic factors, including low education and poor farm resource base. Despite the weak attitudes, the study further revealed that organic fertilizer significantly increases food consumption and reduces seasonal food-shortage in households who are able to use it. However, it requires more farm labor use, with nearly all the increased labor burden borne by female farmhands. Finally, the study has proven that, though with varied preferences, compost attributes, including its form, packaging (brand/label), and access, influence rural farmers' decision to buy it. The findings have significant policy implications. Particularly, they call for interventions that mitigate farmer-background factors hindering organic fertilizer adoption. Educating farmers through soil fertility management training, and helping them, especially females, acquire draught equipment are critical to increasing organic fertilizer use. Lastly, the government should subsidize organic fertilizers more than 50% to cover distribution costs, such that dealers can make it physically accessible to rural farmers.