Once land has been degraded or deforested, it can be an expensive and laborious process to restore it to good health and fertility.

There are ways of restoring land however, which can create economic benefits for farmers in the short term and lasting benefits to the environment.

In Ghana, members of the Tema Cooperative Sunflowers Association have found that by planting sunflowers on degraded land, they can improve the soil health. What’s more, they are selling their sunflower seeds to Ghana’s biodiesel industry, thereby earning a good price for their sunflower crops and helping to reduce local dependence on fossil fuels.

Operating under the Tragrimacs Company, the group is helping the farmers to set up in sunflower growing. It is also buying the crop from them. The company is assisting farmers in Gomoa Adzentem in the Central Region and other regions to cultivate sunflower on degraded land.

Working in groups, the farmers are able to sell their crop back to Tragrimacs, who use the sunflower seeds to produce biodiesel. As well as creating income and employment, the sunflower cultivation is also improving the health of the farmers’ land, improving their chances of long-term productivity and prosperity.

According to the Chief Executive Officer, Issah Sulemana, the community-based project is very sustainable in restoring degraded lands back to its fertility, “and the landlords can now make more money by renting [the lands] out because now their lands are fertile. And it prevents the people from destroying more forest to create newer farmlands, because once we reclaim these ones, those lands become available for agriculture and other economic activities”.

He added “most of these communities have exhausted the nutrients and rendered them (the soils) not suitable for agriculture. But sunflower is able to restore back the nutrients; also to reclaim the vegetation of the land. That is why it is regenerating land, and also the product from the sunflower is further trans-esterified into biodiesel”.

Mr. Sulemana noted apart from reclaiming the land, the project creates employment for the community members.

“Now they have another cash crop, because there is a ready market for the sunflower. Land that they thought could do nothing now has very good yields for them. It creates employment for them as well. And again also, the project in these communities brings social amenities, such as road networks. Because every year we are able to grade their roads, make their farmlands accessible by making sure that we are able to rehabilitate the roads that lead to the degraded areas”, he stated.

Mr. Sulemana says the company is continuously scaling up, “because people are now seeing that there is a lot of benefit in the sunflower cultivation. One, there is ready market; it is tolerant to drought and disease; and also it needs minimum of rainfall. And the ready market makes it attractive for the farmers. And looking at the rate of return of investment in agriculture, the sunflower returns are also very good.”

He emphasized that there are the social, environmental and economic impacts in using biofuels to replenish degraded lands.

“When we talk of the environmental effects, as we said, to mitigate climate change, that is one, so we can now have a more well-defined weather pattern – predictable, especially rainfall for our farmers. Two, socially again the lower cost of biofuel makes economic activities more profitable, because as the price of fossil fuels shoots up it affects the economy in so many ways. Then socially again, the people are now able to have alternative crops that have ready markets. So they can now make an informed decision as to which crop to cultivate so that they can make more from their economic activities”, said the CEO of Tragrimacs.

Story by Kofi Adu Domfeh/Luv Fm/Ghana