Studies on Oil Palm Based Cropping Systems in Ghana
A survey was conducted in 1994 to gather information on the practice of intercropping food crops in oil palm on small-scale farms in the oil palm zones of southern Ghana. The objective was to identify and study intercropping systems used in oil palm production. Data was collected by interviewing a tOtal Of 72 oil palm farmers from the oil palm growingregions,(Eastern, Central,Western,Ashanti,Brong-Ahafo,and Volta) at their farm locations. The responses indicated that the small-scale oil palm farmers in Ghana commonly intercrop oil palm with maize, cassava and plantain especially during the first three years of the crop. The three staple crops, maize, cassava and plantain were intercropped in oil palm between 1994 and 1997 at the Oil Palm Research Institute, Kusi, Ghana to assess their effects on the growth, development and yields of oil palm. Intercropping was compared to the standard system of cover cropping oil palm with pueraria.
Nutrient dynamics, soil moisture retention, and solar interception by the oil palm were also examined. The performances of the food crops were also assessed as well as the ability of the cropping systems to control weeds was assessed. An economic analysis was also carried out.
There were seven treatments, consisting of:
- sole oil palm with pueraria cover crop:
- oil palm + maize + cassava;
- oil palm + maize + plantain,
- oil palm + maize + maize; sole crops of maize, cassava and plantain respectively.
These were arranged in a randomnized complete block design and replicated four times. Intercropping oil palm with maize, cassava and plantain had no adverse effect on the growth, development and yield of the oil palm. The Oil palm+ maize + maize intercrop and oil palm cover- cropped with pueraria positively influenced soil moisture retention, nutrient uptake and accumulation and light interception by the oil palm more than what pertained with oil palm + maize + cassava and oil palm + maize+ plantain. Yields of the intercropped food crops compared favourably with yields of these crops when solely cropped.
The sole oil palm with pueraria cover crop and oil palm + maize + maize association controlled weeds better than the oil palm + maize + cassava and oil palm + maize + plantain associations. Intercropping oil palm with maize, cassava and plantain was found to be economically beneficial to the small-scale oil palm farmer.
The oil palm industry has developed over the last two decades into a huge and important industry, which comes next only to Cocoa in the agricultural sector of Ghana’s economy. Small-scale farmers who occupy about 70% of the estimated total area of 145,500 hectares under oil palm (Anonymous, 1989; Anonymous, 1990) dominate Oil Palm cultivation in Ghana. The development estates account for the remaining 30% of the oil palm production area. In Ghana, oil palm is cultivated as a monocrop by the development estates and their affiliated small holders as well as out-growers.
The practice of the development estates has been to inter plant the oil palm rows with Pueraria sp, a leguminous cover crop. The leguminous cover crop is expected to conserve soil moisture, suppress weed growth and control soil erosion. It also improves soil fertility by fixing atmospheric nitrogen into a form for use by plants.
There is also evidence that the leguminous cover crop may compete with the oil palm and may do so more than even intercropped food crops (Hartley 1988).
In spite of the many benefits of the leguminous cover crop, the small scale farmers do not plant them under the oil palm. This is partly due to lack of immediate economic returns accruing from them. They instead, intercrop the oil palm with food and other cash crops for three to four years. Integration of food and tree crop farming has become necessary also because most of the areas around the large estates (BOPP, TOPP, etc.) which were once exporting food crops have become net deficit areas. Some farmers are therefore forced to remove palm fronds to create space for intercrop food crops.
The standard 8.8-m triangular spacing used for oil palm provides wide spaces between the young palms. There is therefore considerable waste of solar radiation and weed problems from transplanting to canopy closure which takes between three and five years.(Chee et al., 1992).
Farmers may seem justified then by grng food and/or CaSh crops between oil palm trees until canopy closure. The question to which solution needed be found is whether intercropping of food crops in establishing oil palm is more beneficial than sole cropping in small holdings or otherwise. The type of crop used as intercrop changes from one locality to another depending on the food culture of the people.
There is no information on the compatibility of all these food crops grown in association with the oil palm with respect to the use of resources for growth and development.
The objectives of this study therefore were:
- to identify the food crops commonly intercropped with oil palms in Ghana;
- to assess the effects of these food crops when intercropped with oil palm on the growth, development and yield of the oil palm;
- to assess the performance of food intercropped in oil palm; crops
- to assess the effects of the intercropped food crops on the use of nutrients, water and light by the oil palm;
(i) to study the effects of the intercropped food crops on weed suppression and control; and
(vi) to evaluate the economics of intercropping food crops with oil palm.
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