UK (Lancaster University) Lancaster researcher brings breakthrough water-saving techniques to Ghanaian rice growers

A PhD researcher at Lancaster Environment Centre (LEC) is helping to introduce new water-saving rice growing techniques in Ghana, where he is originally from.

In Africa and throughout the world, rice is traditionally cultivated under continuous flooding (CF), which requires a lot of water.

But water scarcity fuelled by climate change challenges the sustainability of this cropping system.

As part of the RECIRCULATE project, Eric Mensah conducted his PhD research at LEC on a water-saving irrigation technique known as alternate wetting and drying (AWD).

Using Ghanaian rice genotypes, he showed that AWD used 50 per cent less irrigation water without decreasing grain yield compared to CF.

Follow-up funding from Innovate UK and Friends of Lancaster University in America (FLUA)has allowed Ericto disseminate this irrigation technique to some of the major rice growing communities in Ghana as part of a collaboration between LEC and different institutions within Ghana’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

New trials are testing traditional and improved rice varieties under AWD and CF and different fertiliser regimes.

Including new red rice genotypes which are thought to have relatively higher grain micronutrient concentrations than white rice may also appeal to consumer preferences and bring additional health benefits.

Recently Eric spent time with the project partners in Ghana to collect grain and soil samples from the trials to determine micronutrient concentrations using facilities at LEC.

He visited sites in the Ashanti region (hosted by Dr Patricia Amankwaa-Yeboah of CRI – co-leader of the Innovate UK project with Prof Ian Dodd of LEC), the Northern region (hosted by Dr Emmanuel Wandaat of SARI) and the Eastern region, where AWD was demonstrated to over 20 rice farmers from three nearby communities.

The importance of the initiative to partner institutions was demonstrated by the attendance of senior management of all CSIR research institutions at the field day, and extension officers who communicate the research findings to farmers via Radio1 Ghana (a radio station located in Bunso).

At the field day, Eric coordinated a question-and-answer session between the research team and the farmers, many of whom were introduced to AWD for the first time.

He demonstrated how simple AWD is to operate, by inserting a perforated plastic pipe into the soil, to measure the height of the water table to inform when the field should be re-flooded.

CSIR has recently fitted a light bulb to the top of the tube, making it even easier for farmers to understand when to irrigate their crops.

The farmers showed their appreciation for being introduced to AWD, as water savings with the technique raised the possibility of now growing rice twice in a calendar year.

Although having demonstration sites within the four major rice-growing regions of Ghana helps to engage with the large rice farming communities in each, Eric said he recognises there is much work to be done since rice is cultivated in all 16 regions in Ghana.

He said: “I aim to play a leadership role in practically introducing the AWD technology to all parts of Ghana and to other sub-Saharan African countries in collaboration with Lancaster.”