University of Northampton, Blue Skies working to find alternative to plastics for mulching in farming


Researchers from the University of Northampton and Blue Skies Ghana are working together to find long-term alternatives to using plastics for mulching in farming.

Over the next year, the researchers will evaluate different mulching materials, including coconut coir and bioplastics, to compare their effectiveness in terms of weed control, moisture retention, crop production, crop quality, and overall output.

The researchers are cultivating a four-hectare pineapple farm situated at Bawjiase in the Eastern Region.

The initiative, which forms part of the University’s Fresh Produce Impact Hub (FRESHPPACT), seeks to develop sustainable techniques to replace the use of plastics in the cultivation of crops and contribute to addressing plastic pollution in the country.

It is estimated that 840,000 tons of plastic waste is generated in Ghana annually, out of which less than 10 per cent is recycled.

Mulching in farming is an agricultural practice where a layer of organic or inorganic material is applied to the soil surface around plants to enhance soil fertility, conserve soil moisture, suppress weed growth, and improve crop productivity.

Non-degradable plastic mulch, typically made from polyethylene poses several environmental challenges, including long-term accumulation in the environment, soil contamination, and disruption of wildlife and ecosystems.

The research team on Wednesday engaged key stakeholders on the research solutions being developed to tackle the problem.

The meeting brought together key stakeholders to discuss plastic pollution mitigation in Ghana and showcased the innovative solutions being developed and tested to address the significant environmental challenges posed by plastic pollution.

Dr Ebenezer Laryea, Associate Professor in International Sustainable Development Law at the University of Northampton, said the study would, among other things, evaluate the individual capability and potential of mulching substitutes as innovative and sustainable farming practices that could be used as alternatives to plastic agricultural mulch.

“The alternative mulching materials to be tested are bio-based and made from materials such as coconut husks and other agricultural waste. If successful, this test could provide a path for Ghanaian farmers to adopt more sustainable farming practices, thereby significantly contributing to the nation’s soil fertility and food security in the short, medium, and long term,” he added.

Mr Alistair Djimatey, Foundation and Corporate Affairs Manager, Blue Skies, said the Company was committed to finding sustainable solutions to challenges along its value chain and promote sustainable practices.

“We are aware of the damage and impact of plastic use on our farms, and we believe this is an avenue to find a lasting solution to the challenge,” he said.

According to a report from the United Nations, plastic life cycle, from production to disposal, influences global warming.

In 2018, the world produced 359 million metric tons of plastic, with a considerable portion mismanaged.

The FRESHPACT project is currently being funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and is implemented in partnership with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

By Edward Acquah, GNA


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