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Opinions of Friday, 26 August 2011

Columnist: Arthur, Patrick Kobina

Livelihood Ghana: Home-Based Food, Energy And Water Production Systems

While many citizens and policy makers continue to believe that the best way
to ensure that water, food and energy is supplied to homes and businesses is
by expanding the existing systems and installing new ones. I prefer to look
for solutions in small and independent systems that use unsophisticated but
smart technologies to create and maintain the supplies basic to our
existence. It is not realistic to think that every household can meet all of
its needs within its walls, but with clever designs, many systems can be
installed that can deliver water and energy and to some extent food in a
year round manner.

This is easily achievable in our tropical Ghanaian situation by making
these systems a part of the design of our homes that are yet to be built or
re-engineering existing homes to equip them with water storage and
purification systems as well as energy. The big energy generation and water
supply systems are prone to frequent breakdowns and cost a lot of money to
maintain. The situation in Accra is clearly a demonstration that big
systems do not work or work only for a few people, and yet our tax money is
used to fund the systems that will not benefit all of us.

**The Current and Future Challenge*:*

Majority of houses in Ghana have designs that are not suitable for a
tropical climate as we have here. There are times of the year when there is
excessive heat and low wind currents and many of us suffer greatly, being
unable to sleep until early hours of the morning. In the face of
insufficient energy supply, many houses are built complete with slide doors
and windows, ostensibly to meet the style and status requirement. All of
these bad features coupled to the increasing population argues for an
immediate policy to avert future crisis as though the current crisis is not
debilitating enough.

In addition to these shortfalls, the earth’s climate is changing; it will
continue to do so far into the future at rates projected to be unprecedented
in human history. Ghana’s vulnerability to the risks associated with climate
change may exacerbate the current social and economic challenges. The
effects of climate change are inevitable and the earlier Ghana adapts the
better. The effect of this phenomenon on the social life of the population
is overwhelming especially in the areas of agriculture, energy and water

Ghana Water Company currently cannot provide the water needs of the
population in Ghana. The company only produces two million out of the total
needs of about five million gallons for inhabitants of Accra, not to talk of
other parts of Ghana. These problems are worsened by the changes in climate;
the proposal therefore will look at interventions at the household level
with the aim of adapting to climate change. The recent earthquake in Japan
has forced the shutdown of the large nuclear plants and the private sector
is suddenly producing small energy production systems for homes.

**The Solution to Production Shortfalls*:*

The current social and economic paradigm of making huge investments into
building even bigger systems for energy, food and water production must give
way to small, low-tech, smart systems. These independent systems of a
necessity must be home-based and the new policies must empower the
individual with technical assistance to generate their own basic needs.
Currently, most Ghanaians are doing this anyway, many rural communities are
not connected to the water and electricity supply grid of the country and
even in the big cities like Accra, there are suburbs like Dome that meet all
of its water supply needs by boreholes.

> **Water Supply**

Apart from borehole water, storage tanks that can hold rainwater for 6
months at full capacity will effectively put Ghana Water Company out of
operation. The difficulty with independent supply systems is that many
people hate assuming responsibility for many things, but when there is a
crisis and the lights are off and the taps are not flowing, people wake up
and do whatever is necessary to meet these basics. The idea is to activate
this survival instinct and use them in a proactive manner to ensure that all
households will install systems that can provide water and energy. When this
is successful, we would have developed the capacity to deal with worse case
situations that will cripple large systems.

> **Food Supply**

The interventions in food supply will take the form of balcony gardens,
backyard farming and ‘flower pot’ agriculture. While this measure may not be
able to meet all the food supply needs of households, it can cut a
considerable percentage off. Placing the challenge of food supply in the
hands of individual household means that they can tend their garden at their
spare time; eliminating the long supply chain that is associated with the
current food supply system. Households will also reduce their food wastage
and improve their ability to recycle biological waste in the form of
conversion into manure through a simple processing plant to fertilize their

> **Waste Treatment**

Waste management is also becoming a major problem for city authorities,
connecting manure production to recycling of bio-waste will separate it from
the waste generated. Paper and plastic waste will be easier to recycle if it
is not fouled by decomposing bio-waste. Manure preparation is odorless and
environmentally friendly; employing the activity of earthworms in a
fortified plastic container as a bioreactor. The benefit is inproved yield
of backyard garden and reduces the burden of bio-waste handling which
generate many infectious disease cases.

* >*Energy Production**

When I saw a young man on the TGIF show reporting the development of a
system that allows the use of few solar panels to power a home, I was
excited and more so when President Mills for a meeting invited him. A
technology like this can make it possible for households to operate their
own energy supply systems. In addition to this, small wind turbines as well
as biogas production systems all can be integrated into an efficient
home-based energy system for cooking and lighting. The provision of the
right kind of technical assistance in the form of modules and
light-equipment to enable such home-based systems to run efficiently will
make a big difference in our livelihoods.

Patrick Kobina Arthur (PhD),