Adaptive Capacity Lingers behind Climate Change Awareness in Northwest Ghana
This post was written by William Quarmine, regional researcher — development economist, International Water Management Institute (IWMI).
In the climate-sensitive regions in Ghana, such as the Upper West and Savannah regions, the slightest variation in temperature, rainfall volumes, rainfall patterns or other climate change indicators affects food crop production. This results in catastrophic consequences for livelihoods if not properly managed, because the majority of households depend on agriculture for a living.
Ghana, like many other sub-Saharan African countries, has invested considerable effort and finance into building the capacity of the most affected households to be able to withstand and adapt to climate change. Raising awareness of climate change in farm households is a useful entry point through which policymakers position climate adaption strategies. This is because the extent of farmers’ awareness is likely to determine how farm households adopt to resilience strategies proposed through policy action.
According to a study carried out by the Resilience Against Climate Change: Social Transformation Research (REACH-STR) project, the government’s climate change policy strategies have not been effective so far, and a gap continues to exist between climate change awareness of farmers and their adaptive capacity to respond to it. The study, conducted in May 2021, sought farm households’ observations about climate change trends over the past 30 years. It comprised of a baseline survey of 2,107 farm households, targeting six out of the 10 districts in the Upper West region and one district in the Savannah region in Ghana. The European Union-funded REACH-STR project, implemented by IWMI and other partners, seeks inter alia to study how social transformation in society enables or constrains the capacity of households to respond to the impacts of climate change.
Are farmers aware of climate change trends?
The survey asked farm households to share their observations of six recognized climate change trends, i.e., droughts, dry spells, temperature, floods, rainfall amounts and rainfall patterns. In the 80% responses gleaned, farmers recorded their perceptions on the increases or decreases for each climate change indicator over the past 30 years (see the figure below). The majority of households affirmed that they were aware of the different kinds of climate change trends occurring within their communities.
How are farmers responding to the impacts of climate change?
Through consistent, global discussion on climate action over the years, many climate-smart agricultural (CSA) practices have been introduced to help farmers to adapt to climate change. The study also hoped to discern which CSA practices farmers tend use to cope with variations in the six different climate change indicators.
Apart from the rise in temperature levels and flooding — where the majority of farm households said they adopt at least one CSA practice — most of the respondents indicated that they did not take any action toward variations in the climate change indicators. This is despite the fact that over 80% of the respondents admitted they were aware of such changes. The findings further show that households in northwest Ghana confront climate change with two dominant adaptation strategies, regardless of the climate change indicator involved. Farmers adjust their cropping cycles to fit changes in the weather, usually combined with improved climate-resilient seed varieties.
To respond appropriately to the impacts of climate change, farm households not only need to understand how climate change occurs, but they must also develop the necessary capacity to adapt. Significantly, only 26% of the interviewed households believed they had a strong adaptive capacity to respond to climate change. This could also explain their perception of their inability to effectively cope or adapt to the impacts of climate change.
Farmers need more inclusive development
Despite many climate actions and investments targeting Ghana’s more climate-sensitive regions, the study in northwest Ghana shows a clear link between awareness of climate change among farmers and their adaptation responses to its impacts. The farmers’ perception of their low adaptive capacity could likely suggest yet uncovered socioeconomic factors that inhibit the ability to take advantage of government and global climate action. The findings from the study have been used to facilitate more inclusive development among farm households by the REACH-STR project, engaging key stakeholders, such as development officers, planners, gender desk workers and agricultural district directors, among others. Graduate students sponsored by the project are also using the findings to benefit research on the dynamics of social transformation. Further study would especially benefit in understanding the factors that block or promote climate change response capacities of farming communities.