October 15, 2009

Climate Change in Ghana: Blog Action Day 2009

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I used to think that ‘Adaptation’ was the name of a quirky film about an orchid hunter and a depressed script writer inspired by a book called The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. But over the last few weeks I’ve discovered that ‘Adaptation’ is also a key word in climate change circles and arguably the key word to survival. Not that it wasn't the key word to survival before, but it seems that our ability to adapt is more crucial than any time in human civilisation's history.

As part of MS Action Aid Denmark’s Global Change programme mentoring a blogger leading up to the U.N. Convention on Climate Change in December, and as part of Blog Action Day on October 15, I decided to write a post linking farmers in Ghana, a prime example of a developing nation already feeling the effects of climate change (and where I live), with Australia, a developed nation which happens to inhabit the driest continent on earth (and where I come from), and Zimbabwe, with its own unique challenges (where my mentee comes from).

A quick note about COP 15. Reported in the UK’s Telegraph , Professor John Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Change, said:

"The conference is designed to put pressure on world leaders coming together at the end of the year for the “most important meeting in the history of the human species”. The UN Climate Change Conference in December will try to reach an international deal on cutting carbon emissions so global warming stays below an increase of 2C (3.6F) [my emphasis] above pre-industrial levels."

Why focus on farmers? Because the consensus, as you will see, is that climate change will hit agriculture and developing countries hardest. Unsurprisingly, Ghana’s economy, as with that of most developing nations, depends on agriculture for survival. So does Zimbabwe's.

So I twittered my way, with great help from Australia’s ABC, to several Aussie farmers. In Ghana I spoke with farmers in the Upper East Region . And I read the conversation in Zimbabwe and my Zimbabwean mentee’s thoughts on the issue.

I also discovered interviews with Ghanaian farmers online. EcoWorldy reported on a cocoa farmer’s experience in May 2008.

There was one day at my grandparent’s farm in January 2003 when the temperature hit 48 degrees Celsius in the shade! That's 118 degrees Fahrenheit--and way too toasty for anyone's good. I was certain the thermometer was busted so I called home to Sydney to check. But it was 46 degrees there. In February this year, here in the north of Ghana I began silently freaking out that every day was going to be like that day at the farm. Of course it wasn’t that hot, but the temperatures were consistently in the high 30s and low 40s. And so I finally mustered the courage to ask my partner, Godwin, how hot March would be. He said, ‘This whether is strange. This is like March now. Everyone is saying (in Frafra, which I couldn’t understand) that “we are having March now.” Even the rains that should begin in April have already started in Sunyani; very heavy rains were reported there. This is very strange.'

But the rains didn’t come to Bolgatanga until June. I asked Godwin about this yesterday. ‘In times past,’ he said, ‘when the weather patterns were predictable, the rainy season began in April and ended around late September or early October. And the rain fell evenly. In recent years the rainy season has started as late as June or July and towards September or October the rains become extremely heavy, spoiling the crop yield.’

According to the Reuters Blog, ‘Climate change is any long term significant change in the expected pattern of average weather of a specific region.’

And so I say: Welcome to the future. A future where, Ghana Business News reported earlier this month:

"Even without climate change, food prices would rise, but climate change makes
the problem worse…Rice [prices are] projected to increase 60 per cent without climate change but would go up by as much as 121 per cent with climate change. In 2050 maize prices would be more than 60 per cent higher, without climate change, but would be up to 153 per cent higher with climate change."
According to the article, these figures were derived from a study “Climate Change: Impact on Agriculture and Costs of Adaptation,” by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). The study, released on September 30, "combines climate change models that measure changes in rainfall and temperature and a crop model to capture biophysical effects, with IFPRI’s economic model of world agriculture."

“If governments and donors begin now to invest seriously in adaptation for poor farmers, we could avert this bleak future,” said Mark Rosegrant, Director of IFPRI’s Environmental and Production Technology Division and Co-author of the report. He also said that agriculture was extremely vulnerable to climate change, because farming was weather-dependent. He said small-scale farmers in developing countries would suffer the most."

Indeed. I spoke with a farmer from Bawku and Bolgatanga who has farmed this region his entire sixty-odd year life. He also happens to be Godwin’s father. He had no knowledge of ‘climate change’, so I asked him about his experience.

Have you noticed any changes in the weather in recent years?
"Yes, in times past we weren’t getting heavy rains like the last three years—the rains were extraordinarily heavy and shorter than usual. This year, in particular, the rains came in late and heavy. By the time the crops were two feet high, the rain stopped. We had a poor yield for some grains. We have felt this change [shorter rainfall] for more than five years now. It’s hotter all the time, but when it comes to March onwards until the rains it’s extremely hot; hotter than I remember as a young man."

How do you feel about your farming future?

"I’m worried because if the rain comes too much we won’t get a good yield. And when the drought comes like that we get a poor yield too. The best is when we get both sunlight and rain equally. About five years ago we had a very good yield. When I was a young man we had good yields and the rain was never too strong like that this and last year."

And it's much the same story in Zimbabwe. This is an excerpt from a report in March this year at All Africa:

"Even though climate change issues are difficult for most people to understand, smallholder farmers in Seke rural district about 40km south-east of Harare say the most persuasive evidence that global warming is happening is the change in the rainfall pattern as well as the frequency of droughts.

"We hear a lot about climate change issues but we don't understand the processes
involved," Mr Peter Chamboko (84), a village elder told journalists recently during a tour organised by Environment Africa to discuss climate change issues. "To us as people who are not educated the clearest evidence that climate change is happening is the severity of droughts we have experienced in recent years."

And this is what my mentee, John Ndebele has to say on the issue. Zimbabwe was once known as 'the bread basket of Africa'.
"Life has changed totally for the ordinary citizen of Zimbabwe, from bread basket of southern Africa to beggars. Zimbabwe was able to maintain the state of being self sufficient in terms of food for more than 30 years before independence, but after independence it only lasted for less than 15 years. She was the hub of Southern Africa’s economy. Politicians will attribute this to Mugabe’s regime, which has failed to run the country. I totally agree with them, but can they also think outside the box and explore other factors. Politics played its part (Land Reform Policy-60%) for the failure of the Zimbabwe’s economy and the other 40% by climate change. Zimbabwe has experienced series of drought since 1992 caused by shortage of rains, rain coming rather late causing short agriculture season or excessive rains. Some parts of the country experienced floods and people were evacuated from their homes to safer places. Crops were affected by the floods and leaching. Artificial manure –fertilizers are mostly used to replace the lost nutrients. I need to reminded if Zimbabwe is still producing fertilizer. If nutrients are not replenished, the crops are likely to fail the following year as well.

In June this year, the blog Sea Level Rise quoted Dr Duadze, a senior lecturer at Central University College Department of Environment and Development Studies in Ghana, on his public lecture on the theme, ‘Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation Strategies for Ghana. According to the Blog, Dr Duadze said:

"Agriculture was likely to be the heaviest hit by the global climate change as a result of decline in soil fertility due to unpredictable changes in rainfall pattern and temperature. Dr Duadze predicted a decrease in the rainfall pattern of the country on an average of 2.8 per cent by the year 2020, 10.9 per cent by 2050 and 18.6 per cent by 2080. He was said that ‘a few of the expected impacts of climate change were increased incidence of pest attacks resulting from [an] increase in temperature, loss of cropland due to erosion and desertification, coastal erosion destroying some valuable coastal agricul-tural land, and increased demand for irrigation."

Meanwhile, farmers in Australia have already begun to adapt. The gist of the emails I received was this, (reminding me how unpredictable it is to be a farmer in a land famous for decades of drought and sudden flash floods):

"Moisture conservation through zero tillage is paramount. The old practice of ploughing and cultivating - turning the soil over has dissappeared in certain districts over the last 10 years. These farmers use far less fossil fuels, Also, the practice of burning crop residues is gone - most farmers understand the importance of leaving the crop stubble behind to act as ground cover like a roof
to hold the moisture in and slow the drying of the topsoil. Zero till adds up to farmers becoming more efficient and productive on limited rainfall while at the same time having a much reduced carbon footprint. Farming in Australia is about putting up with tough conditions. Although the world around us is changing, we already witness the extremes of flood and drought - often spread over many years. And that is why its difficult to see change over a few decades."

But it's another story in the developing world where access to information is one of the greatest challenges for taking action to adapt to climate change. EcoWorldly reported that while African farmers are adapting and developing some coping strategies on their own, they need new information about farming methods that minimize the negative impact of climate change.

A major challenge is providing such information to large numbers of people at low cost. Radio broadcasts can help address this challenge because they are spoken-word, often in local languages, building on Africa’s oral culture and therefore not constrained by illiteracy. The technology for broadcasting and receiving broadcasts are widely available and affordable. Information can be delivered to farmers’ homes at a cost of pennies per program. A Canadian charity is leading two new initiatives that help African radio stations to reach farmers with important information about adapting to climate change. Farm Radio International supports broadcasters in meeting the needs of local small scale farmers and their families in rural communities, and helps broadcasters build the skills to develop content that responds to local needs.

Farmers are taught ecologically sound and environmentally sustainable farming methods to improve on their crops which require little or no technical help to implement...FRI has now launched African Farm Radio Research Initiative (AFRRI), a 42-month action research project in Ghana, Mali, Malawi, Uganda, and Tanzania. A collaboration between FRI and World University Service of Canada and funded by a US$4 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, AFRRI will gather, implement, evaluate, and share best practices for using radio-based communication strategies to enhance food security in rural Africa.

Reuters Africa reported on the U.N. climate change convention in Accra in August 2008, one of eight in a series of U.N. sessions culminating in the Copenhagen treaty in December 2009.

The then President John Kufuor said, ‘We need more than rhetoric to make progress in the next 12 to 18 months.’ He said there were damaging signs of climate change in Ghana -- rainfall had decreased by 20 percent in the past 30 years, while up to 1,000 square km (386.1 sq mile) of land was at risk in the Volta Delta due to sea level rises and floods. Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, said ‘Africa had been the ‘forgotten continent’ in the climate debate and among the most vulnerable, with up to 250 million people threatened by water shortages by 2020.

Ghana ratified the Kyoto Protocol in November 2002. In Ghana, the Environmental Protection of Agency (EPA) is the umbrella organization guiding the climate change process. Most policy documents originate from the EPA and each ministry’s climate change unit handle their respective department’s concerns.
Commenting on Ghana's position heading into the Copenhagen conference in an article at the Government’s official website, Dr. Edward Omane-Boamah, Deputy Minister for Environment, Science and Technology, said:

‘Ghana will go along with Africa's collective decision, and added that it is not likely that Africa will reduce its carbon dioxide emission since the continent contributes very little to carbon dioxide emission globally…However, we will put in place mitigation measures to reduce the effect of climate change on our people.’

I found the following information about how local communities use traditional knowledge in rural Ghana to cope with climate change in a forum called Climate Change and Agrobiodiversity in Ghana fascinating. Posted by T. Hodgkin :
‘The information comes from a presentation (PDF attachment) delivered at the conference on “Adaptation of Forests and Forest Management to Changing climate with Emphasis on Forest Health: A Review of Science, Policies, and Practices” that took place at Umea, Sweden, August 25-28, 2008.’

The presentation focused on the significant role traditional knowledge is playing in Africa’s climate change ‘adaptation’ efforts, and specifically Ghana:

Traditional knowledge has played a significant role in Africa’s adaptation efforts, in the face of low technology but still traditional knowledge is usually neglected in academic, policy and public discourses on climate change and adaptation. Farmers and other natural resource dependent communities in Ghana have been coping quite well with changes in climate through traditional knowledge and practices although the country has no climate change adaptation policy. Over the last 40 years, Ghana has recorded temperature rise of about 1oC as well as reductions in rainfall and runoff of approximately 20% and 30% respectively.

The report also noted, as did my interviews and research, that farmers are feeling the effects, even though they may not have any understanding of ‘the science of climate change’:

Indigenous people may not understand the science of climate change but they rightly observe and feel its effects. Some of the indigenous people, although admitting the changes around them, attributed it to other factors other than climate change, such as a sinful generation, wrath of God, signs of the end of life, etc. Though majority of the people believed that they have contributed to the current changes and can do something about it, others felt it was an act of God and hence nothing they can do about it.
The report listed farmers’ coping strategies included:

For inadequate rainfall, reduced water quantity and quality
– Rainwater harvesting
– Water rationing
– Traditional norms, forbidden days, taboos, bye-laws, etc
– Construction of wells and boreholes
– Tree planting programmes and water protection awareness campaigns
– Purchasing sachet water for drinking

Some of the challenges they have [already] met [in coping] include:
– The type of houses and the roofing system does not support efficient rainwater harvesting.
– Respect for traditional authority is not absolute and still declining ascommunities become more cosmopolitan or heterogeneous.
– Religion, mainly Christianity, has undermined traditional authority and their directives on forbidden day and taboos are seen as pagan/fetish and not adhered to
– Communal nature of the communities is breaking down and people now think more of themselves
– Farmers are no longer able to predict onset of rains very well

The report suggests that there should be a healthy relationship between scientific
knowledge and traditional or indigenous knowledge especially in developing countries where technology for prediction and modeling is least developed.

In an article at All Africa in August this year, an Official of Ghana’s EPA, Mr. Emmanuel Arthur, said:
"Irrigation water demand was to increase to about 40% and 150% for 2020 and 2050 due to climate change respectively and 5% and 17% without climate change.
Hydropower generation is seriously being affected by climate change leading to about 60% reduction in available water in all basins by 2020, this crisis currently being experienced nationwide."

Perhaps we ought to make ‘Ghana’ and ‘all nations’ interchangeable:

He [Mr Arthur] emphasised that Ghana should meet the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Well, if Kwasi Gyeabour, one of the eight finalists of The World Bank Essay Competition 2009 has anything to do with it, future generations may well be able to meet their own needs. Saptarshi Pal at Youthink! Blog wrote a post entitled: Greening the Ghanaian Youth in which he quoted much of Kwasi’s winning essay. It went like this:

"Kwasi, along with his friends, wants to establish a Green Mutual Fund for initiating “green” enterprises. In his essay, he also suggests establishing the Green Scout Movement which will focus on environmental and climate change issues. This movement will target youth aged 6 to 21, who will participate in climate activities. On successfully accomplishing their tasks at each stage, they will be promoted from “Green Prince” to “Green Scout” and finally “Green Entrepreneur.” Scouts will be trained and supervised in their series of tasks and will be awarded a diploma in entrepreneurship after they’ve completed all three stages."

For those yet to experience Ghana, most urban gutters and roads are choked with plastic waste from either water sachets or the ubiquitous black plastic bags (called 'rubbers') that are handed over without a thought with virtually every shop purchase:

"To initiate recycling activities in his community, Kwasi wants to form a group with his friends, and collect renewable items from households that would otherwise throw them away, and group them into categories for recycling. He plans to place labeled boxes at vantage points separately for paper, rubber and metal recyclables. Then they would take them to recycling organizations in the community. Individual homes will be rewarded if they separate their garbage and
make collection easy!"
I was particularly taken by the following idea:

"In Ghana students are idle for about 10 months after senior high school, before they start college. Kwasi plans to build a campaign for policymakers to engage these students in climate oriented service during this time. Policymakers can make sure that this community service will count towards a student’s admission requirements. These students will be trained and recruited to do field work in their respective districts, such as community sensitization against deforestation for livestock grazing, discouraging the slash and burn practice which normally leads to bush fires in some districts, carry out water projects in water-stressed rural communities, and plantation of trees in their assigned communities. A certificate of community service will be provided to them upon completion."
As Saptarshi Pal wrote in his post, ‘the essay is full of such brilliant ideas. For space reasons, I can only highlight a few…’ I urge you to go check out the essay in its entirety here: World Bank Essay Competition 2009.

I was thinking, unless we adapt there won’t be any quirky films about Orchid Hunters because there won’t be no more Florida swamps to hunt orchids in. And, if Ghana keeps drying up, that means its neighbour The Ivory Coast probably will too, and Nigeria, and Cameroon.

So what?

Together they produce 70% of the world’s cocoa which means there will be a world-wide shortage of chocolate. Rising oceans, hurricanes, spreading tropical diseases, melting polar ice and floods aside, if the reality of a world-wide chocolate shortage isn't enough to motivate any of us to take action, I don't know what will. (If I seem flippant, it's intentional. I'm appealing to self interest, generally, a stronger motivator than the wellbeing of those living in far off places that don't seem to have any relevance to us leading comfortable lives in developed countries--that are the greatest contributors to climate change. Take note: USA and Australian citizens.)

But when it comes to chocolate, or cocoa production, the livelihoods of farmers across West Africa is inextricably linked with the prices you will be paying in years to come for your sweet fix. You can read more about it in this excellent article at Africa Files. In Cameroon:

"Climate change is killing my cocoa farm in front of my eyes," lamented Antoine Etundi of Bapende village. "Too much sunshine is burning cocoa seedlings and young cocoa pods while too little rainfall denies young seedlings the water they need to survive. This climate will not give seedlings a chance to replace old trees, and the whole thing is getting worse."

"Some people say we produce less and less cocoa because we are not learned," declares Adolf Mendo in Edea. "But they forget that the number of learned people currently involved in cocoa farming is higher than it has ever been, yet production is falling everyday. As the weather changes so the harvest falls."

Asked to what extent fluctuating prices affect cocoa production, Jean Mwelle echoed the view of several respondents, "Prices are high now, but where is the cocoa? Climate madness has made it difficult for us to track cocoa diseases, so the loss to pests and pathogens is plenty."

If you’ve made it this far, thank you! And these links may be of interest to you:
Firstly, Blog Action Day's list of excellent links so you can work out where to hit first.

But the future of our world as we know it rests on this: COP 15: http://en.cop15.dk/

Chris Reij and Ann Waters-Bayer's book : Farmer innovation in Africa 2001 ( Earthscan). provides excellent examples of how farmers can innovate rapidly when faced with seemingly catastrophic environmental degradation.

Climate Change: Ghana’s Sea Level’s to Rise by 2020: http://sealevelrise.blogspot.com/2009/06/climate-change-ghanas-sea-level-to-rise.html
For a fantastic alternative perspective see Mystic Saint Blog: http://mysticsaint.blogspot.com/2009/10/blog-action-day-09-earth-as-sacred.html



2020 Climate Leadership Campaign: http://www.worldforum.org/



  1. Thanks for this thoughtful and resourceful post.

    here is mine,

    Best wishes,

  2. Hmmmm, really really long one! It's refreshing that there's more debate surrounding the issue of climate change and many countries now see the merits of environmental sustainability. I hope in the years to come more eco-friendly technologies will be developed so as to promote sustainable development.

  3. Hi Gayle, so much information in this post! Imagine how much Ghana's waste would decrease if we just stopped using the "rubbers"?

    I love the references to Adaptation (great movie!) and appealing to our desire for chocolate if our environmental sense won't kick us into action. I hope this Blog Action Day inspires all of us to do something in our communities, every little helps.

    Thanks also for quoting me and fellow bloggers in the Global Voices article. Are you on the ghanablogging mailing list?

  4. Hi Sadique, thank you. And check out Sadique's blog. No matter your religious preferences, it's one of the most thoughtful, thought-provoking and inspiring resources online: http://mysticsaint.blogspot.com

    Gameli: Thank you. You might be interested to see this. Some of our mentors are involved blogging and working on the ground in Kenya http://climatedebtagents.com/

    Maya: Thank you! I love Adaptation too. And I enjoyed reading the book retrospectively. I'm with you on the rubbers! These days I carry a big strong bag or basket from Bolga when I go shopping and dump everything in there without the rubbers. The shop keepers I visit regularly are used to me saying 'No no no rubber please!' and laugh and just hand naked products over now. You're welcome for the quoting. It was such an honour writing the Nkrumah post and even better to be mostly quoting Ghanaians in the round-up. And so interesting. I loved the photos you had in family albums. It made me reflect and wonder if my family had photos of australian leaders lying around somewhere. Probably not though. They don't quite have the same stature as Nkrumah. I'll probably get shot for writing that. Oh well. I did ask about the Ghana blogging mailing list and will see if I'm now or not. Thanks!

  5. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9GsFiouegJM

    Climate change in Ghana has become a threat to livelihoods. Drought and over flooding in parts of the Northern Region of Ghana has become a yearly worry to the people and government. People along the banks of the Volta river are constantly displaced, homeless and landless. In the South particularly aquatic life is affected as a result of human activities and sea level rise that pollutes water bodies and the main economic activity which is fishing drops and this has affected the income levels of the people. The climate change impacts in Northern part of Ghana results in severe draughts in the dry season, severe floods, high temperatures, influx of pest and diseases taking away human life and property, currently most parts of Northern Ghana is flooded and has rendered people homeless, lost of agricultural products and property. The heavy lost of farm crops is predicted to bring famine if measures are not put in place. The government of Ghana has contracted engineers to come out with ways to solve the problem. The government is also in consultation with Burkina Faso to solve the flooding problems collectively.

    From a very personal view, I think the political will and commitment to respond fast to climate change has not been evident. African Leaders prefer to sign political agreements and agenda instead of designing these themselves. The fact African leaders never set the pace and lead in these agenda setting therefore limits their say in major issues of international concern. Also there is no common clearly laid down strategies’ by the African continent on how effectively they can handle this issue as a continent. Technologically, Africa has not been very innovative in curbing the effects, for instance green technology and the use of electric cars is gaining grounds in Denmark and Europe as a whole as ways of reducing climate change negative impacts. The question is what is gaining grounds in Africa? Nothing am aware of, or perhaps it’s still in the making, but are we waiting for the worst to happen before we find the solutions? The individual African whose entire livelihood is dependent on our natural resources has no options than to face the severe damages from climate effects in the form of severe draughts, floods, high temperatures, influx of pest and disease among others. The voice of global actors (eg Danish Minister for Climate) for speedy actions must be seen as a wake up call of all Africans politicians especially the youth to look critically into this issue and get motivated to change this course.

    "when the voice of the people become so loud the government has no alternative but to listen" Martin Luther King Jnr.

    John F. Kennedy once observed that “our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man.”

    Kenneth Nana Amoateng
    Abibimman Foundation
    Ghana National Youth Coalition on Climate Change (GNYCCC)
    P.O.BOX BT 1 Tema
    Flat 1/A 74 Site 3
    (OPP T.DC),Commmunit 1
    E-Mail: abibimmanfoundation@gmail.com
    Tel# 233-22-213918
    Skype: kenneth.nana.amoateng
    Mob# 2332-244023651

    I'm on assignment to my generation.

    Jesus is Lord

  6. I love when I have the opportunity to read blogs as interesting as this. really thanks and congratulations. is of great concern to me about Climate Change in Ghana: Blog Action Day 2009 your topic


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