Smallholder adaptation to climate change: dynamics and limits in Northern Ghana

Abstract

Climate change and land degradation result in decreasing yields and crop failures in Northern Ghana and have caused further impoverishment of Ghana’s poorest region. Farmers have diversified their livelihoods to adapt to uncertain environmental conditions in various ways. While traditionally a diversification of the production and migration were the prime means of adaptation, many farmers have started to intensify their production by adopting shallow groundwater irrigation for vegetable gardening for Ghana’s urban markets. This has helped to cope with a changing environment, ameliorated poverty and reversed rural–urban migration, while the local hydrology curbed an over-exploitation of groundwater resources, commonly associated with an uncontrolled farmer-driven expansion of groundwater irrigation. This research confirms that farmer-driven small-scale irrigation can play an important role in the process of climate change adaptation. However, while farmers tried to integrate in the larger economy, they have become subject to market failures that in their essence are caused by unfair and unpredictable patterns of global trade. It is this double exposure to global environmental change and economic globalization that need to be taken into consideration when local adaptive capacities are discussed. Many convincing arguments call for the revision of some of the most unfair and devastating economic practices; however, the need to enhance adaptive capacity towards global climate change for poor parts of the population in the south should be added to the discussion.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    To guarantee a valid simple random sample, all households of the Atankwidi catchment were identified in a satellite image and listed accordingly. Based on the list, a random sample was drawn. The sample was generously provided by Dr. Julia Schindler (for further details, see Schindler (2009:58–59)).

  2. 2.

    Laux et al. (2008: 331–332) took a definition of the onset of the rainy season that depends on rainfall alone and at the same time reflects typical crop water needs in the region. The onset of the rainy season was defined by: (1) A total of at least 25 mm of rainfall in a five-day period; (2) At least three wet days (at least 0.1 mm of rainfall) in that period; and (3) no dry period longer than a week in the following 30 days. Given that these constraints of the definition did not yield an onset date for every year, a fuzzy logic approach was used to facilitate modelling.

  3. 3.

    To measure wealth difference, a wealth indicator was generated. The indicator is based on the quantity of household assets such as radios, pumps, bicycles or TVs, as well as on the quantity of the livestock owned. In the wealth score, assets owned by households were weighted according to their average market prices in Navrongo, as established by a market survey in 2006. The same weighting factors were used for the asset data of 2006, 2007 and 2008, since price relations between the specific items had not changed significantly.

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Acknowledgements

The research for this article was conducted in the GLOWA Volta Project, funded by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF), and the Shallow Groundwater Irrigation Project (CP 65), funded by the Challenge Project for Water and Food . The reviews of Nick van de Giessen, Dpt. of Water Resources Management, Technical University of Delft, and Steve Tonah, Dept. of Sociology, University of Ghana, Legon, greatly helped to enhance the quality of the paper.

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Correspondence to Wolfram Laube.

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Laube, W., Schraven, B. & Awo, M. Smallholder adaptation to climate change: dynamics and limits in Northern Ghana. Climatic Change 111, 753–774 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-011-0199-1

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Keywords

  • Adaptive Capacity
  • Tomato Production
  • Peasant Household
  • Shallow Groundwater Table
  • Volta Basin