Climate information is critical for smallholder farmers to adapt to climate change and variability in Ghana
The ability of smallholder farmers to adapt to climate change depends on their ability to access and use timely, relevant and accurate climate information. This research explored how climate information can be used to build the capacity of smallholder farmers to address the adverse impacts of climate change. Results indicate that more than a third of respondents (40%; n = 555) are not receiving climate information. Information that was received was predominantly by radio. Barriers to smallholder farmers receiving climate information are created by insufficient collaboration among government agencies to facilitate the timely dissemination and uptake of relevant, accurate and useable climate information to these stakeholders, who must receive information tailored to their needs. For example, smallholder farmers need statements on agricultural impacts of weather events and agricultural extension advice on cropping choices and land management practices.
The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 1.5 oC Special Report underscores the need to make unprecedented changes to avoid extreme heat, floods and poverty. It is estimated that by 2030, the impacts of climate change could include an increase in extreme poverty, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Previous research suggests that Ghana will experience higher temperatures and suffer more intense droughts and variable rainfall patterns, making agricultural production less resilient. This threatens food and water security and perpetuates the existing poverty and climate vulnerability of millions of households. Improved access to timely climate information offers dryland smallholder farmers the opportunity to maintain productivity and build resilient agricultural systems in the face of changing rainfall patterns. This study advances new knowledge on how to mainstream climate information for resilience-building in Ghana and West Africa more widely.
Description of study
The study assessed how climate information can be mainstreamed to strengthen the resilience of agricultural systems to support sustainable development in Ghana. It used a participatory approach, including household surveys, community engagements, focus group discussions, expert interviews, and stakeholder workshops. The community engagements were held in six communities between August and October 2019; a total of 555 household surveys were administered across the Upper East Region, Ghana. Survey questionnaires probed what climate information was accessible to smallholder farmers, the use of climate information and barriers to the uptake of such information. Household survey participants who demonstrated appreciable agro-ecological and environmental knowledge were selected for focus group discussions. Twelve (12) such discussions (two in each community) were held, with eight to 18 participants each. In addition, 15 key informant interviews were held, providing in-depth information on opportunities for and barriers to the uptake of climate information. Interviews were conducted with experts from various ministries, departments and institutions, including the Ministries of Food & Agriculture and Environment, Science, Technology & Innovation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Development Planning Commission, the National Disaster Management Organization, Civil Society organizations, NGOs and academic and research institutions.
More than a third of the study respondents (40%; n = 555) did not receive climate information. Information that was received was predominantly by radio. Of the 60% who received climate information, 91% indicated receiving information on rainfall; significantly fewer received information on temperature (21%) and windstorms (26%). Barriers to receiving climate information include inadequate seasonal forecasts for planning across a growing cycle, poor accessibility of information, use of technical language and misalignment between the information provided and that needed by smallholder farmers. Moreover, agricultural extension agents reported needing more capacity to successfully deliver extension services in relation to climate information. This includes training on effective interpretation of weather forecasts and their onward communication to farmers, using climate-smart interventions such as soil and water conservation methods, developing technical skills for in-field demonstrations, project monitoring and evaluation, and programme planning for climate change issues. Extension agents also reported a lack of transportation facilities, insufficient extension materials, a high ratio of farmers to agents, inadequate funds to implement adaptation practices, farmer resistance to change because of attachments to traditional farming practices, and complex land tenure arrangements that do not incentivize or support investment. Access to and willingness to pay for climate information is greatly influenced by different socioeconomic characteristics, notably gender. These findings underscore the importance of delivering climate information that is tailored to the needs of various socioeconomic groups to enable farmers to most effectively manage climate change impacts.
Climate information should be coordinated directly with agricultural extension advice for smallholder farmers to maximise its usefulness. Communication of climate information should be linked to agronomic advice for smallholder farmers. There is a clear need for greater collaboration between the Ministry of Food and Agriculture and the Ghana Meteorological Agency to facilitate the timely dissemination and uptake of accurate climate information by smallholder farmers. To this end, smallholder farmers must be involved in designing the climate information needed to facilitate adaptation in vulnerability hotspots such as the Upper East and Upper West regions of Ghana. Forecast information should be communicated in local languages.
The study proposes new models of communicating climate information to ensure efficient uptake by smallholder farmers for adaptation purposes and training agricultural extension officers on communicating climate information to farmers. Findings were communicated through dissemination workshops for both farmers and policymakers on environmental management and agricultural development in Ghana. A training manual for communicating climate information was developed and translated into local languages. Climate information should be co-produced with farmers and where possible, local indigenous knowledge should be integrated. This research also led to new research ideas being explored currently in a Royal Society Future Leaders – African Independent Research Fellowships-sponsored forum on how climate-smart agricultural intervention can be used to build resilience in dryland farming systems.
About Philip Antwi-Agyei
Prof. Philip Antwi-Agyei is an interdisciplinary environmental scientist and an Associate Professor at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana. He is a grantee of Climate Research for Development in Africa (CR4D), funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO, formerly DFID), the Weather and Climate Information Services for Africa (WISER) programme and the Africa Climate Policy Centre (ACPC) of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) under the auspices of the African Academy of Sciences.
His research involves developing innovative multi-scale methodologies for assessing vulnerability and adaptations to climate change (especially in the form of drought sensitivity) for dryland farming systems. His work uses spatial databases, ecological studies and field-based participatory approaches to empower local communities and broaden understanding of how climate change affects food security and rural livelihoods. Antwi-Agyei was a Lead Author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 oC above pre-industrial levels, where he worked closely with other scientists across the globe on “Sustainable Development, Poverty Eradication and Reducing Inequalities”. He has published extensively in reputable peer-reviewed international journals. Currently, he is a Fellow under the Future Leaders – African Independent Research Fellowships.