Helping farmers adapt to droughts and floods

Piku Laar is a 35-year-old farmer and petty trader from Farfar community in Garu-Tempane District in the Upper East Region of Ghana. His livelihood is being affected by erratic rainfall brought on by climate change. To help him increase his crop yields, he needs to be able to better predict when and how much rain is likely to fall so that he can plant his crops appropriately. Forecasts and past rainfall data, if available at all, are general for northern Ghana and difficult for farmers to understand and use. Using rain gauges can enable him and others to keep a record of actual rainfall season by season which will reflect changing rainfall patterns over time.

Piku Laar

Piku, his wife, and 3 children live in one of the many red mud homes that are scattered amongst farmland in the Northern Ghana savannah. In the dry season, the countryside around Piku’s home stretches out in plains of golden grass and sandy soil dotted with trees that lead to an escarpment looming on the horizon.  Having just finished harvesting his dry season crops of tomatoes, onions, soya beans, and watermelon, Piku is now preparing to plant maize, millet, and ground nuts, which will be appropriate for the upcoming rainy season. But he has had some concerns about the forthcoming season due to changes in weather that he has observed over the past few years.  There has been a shift in the rainfall pattern; the rainy season is starting later.  It used to start in April and now it begins in May or June. “We used to get better yields, but because of the shift in the raining seasons and late planting, we have a reduction of yields” says Piku, his brow furrowing.  Insufficient or excessive rainfall that is poorly timed can reduce plant health and the ability to produce a high yield.  Crops are also more likely to suffer from insect and disease damage under these conditions.

Of the crops he grows, Piku keeps some and sells the rest.  Last year, he harvested 20 bags of rice and 25 bags of maize, worth USD 2250 on the market but this is less than in previous years. “With smaller yields, I have to sell less.  One of the effects of this is that I cannot expand my farm.  I really want to harvest more,” he exclaims with conviction. Looking down, Piku whispered “I might start having more difficulty paying school and health care fees.  I might have to take my 11- and 9-year-old children out of school if I can’t afford the fees,”

To deal with this situation, Piku and other community members are introducing the use of improved varieties of short duration seeds and several techniques for improving soil fertility. They are still faced with an increasing number of floods, especially in July and August which gives problems with timing of planting and harvesting to avoid losses.

Charles Yorke who is the head of the research department at the Ghana Meteorological Agency (GMET) explains  “Climate change is all about variability and extremes.  Particularly in the North, we have extreme conditions of flood events and droughts.” With these changes causing greater livelihood challenges, Piku and the Farfar community have become involved with CARE’s Adaptation Learning Programme (ALP) in the past year through their partner organization, Presbyterian Agricultural Station – Garu (PAS-G).

ALP is working to help vulnerable households enhance their abilities to adapt to climate change in Sub-Saharan Africa. “During frequent interactions with ALP about the weather, community members brought up the need to have access to rainfall information” says Piku.  Responding to these demands, ALP installed a rain gauge in Farfar seven months ago to measure the amount of rainfall.  Piku volunteered to be one of six community members that received training in Bolgatanga on how to use the rain gauges for rainfall data collection. 

Piku takes the readings and writes them on a tally card and then pours out the water from the gauge to allow for accurate daily measurements.  Every month, the data is sent to PAS-G where a copy is kept on file, and then forwarded to the Meteo Regional Office through Ghana’s Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) for analysis and weather forecasting.

With the installation of the rain gauge and ALP’s lessons on climate change, Piku and other Farfar citizens have gained an understanding of how climate change affects their agricultural practices and how the rain gauge information that they themselves generate will, in time, help to make their farms more productive.

The purpose of the rain gauge is to help determine the amount and distribution of annual rain and monitor changes over the long term.  Over the next 2-5 years, Piku’s diligently collected data will gradually start showing a trend, which the communities can use and which is specific to their location.  “The feedback information from the rain figures will be useful for us in planning in regards to climate change. It will also guide us in planning for the season with what crops to plant and when to plant them,” Piku says with a smile.  Basic knowledge of crops, soil, seasonal rainfall patterns from previous years and future forecasts, as well as human behaviour are needed to produce higher yields in the wake of climate change in Ghana.

As community members become more sensitized to climate change and gain rainfall knowledge Piku and other Farfar community members will become more adaptable, effective farmers in the face of the uncertainties of climate change.