Saturday, November 10, 2012
Climate change impacts continue to draw thousands of households below the poverty line, especially areas where rain-fed agriculture is the mainstay of households because their livelihood is heavily affected by reduced and erratic rainfall.
The three regions in the north of Ghana (Northern, Upper East and Upper West Regions) have persistently been among the poorest in the country. While other regions such as the Central Region and parts of other regions are also poor, the north comprises the poorest large geographical area. Generally, most parts of Ghana have two rainy seasons; major season from April to July and minor season from September to November . But in the north of Ghana, there is only one rainy season which begins somewhere in late April and lasts until about late August or sometimes September. Annual rainfall in the north is about 1000 mm on the average. As in many African countries, poverty is concentrated among farmers and the major livelihood of the people in the Northern, Upper East and Upper West Regions are farmers, rain-fed farmers.
Last year, when I had the opportunity to be part of a team that undertook a study in four districts in Ghana’s northern savannah zone, I came close once again to the reality of how climate change is impacting livelihoods. There, I encountered young men who narrated how they are so pushed to their limits in trying to stay in their communities and work; mainly farming. They revealed to me what used to be a previous cycle of young men moving southwards to find work during the long dry seasons in the north, by which time the rainy season would have started in the south, and returning to make their own farms when the rainy season in the north begins. But now, they say, this cycle has changed. Young men now make a one-off trip to find work and stay in the south. This is the result of reduced and erratic rainfall and prolonged dry periods in the northern savannah which makes the annual return trip to their own farms less profitable compared with staying down south to work and remit families back home.
Households with a son or two living and working in the south in places like Kumasi (the second biggest city) and Accra (Ghana’s capital) have a better coping capacity to the impacts of climate change because they receive remittances from relations in Accra or Kumasi. This has then become a great force attracting young men and women to also migrate. Parents who are old and fragile are advising their children, and even sometimes push them, to migrate to the city to find work and remit them. Such is the gravity of the situation that young men who are not yet migrating and struggling to still make a living from their farms are helpless and feel the pressure everyday to migrate. They cannot stay and see their families starve and wallow in poverty.
I am aware of many interventions aimed at addressing the north-south migration in Ghana. But I am convinced and would like to draw our attention to the fact that any of such programmes to address north-south migration in Ghana that does not include adaptation to extreme climate variability is likely to be unsustainable.