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Changes in Weather Patterns Need Swift Action to Save Ghana’s Agriculture

By Francis Npong

Pearl Millet is one of the hunger breaker crops in parts of Northern Ghana. Often referred to as savannah vegetation, northern Ghana records a maximum of 55mm of annual rainfall. In some case less of this volume. The area is dry with high temperature. Humidity is too low to support crops that need much water to produce. Savannah area has intermittent weather patterns. Based on these scenario farmers in savannah region of Ghana are unable to produce enough food to feed their families. Household food insecurity keeps deteriorating.

The case of farmers in the country side has worsened over the years because of the government inability to provide sustainable agricultural supportive mechanisms such as irrigation facilities, early bulking and heat tolerant crops to farmers. The climate of Ghana is tropical.

There are two main seasons: the wet and the dry seasons. Northern Ghana experiences its rainy season from March to November while Southern Ghana experiences its rainy season from April to mid-November. The tropical climate of Ghana is relatively mild for its latitude.

The harmattan, a dry desert wind, blows in north-east Ghana from December to March, lowering the humidity and causing hot days and nights in northern part of Ghana. Average temperatures range from 21°C to 28°C (70 to 82°F) with a relative humidity between 77% and 85%. In the northern part of Ghana, there are two rainy seasons: April through June and September through November.

Squalls occur in the northern part of Ghana during March and April, followed by occasional rain until August and September, when the rainfall reaches its peak. Rainfall ranges from 78 to 216 centimeters (31 to 85 inches) a year, according to Wikipedia (Ghana Climate).

Pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum) is the most widely adopted crop in the Upper East Region of Ghana because of its ability to withstand long drought. It serves as a hunger-breaker and usually planted between February and March when there is little rainfall. Source: weather underground best forecast By June-July Pearl millet should be getting ready for harvest but that will not be the case this year (2015).

This is also the times farmers have exhausted their scanty harvest. “Pearl millet is the only cereal that reliably provides grain and fodder under dry land conditions on shallow and sandy soils with low fertility and low water holding capacity” wrote R. A. L. Kanton, a crop scientist with Savana Agriculture Research Institute, Ghana (SARI) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR-Ghana).

Popularly known in the local dialect as “Nara”, farmers in this part of the country are yet to bury the hunger-breaker seeds on their fields because of the failure of rains to come in time. That first rains have failed to come this year. “The rains that came were too small to support the Nara seed to germinate”, said Atinga Akologu. Akologu and his colleague farmers are still looking forward to the government of Ghana to provide them with irrigation facilities and improved seeds to help them cope with the changes in the weather patterns.

The current Nara crop farmers are using was released in the mid 1950s before the country attained her independent. “There had been several changes in rainfall patterns, even the genotype of Nara have changed, we need new improved Nara to replace the current crop to be able to increase household food security to sustain our families”, Akologu said.

The farmer who kicked against the introduction of genetically modified organism crop (GMOs) said, “that will worsens our situation, it will mean that we have to wait for the seeds to be brought to the country before we farm”, he said. “Maybe the government is waiting for the situation to become bad before she takes action. As a country we are only good using “fire fighting” methods of solving national problems”, he said.

Ghana is predominately an agriculture nation in which 65% of the population is depending on the sector to make their livelihood. It is rainfed agriculture too. Irrigation is not widely use in spite of it potentials to increase food security. “If it is about sports, the government will source money anywhere to build sports stadia, if it is political project, they will find money for it but if it is agriculture that will benefit rural poor, the government will not meet the loan conditions.

This is a country without a national agenda” another farmer said. In 1950s Ghana was a net food exporter but this story has already changed from the exporter to the net importer of food. Something is not right in governance. According to farmers, the traditional crops are failing because of inconsistent rainfall pattern (erratic) and high temperatures as a result of climate change. Besides the lack of governmental commitment to agriculture, farm inputs are also not readily available and accessible to farmers in times of need.

With the advance of climate change, the government of Ghana needs to rethink about agricultural policy and make them worthwhile. Though Ghana is contributing minimal to climate change, the brunt of climate change is too high to relax. The government needs to take action to support local farmers to produce all year round through agriculture irrigation support system.

The government must take action to support local farmers to diversify their livelihood activities as a coping strategy to climate change. This is not too expensive to manage than to import food into the country to support national food security. Act now or plunge the nation into climate related disaster in the near future. The inconsistency of weather pattern will need swift action by the government of Ghana to save Ghana’s agriculture from fallen flat.

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