FEATURE: Wellbeing for rural people in a changing climate – Experience from Ghana’s semi-arid areas
Rahina Sidiki Alare has worked with women’s groups in communities of Ghana’s semi-arid districts to spread timely and accurate climate information and support them to adopt climate-smart agriculture and develop business activities. These ways of working hold important lessons for agriculture-dependent communities elsewhere. She reports on challenges and achievements.
How the climate is putting smallholder farmers’ livelihoods at risk
Adapting to the impacts of climate variability and change can be a daunting challenge for both vulnerable smallholder farmers and decision-makers. The reality is that although smallholder farmers in these areas have long coped with environmental risk, the uncertainties surrounding the impacts of climate change in relation to the frequency, intensity and scale of impacts present challenges to adjusting to climate risk.
These impacts are further exacerbated by non-climatic factors mediated through socio-cultural, economic and political structures and processes. Drawing on my experiences in semi-arid Ghana under the Adaptation at Scale in the Semi-Arid Region (ASSAR) project, I present three critical barriers to an enabling policy and institutional environment for an inclusive rural wellbeing.
First, climate change is already impacting on agricultural productivity, but limited opportunities for livelihood diversification amplifies climate risk in these areas. This is more pronounced in the dry season, when there are limited opportunities to engage in productive livelihoods. As such, access to information on alternative livelihoods is vital in enabling smallholder farmers to diversify their livelihoods in order to minimise risk. This can be achieved through public-private partnerships including interventions by development partners.
Second, failure to recognise the disproportionate impacts of climate change on different identities of male and female smallholder farmers can hinder effective adaptation. For instance, women in semi-arid Ghana, particularly, unmarried women and young women are mostly impacted due to the influence of traditional patriarchal customs and norms, which limit their access to productive resources (land and assets) compared to their male counterparts. Therefore, recognising the differentiated vulnerabilities of these smallholder farmers and enhancing capacities tailored to their needs are essential in preventing interventions that may further marginalise the already vulnerable ones.
Third, access to climate information can be a constraining factor for effective climate action and implementation at the local level. While access to context-specific, timely and accurate climate information is vital for decision-making and planning purposes, local level institutions still lack the institutional capacity to provide and extend the reach of information to smallholder farmers.
How did the ASSAR-Ghana project overcome these barriers?
Self-Help Groups as an entry point for women-led action
To overcome these barriers, the ASSAR-Ghana project organised a series of capacity-building workshops for vulnerable women using leaders of women’s Self-Help Groups (SHGs) in both Lawra Municipal and Nandom District as entry points. We employed participatory learning and action, and a ‘training of trainers’ approach. The capacity-building workshops focused on providing information on alternative eco-inclusive livelihoods and ideas on how to improve businesses by emphasising value addition, branding and effective customer targeting and marketing. The capacity-building workshops also trained the women leaders on advocacy in order for them communicate their challenges better. In addition, the women were trained on financial management, credit access, business registration processes and climate information access and utilisation.
Climate Advisory Resource Centres spread localised information
In relation to the gap on access to climate information, four Climate Advisory Resource Centres (CARCs) were developed for smallholder farmer and extension agents to access audio-visual and printed information on climate change adaptation strategies.
Currently, through the DigiTAL project, the CARCs will be up-scaled to two other districts in the Upper West Region. Radio talks shows have also been integrated as part of hybridising climate information services. The women leaders including resource persons have talk shows on a local radio station providing information on topics related to alternative livelihoods, agricultural processing, village savings and loans, climate smart agricultural practices and environmental protection. These topics are in line with the five prioritised action areas developed through ASSAR-Ghana regional research and stakeholder engagement using participatory transformative scenario planning (TSP). These areas were prioritised because they were perceived are as a requirement to achieving food security in a changing climate. The action areas include sustainable food and livelihood empowerment, disaster risk management, improved market systems, ecosystem management, climate smart water management with gender as a cross-cutting issue.
Through these initiatives, women groups who previously acted in isolation in Lawra Municipal and Nandom District have been brought together at the leadership level and registered as apex bodies at their respective Municipal and District Assemblies. In addition, these groups have been linked up with Rural Banks, Department of Agriculture, and Business Advisory Services to access credit, information on climate smart practices, and Business Advisory Centres (BACs) to facilitate their activities and other future programmes. They have also gained skills on financial management and processes to advocate on issues that negatively affect them as women.
Critical to involve men as well as women in gender-transformative approaches
However, to harness support from men in empowering women, a gender transformative approach was also considered. The project believed that men are an integral part of the patriarchal society in which women find themselves. Therefore, empowering women without involving men in the process may lead to interventions that may further heighten existing risks. Another important point for consideration for an effective inclusive adaptation is the need to consider the vulnerabilities of different social groups and the localised contextual factors influencing these vulnerabilities to avoid further marginalising those who are already at risk. Thirdly, creating linkages between local groups with relevant institutions including traditional rulers can help provide the needed support capacity. Lastly, by developing the CARCs, the project sought to overcome challenges in accessing climate information which is vital for climate action at the local level.
CDKN invited Rahina Sidiki Alare as a guest blogger to write this article, the first in a series of blogs by African scientists and development practitioners on ‘How to accelerate adaptation action in Africa’, to set the scene for the Climate Adaptation Summit 2021.
 Lawson, E. T., Alare, R. S., Salifu, A. R. Z., & Thompson-Hall, M. (2019). Dealing with climate change in semi-arid Ghana: understanding intersectional perceptions and adaptation strategies of women farmers. GeoJournal, 4, 1–14. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10708-019-09974-4
Images: top right: Rahina in action in an ASSAR training for rural women; top: trainees involved in climate-smart agriculture.