Report: Climate change and the ‘Lost Farm Harvests’

A few months ago I went on a trip to the Volta, Northern, Brong Ahafo and Ashanti Regions ostensibly to hear from farmers at first hand, concerns some of them have made huge yield losses and have been plunged into colossal debts as a result of highly unfavourable rainfall patterns this year – a phenomenon attributable to climate change.

The stories I heard were truly heart breaking.
I met the 2010 best farmer award winner in the Techiman Municipality, Mathew K. Tuah. A calm, gentle looking, dark in complexion man.

Since the start of the crop season in March, he has planted his maize field three times already. He plants, they go bad, then he uproots and plants again. On all the occasions, the harvests he gets are dried branches with little or no corn. Mr. Tuah’s investment in the last planting he did was about 3000 cedis. Almost half of it, (1,200 cedis) was loan he took from a local bank.

Now, he cannot pay back that money. Worst of all, he can’t even finance the education of his children. “I don’t even know how I would pay the loan to the bank. My child schools at Obuasi, school has resumed now, but I don’t even know how to get money for him to go. If the farm was doing well, I would have had money for him,” Mr. Tuah told me, visibly depressed by the circumstances.

Another farmer, Samuel Ofori Atta is the reigning municipal best farmer in Techiman. His story is no different. Except that the loan he took was a hundred cedis less than his colleague. “All our produce has gone bad. For more than three months, there has been no rain here. Opportunity Bank gave me inputs on loan to the tune of 1,100 cedis. But I cannot pay back now,” he said with teary eyes.

President of the Farmers Organisation Network David Amoah explained to me in an interview the problem is widespread in several other food growing areas in the region including Sene and Nkoranza. A development which surely has implications for the nation’s food sufficiency because these are Ghana’s food basket towns. “Most of the farmers, what to eat is even a problem, not to talk of what to send to the market to sell, so I forsee food shortages in the country,” Agric Extension Officer in Techiman Mujees Abdulai told me.

In the Ashanti region, the story is not different. I visited the home of the Regional Agricultural Director, Kwaku Menkah Fodjour for a discussion. He told me his office envisages 40 percent less food will be produced in the region this year because of the poor rainfall patterns. “We are projecting in Ashanti region, a reduction of anywhere between 30 to 40 percent compared to last year,” he said.

Up north, the situation is even worse. Most streams are dry, just as crops in the field. I visited Dawuni Kweku Fondjor, a farmer at Juanayele in the Nanumba North District of the Northern region. He complains his 1000 cedis investment into maize production this year has gone waste because of bad weather, leaving him with no money nor food to feed the family. “I farmed about 5 acres of maize this year, then the rain ceased, and now, even half a bag of maize, I will not get from the field” he said. “I am a family man. I have four children and a wife. What would I use to feed the family,” he quizzed? At Saakpuli in the Savelugu Nanton Municipality, three months after Baako Alhassan planted a 17 acre farm in June, the plants are yet to produce food. He spent more than 3000 cedis growing crops on the field. But has struggled to recoup the investment. All we found on a visit to the farm were emaciated, dried plants with little or no corn seeds.

Then I visited the Kadjebi District of the Volta Region. Where the stories got me both smiling and sad at the same time. I met a rice, maize and cocoa farmer Seth Kwame Amedorme, who estimated his yield loss this year as a result of drought there to be about 2500 cedis. “We have lost very greatly, I spent 3000 cedis on my maize farm, the money I got was not more than 400 cedis…I lost more than 2500 cedis,” he said. Seth added: “So my family are suffering…The nakedness of a woman is a very awkward thing. If you don’t buy cloth for your wife for a year, the house would be very hot. And my children, one is in secondary school, I cannot pay their fees,” Seth said with a stern face.

The farmers admit the problems with poor rainfall patterns are nothing new. But as Quist Agbeve, a farmer at Atsivikope in the Kadjebi District puts it; this year’s situation is the worst he has since in his three decades of farming. Ashanti Regional Agric Director Mr. Menka Fordjour puts it in a better context with this quote: “So, if you have a period of stress, like it’s been in Kumasi, over the past six to eight weeks, in fact the reports I m getting, indicates that in some areas, for three months, there has been no rains, then there is a problem.” Three months without rains is definitely a lot of trouble for the farmers.

He tells me the effect of this on food prices is already being felt. Prices of maize have doubled, and same is the situation with prices of poultry products because maize forms a bulk part of their feed. “Currently maize sells at about 130 to 150 cedis per maxi bag. Around this time last year, the same weight cost 50 to 60 cedis… And we expect prices to go even higher. A create of eggs was 8 to 9 cedis, now it is 14 to16 cedis,” he said. David Asare Asiamah of Agro Mindset Farms fears the hike in prices could turn people to alternative protein sources than egg and chicken, thereby pushing them out of business.

My colleague Chantelle Asante went to speak to the Chief Executive Officer of the National Food Buffer Stock Company, Eric Osei Wusu. The company is an agency under the Ministry of Food and Agriculture which buys and stores food stuff. He confirmed the company is anticipating shortage in grains this year, but insisted there was no need to panic. “Grains supply has been a little short than we normally get it, and that is because the rainfall pattern wasn’t that good,” he said.

We all know the problems. Which we have discussed extensively up there. But what are the solutions. The Agric Director in Ashanti, Mr. Menkah Fodjour pointed out the problem is the result of climate change, which must be tackled head on. Climate change is simply a change in the weather patterns over long periods of time, caused by pollution of the atmosphere. In order for crops to do well on the field, they require reasonable amounts of water over an extended period. Ordinarily, the major rainy season in Ghana runs from April to August. Then the minor season begins in September and ends in November. But what climate change has caused in Ghana are heavy rains at the start of the season, and long periods of drought. Both tend to destroy farms.

The lack of rains in Ghana when it is needed most has now become a cycle, repeating itself every four to seven years. But isn’t it a disgrace that in this 21st Century, less than 2 percent of all farms in Ghana are irrigated, and farmers still look up to God for rains to nourish their crops? We have an Irrigation Development Authority in Ghana which’s impact on agric production we have really not seen over the years. Why should it be so? More needs to be done to deal with climate change, but ‘more than more’ would have to be done to help modernize agriculture.

The full story of how these farmers and many more have been dealt heavy blows by the poor rainfall patterns this year is contained in a “Joy news’ Exclusive” documentary which airs on Monday 23rd November, 2015 at 6:30 pm. The documentary also discusses possible solutions to this recurring problem.

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