Rain…Rain…Don’t go Away: The Ministry of Food and Agriculture’s Search for Water
Climate change is shifting rainfall patterns in West Africa and threatening Ghana's, predominantly rainfed, agriculture sector. How will Ghana's Ministry of Food and Agriculture respond to this inevitable phenomenon?
Similar to most Sub-Saharan African economies, Ghana’s economy relies heavily on its agriculture sector. In 2015, agriculture represented 20.3% of Ghana’s $37.86 B in GDP  and employed 44.7% of Ghana’s workforce in 2013. With the growth in global population and food demand becoming a growing concern worldwide, African nations are anticipated to play a larger role in the global food supply-chain. This proves promising for Ghanaian farmers, Ghana’s agriculture sector and the future of Ghana’s economy.
As a result of an under-developed irrigation network, rainfall is the primary water source for Ghana’s agriculture complex. Thus, crop production in Ghana is highly susceptible to drought and overall rainfall variability. This variability places farmers, whose income is dependent on successful crop yields, in a precarious position. Therefore, consistent rainfall and optimized water management techniques are vital for Ghana to realize its economic potential.
Rapid change in rainfall
Ghana’s national average rainfall has shown a declining trend from 2008 to 2015 (see Exhibit 1). The Ministry of Food and Agriculture (“MoFA” or the “Ministry”) – Ghana’s lead agency developing and executing policies and strategies for the agriculture sector – attributes the shift to climate change.
Exhibit 1: Ghana National Average Rainfall (mm) 2008-2015 (*Jan to Nov)
Source: SRID, Ministry of Food and Agriculture
The increase in Earth’s average temperature due to the growing rate of “greenhouse gas” emissions, or climate change, has had a dramatic effect on Ghana’s environment. Disruptions in air and ocean currents have dramatically changed weather patterns in Ghana, leading to intense droughts and floods throughout the country. The net effect [to farmers] is that, general productivity has stagnated over the years [,] leading to low incomes and food insecurity . In addition, climate change may exacerbate other risks such as seasonality of rainfall. Because of these factors, it is estimated that by 2100, Western Africa will assume agricultural losses of 2% – 4%  of GDP
To confront the impact of climate change on Ghana’s agriculture sector, the MoFA has focused its efforts on developing Ghana’s irrigation facilities. Through its Ghana Irrigation Development Authority arm, MoFA created the Small Farms Irrigation Project’s (SFIP) ) with the goal of expanding irrigable land by developing 11 small scale irrigation schemes covering 820 ha. Cropping intensity is expected to increase to 200% and incremental crop production is expected to be about 5,000 tons per year .
Another recent approach by the Ministry was to rehabilitate the Dawhenya Irrigation Scheme – a reservoir with a capacity of 5.8 mm3. The project will replace inefficient electrical pumps, rehabilitate fishing ponds and establish a farmer training center. MoFA hopes that the project will create employment along the value chain, as pilot rice and vegetables farms will also be established at the site.
In order to reverse the negative effect of climate change on Ghanaian agriculture, the Ministry must consider utilizing soil and water management techniques. Specifically, the Ministry can decrease water losses through soil evaporation and increase water storage by acquiring better soil. These practices seek to optimize soil moisture replenishment. MoFA will move forward using these techniques which utilize cut-off drains, artificial waterways, and retention ditches. Additionally, MoFa can practice water harvesting through using storage structures, such as earth dams. In the short-run the increased efficiencies from utilizing these methods will help offset the reduction in agriculture productivity.
Principally, in order for Ghana to secure the its agriculture industry in the long-run, the MoFA must develop a comprehensive irrigation system for its farms. With sufficient irrigation infrastructure the country will be less susceptible to climate change and maximize farmer profitability. The long-term benefits will help build the country’s economy and labor force. Consequently, other GDP sectors will grow and the MoFA will lead Ghana on a trajectory towards economic growth.
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- [Ministry of Food and Agriculture, Agricultural sector Progress report 2015; http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/ghana]
- [Boko, M., I. Niang, A. Nyong, C. Vogel, A. Githeko, M. Medany, B. Osman-Elasha, R. Tabo and P. Yanda, 2007: Africa. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, M.L. Parry, O.F. Canziani, J.P. Palutikof, P.J. van der Linden and C.E. Hanson, Eds., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge UK, 433-467.]
Student comments on Rain…Rain…Don’t go Away: The Ministry of Food and Agriculture’s Search for Water
Interesting post. I see some parallels to what is happening in Brazil and to Rahil’s post about tea production in India . In Ghana, Brazil and India, extra irrigation has been a widely adopted solution to fight decreasing rainfall. But I wonder whether the costs associated with this solution are sustainable in the long term. Some companies in Brazil and India are trying to develop new varieties of plants which are less vulnerable to droughts and can grow without irrigation. Do you think this can also be applied in Ghana?
Interesting post, Zach! The impact of climate change on the agriculture industry in Ghana has the potential to be extremely detrimental to the economy.
Mariana, I agree. I wonder whether the new irrigation systems that are being proposed will be realistic as it pertains to cost. I am also curious whether a more efficient method for mitigating the impact of climate change could be something similar to the solution that we saw in the INDIGO case a few weeks back – a seed coating that protects the seed from climate variabilities. What are your thoughts?
I’m equally concerned about climate change in sub-Saharan Africa, and other regions located around the equator. These regions are currently the least equipped financially compared to other regions, but will comparatively bear the brunt of climate change. Ghana is part of the UNDP Africa Adaption Program which supports direct country assistance to develop adaptation actions and resilience plans. It is also involved in collaborative efforts not only with neighboring countries, but also multilateral and international agencies that will help fund these plans. These partnerships means climate change solutions will be an integrated effort across various issues such as health, nutrition, and education, all of which engage with climate change in some capacity. The better Ghana can push this effort now the better it will fare as time passes and the country sees the effects of climate change. This article addresses these partnerships and their specific strategies: http://sdwebx.worldbank.org/climateportalb/doc/GFDRRCountryProfiles/wb_gfdrr_climate_change_country_profile_for_GHA.pdf
Interesting post, Zach. I experienced similar concerns while working with coconut farmers in the Philippines this summer. Unpredictable droughts and typhoons in the Philippines can have detrimental affects on the productivity and profitability of farmers.
Our program considered investing in irrigation systems to help mitigate the risks of drought in the Philippines, but could not find a sustainable financial model to invest in the upfront construction and the long term maintenance of such systems. Do you know how MoFA is planning to fund this program in the long run? Has it been successful so far? If so, what were the key drivers of success?
Great post Zach. This trend in decreased rainfall will certainly be difficult to reverse. Those improvements in irrigation make a lot of sense, and hopefully the investment will be sufficient to more than make up for the reduction in rain. I hope too that agriculture techniques, and chemical methods may be of use, similar to what we read about in the Indigo case.
Very interesting post, Zach! I wonder if MoFa is also taking preventive measures against floods, which does not only erode crops and land but also heavily affects the life of low income farmers as their houses and towns suffer from destruction. I wrote my own post about the effects of climate change on Peruvian agriculture, more specifically of Camposol, a leading producer and exporter of asparagus, hass avocados, and shrimp. They have tackled lower yields mainly by product diversification, and for example now are striving to become one of the regions top blueberry producers and exporters. I think this is an interesting approach, and likely is being considered by the MoFa in Ghana for the future!
Thanks Zach! Do you believe water is being used efficiently in Ghana’s agriculture sector? Maybe part of the solution (in addition to reforming its irrigation system) is actually utilizing the resource adequately.
Another thought I had was in line with the use of water in farms. I wrote about Tyson chicken and how the lack of resources is affecting its farms here in the US, I assume something similar might be happening in Ghana.
Great Article. Happy to see MoFa is actively combating the effects of changing weather patterns on crop yields. In addition to your recommendations on soil and water management techniques, I would also like to see programs targeted at managing fertilizer usage which has also been identified as a culprit in increasing greenhouse gas emissions.