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Erratic Rains and Erratic Markets

Author(s): Environmental Change, Globalisation and the Expansion of Shallow Groundwater Irrigation in West Africa
Congress: 2008
Author(s): Wolfram Laube, Martha Awo, Benjamin Schraven
Wolfram Laube center for development research (ZEF) department for political and cultural change walter-flex-str. 3 53113 bonn germany tel. ++49-228-734914 fax. ++49-228 -731972

Keyword(s): climate change, land degradation, adaptation, irrigation, globalisation, west africa, ghana
AbstractClimate change and land degradation have considerably altered the conditions for rain-fed agriculture in Northern Ghana. While the overall amount of rain has hardly changed, the onset of the annual rains has shifted and the rainy season has considerably shortened. Furthermore, population pressure has led to continuous farming of available agricultural lands and thus caused land degradation. Crop failure and decreasing yields that result from these environmental changes have caused further impoverishment of what was already Ghana’s poorest region. While the youth often opted for migration to Ghana’s wealthier South, many farmers have started to develop the shallow groundwater irrigation capacities of their home region. This adaptation process has been studied within the framework of the GLOWA Volta Project, which is undertaking an integrated bio- physical and socio-economic analysis of the hydrological cycle within the Volta Basin. The study of shallow groundwater irrigation focussed on the hydrological sustainability, socio-economic impact and the institutional implications of this farmer-driven development. However, within this paper, the results of quantitative sociological and qualitative anthropological research will be presented. Starting in the mid-1990s thousands of farmers have started to farm vegetables during the dry season. They take advantage of shallow groundwater which they harvest from wells by mainly manual means along the seasonal rivers of the region. Well irrigation techniques had been introduced in a few villages of the region during colonial times but were not taken over in neighbouring areas until the irrigation boom of the last decade. The governmental promotion of irrigation in small-scale and medium-scale irrigation schemes that has been ongoing since the 1960s only benefited a small minority of farmers. Therefore, faced with the decline of rainy season farming and increasing poverty thousands of farmers started to develop their own irrigation facilities. Farmers learned from those who already practiced well and new lease arrangements for the increasingly scarce irrigable land developed. This development has helped a great deal to ameliorate poverty and to reverse rural-urban migration. Research shows that irrigation farmers were able to increase household income by up to 50 % and that the level of migration decreased drastically. However, while the irrigators were initially able to profit from the development of good road access to northern Ghana and an increasing demand for vegetables in Ghana’s South, they are now frequently met with market failure. While the sale of fresh tomatoes is met with stiff competition from small-scale farmers from neighbouring Burkina Faso, Ghana’s market is flooded with cheap tomato paste from Italy and China, where the production of tomato is highly subsidised. Global and regional competition have started to render shallow groundwater irrigation, which has been developed as a means to locally adapt to climate change and land degradation, increasingly risky. As markets have become as unreliable as the rains, farmers nowadays face the uphill task to deal with global climate change and globalisation at the same time.
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