By Kofi Adu Domfeh
Rebecca Butenya is a 60 year old mother of five. For the past ten years, her family’s main source of livelihood has been her mango farm at Juapong in the Volta Region of Ghana. “Our children are happy when all the fruits come out fine and we are also excited because we can sell enough to send them to school,” she says.
Until recently, she regarded her farming activities as lucrative. Her family’s plantation has been severely devastated by high fruit drop due to disease attack.
The business of farming is no longer easy, she lamented. “Fruit flies disturb us a lot; the fruits suffer and our income levels are heavily affected because we don’t harvest bountifully due to the diseases”.
Rebecca’s worry is exacerbated by the changing climate. “We also suffer when the rains don’t come as expected,” she said.
Pests, diseases and climate change remain the bane to Ghana’s citrus value chain, raising fears of potential job losses as the country loses its competitive advantage in citrus exports to Europe.
The Volta Mango Growers Association (VOMEGA), a smallholder mango producers’ cooperative, has been exploring means to provide members with support to meet the export market requirements. This includes climate-smart production techniques and practices.
Ghana’s Volta region has a vast arable land suitable for mango cultivation, but climate change has affected the soil and groundwater retention.
According to Chairman of the Association, Moses Abledu, the challenge of fruit flies and other insects on farms is compounded by the severity of weather patterns.
“If the time comes for the fruits to flower, we don’t experience much flowering; farmers therefore lose their yield in the process,” he stated.
The concern of climate change runs through the process of production through to harvesting and marketing of produce. “When it rains, it’s difficult to cart produce from the farmhouse to the market centres,” Moses noted. “We don’t get money to protect our farms against these flies and the few harvest too we lose to poor transportation and marketing”.
VOMAGA has the ultimate aim of exposing members to new technologies and innovations to address the constraints of pests, diseases and climate change, including the application of GPS and GIS technologies.
This will involve the use of satellite and remote sensing data to assist member farmers in their agro-meteorological information service decision making through a mobile text messaging device.
Solomon Elorm Allavi of Syecomp Ghana Ltd, an ICT firm, says the deployment of geospatial technologies to address production constraints is a key demand within the field of quality assurance, documentation, risk management, tracking and tracing in agriculture.
“The utilization of satellite and remote sensing data to assist farmers in making informed decisions in appropriate agri-input application, optimum water use for irrigation and field boundary delineation – farm mapping – is a game changer,” he said.
But accessing such technologies to enhance farm productivity comes at a cost, majority of the farmers cannot afford. For now, they are only exposed to training sessions in pruning, sanitation and other basic climate-smart farming practices.
Fifty-five year old father of four, Moses Klu, has been producing mangoes since 1999, long enough to take climate change into consideration in his entire production stages.
He regards the erratic rainfall pattern as a natural phenomenon, which he can’t do anything about. “If you want to look at the weather, you rely on forecast for good predictability which is difficult to come by and accessing irrigation facilities on farms is also an expensive venture,” he lamented.
He is however excited the rains have been good for the mango farmers since the beginning of the year. “I anticipate good harvest this season,” Mr. Klu expressed.
Yet, even in seasons of abundant rainfall, the farmers need appropriate scientific knowledge on the weather, soil, water and crop-related conditions to successfully deal with climate variation.
The use of ICTs to mitigate the effects of the climate change therefore needs a boost in a form of technical and financial investments to the actors in the sector.
Countries have prioritized agriculture as a critical focus for climate change adaptation, in acknowledgement of the sector’s vulnerability to climatic impacts.
Developing countries, like Ghana, are most vulnerable and technologies are often highlighted as a crucial resource for ensuring effective adaptation in agriculture.
The role of technology has been emphasized in the Fifth Assessment Report of Working Group Two of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the agriculture sector has been prioritized by 84 per cent of Parties in their Technology Needs Assessments.
The Technology Executive Committee (TEC) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has recognized the need for appropriate policies to support countries in applying adaptation technologies to meet the objectives of the UNFCCC.
In the future, local farmers should be able to use technology tools to monitor plot-specific information from satellite measurements. These concerns should engage the attention of the 21st UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris later this year.
“There is also the need for more awareness and training programmes on climatic change impact on agriculture to be instituted to increase outreach to smallholder farmers in Ghana,” observed Solomon.
These interventions, the farmers noted, are critical to ensure livelihoods, employment opportunities and potential foreign exchange earnings are not eluding individual farmers, communities and the nation.
VOMEGA’s Moses Abledu is advocating a national drive by the government to support smallholder farmers in the adoption of ICT-based technologies to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
“How we send our children to school to reach the highest level is our priority and through this people will see that there are opportunities to earn good income from mango growing,” he said. “We can achieve this when the conditions under which we produce are conducive”.
And this, to the farmers, is a means to an end – they want to be to be able to meet the educational needs of their children.
“If we are getting some training on how to control the pests and also how to better manage our lands in these challenging climate times, I hope this would yield the necessary results so that our families can continue to survive on the farm,” said Rebecca.