Climate change has become a major problem affecting the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals by countries all over the world. The Upper West Region of Ghana is currently going through increasing temperatures, declining and variable rainfall totals, floods, long droughts, rising sea levels and more extreme weather patterns. People in the Upper West Region of Ghana, for example, live on the edge of climate change every day. Been a farming region, farmers in the Upper West Region have had their crops either washed out by floods or had poor yield due to drought almost every year. With the long dry seasons and little rainfall, crops such as millet, beans, guinea corn and maize which are predominantly grown by farmers in the region suffer. This could be among reasons why the Upper West Region is leading in the national poverty index and food insecurity. Low crops yield means, poverty, malnutrition, and hunger. People who are most affected by climate change are smallholder farmers depending on natural resource-based activities. Rising sea levels and increased temperatures have some impacts in many parts of the region. The coastal communities’ experiences erosion and many inland communities experience extreme flooding with periods of drought between August and September each year. All of these factors sometimes leave families and communities displaced, homeless and landless. The impact of climate change is affecting the education system in the region and country as a whole. The ongoing severe and extreme weather patterns affecting the region are challenging the infrastructure of schools. In recent years, some school buildings have collapsed due to flooding and erosion. Climate change leading to extreme temperatures not only worsens the outbreak of diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cerebrovascular diseases, respiratory diseases and diabetes-related sicknesses but also create some unprecedented health problems. A lot of efforts have been made in the global front on the fight against climate change but with much concentration on factories and other machines that produce gases. But what happens to other factors also contributing to climate change like desertification, bushfires among other human activities that all contribute to climate change? Commercial Charcoal Burning: Charcoal burning has become a lucrative business for many smallholder farmers in the Upper West Region of Ghana. A bag of charcoal in the region cost between GH₵ 25.00 to GH₵ 30.00 which means with 100 bags of charcoal, the burner can earn between GH₵ 250 To GH₵ 300.00. This is a lot of money to the ordinary farmers whose annual income mostly doesn’t exceed GH₵ 1000.00. It is therefore not surprising that farmers in this region now transport charcoal to Southern Ghana every day. Been a region with little and poor vegetation, fewer trees, poor rainfall, poor crops yield and a region with the highest poverty index in the country, it was expected that farmers become climate resilient but it is the opposite. The cutting down of trees for charcoal include economic trees such as the shea trees. Shea nuts have been a major economic tree in the region but have the highest demand when turned into charcoal. Charcoal buyers prefer to buy charcoal made from the shea tree because this type of charcoal has the highest market demand. But the continued cutting down of trees is transforming fertile lands into deserts and results of deforestation, drought, and other inappropriate agricultural practices. Shea trees been cut down and processed into charcoal in the Upper West Region It is not surprising that over the years, the Upper West Region has been experiencing different weather and climate patterns compared with the other regions especially those in Southern Ghana. The climate in the region is becoming increasingly arid, and rivers and other water bodies are drying up. And though trees can absorb carbon through photosynthesis, deforestation among other factors have limited the ability of forests to regulate carbon emissions. Bush burning: Burning the bush in the Upper West Region has become a habit! Every year, the forest vegetation is burnt by people including hunters, farmers, cigarette smokers among others either intentionally or accidentally. It is believed also that the activities of Fulanis headmen and people who harvest wild honey also contribute to bush burning in the region. Farmers burnt their farmlands after clearing their lands and during harvesting activities. Hunters who go on hunting bush meat often in larger groups also burn the bush to get animals like antelope, rabbits, grass cutters and others. Nomadic headmen also burnt dried grasses in order to get fresh grasses for their animals. Wild honey harvesters who hunt for them in bush end up burning the bush in their attempt to chase bees away from the honeycombs with fire. Not only did bush fires many at times burn other farmers’ crops, destroy soil fertility among others, it also adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. As carbon dioxide contributes to greenhouse effects, it essentially insulates the Earth, making our planet warm. Land Tenure System: A common belief and practice in the region are land ownership where families, clans, and communities owned a portion of land and decide how to use and manage it to their benefits. So one cannot stop people from burning or cutting down trees on their land, little did they know that the activities on their land will definitely have some negative impact not only on their society but the world as a whole. What we can do Climate change is mainly caused by human activities and to address the problem of climate change, the knowledge, attitudes, and practices of people in the region and country need to change. Communities need to become climate resilient; farmers should be empowered to better withstand and adapt to a changing climate. For us to prevent droughts from getting worse or more frequent, we need to stop climate change and preserve our water supply. Communities shouldn’t have to live with the looming threat of commercial charcoal burning, bush burning, food shortages, and loss of income because of climate change and increased drought especially when the way forward is so clear. Practicing climate-smart agriculture: Farmers who formed the majority of the working force in the region should be educated to understand that using climate-smart practices have a lot of positive impact on their farms. They can practice trees planting such that: they can act as windbreaks, reducing soil erosion; can enriching soil; provide shade for people and nutrition especially from fruits and vegetables. The Ministry of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Forestry Commission, and the Ghana Fire Service can coordinate to create awareness, change behaviors, attitudes, and practices that are threats to climate change in the region. Availability of government and NGOs programs in rural communities: The government planting for food and jobs program, the one village one dam and one district one factory program should be made available and accessible by all people especially smallholder farmers in the rural communities. If rural communities have an alternative to commercial charcoal burning, it will reduce the indiscriminate cutting down of trees to meet their economic, social and other needs. Enforcing the laws: The security agencies of the various districts; the police, Fire Service, Environmental Protection Agency, the Forestry Commission, Ministry of Food and Agriculture, traditional rulers and the citizens should arrest any track exporting charcoal from the region to other parts of the country. The Ghana Fire Service and Environmental Protection Agency should be resourced to arrest and prosecute fire offenders. By-laws and means of raising funds for the assemblies: The various district assemblies in the region should set up by-laws aimed at stopping commercial charcoal burning and exporting. Tracks loaded with charcoal should be intercepted and heavy levy imposed on the car owner and the charcoal burner. Imposing tax and levies on commercial charcoal burning and exporting is a quick way of raising funds for the assemblies as well as discouraging people from burning them. Behavior change communication: People in the region should know the causes, effects and how to prevent climate change. A change in people knowledge, attitudes and practices will go a long way to reduce human activities that serve as a threat to climate change. The various media especially local FM Stations in the region should each have some airtime dedicated to climate change awareness creation.
– By Fidelia Da-uri Awonodomo