Climate-smart pre-planting decisions for farmers ahead of major season

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agricultural

Smallholder farmers got a sneak peek of how unpredictable this year’s rainy season could be when it rained ‘miraculously’ in January.

agriculturalAgriculture in Ghana is largely rain-fed and thus any inconsistency in rainfall patterns could spell doom for farmers, many of whom cannot afford irrigation services to ensure all-year-round farming.

Some farmers, particularly those in the hinterlands, rely heavily on indigenous knowledge to predict the weather by observing the stars, clouds, wind, and the emergence of some insect species over a period to tell the onset of early rains.

The unexpected rain in January, followed by erratic harmattan in early February, indicated that the weather had become extremely unpredictable and that depending on traditional knowledge was unsustainable and unrealistic.

Climate effect

With climate change affecting rainfall patterns it would not be prudent for farmers to rely on traditional knowledge to forecast the weather.

Farmers, who depended on the rains to cultivate their farms, are battling with extreme weather conditions such as droughts, floods, and windstorms.

According to the State of the Climate in Africa 2022 report, the rate of temperature rise in Africa has accelerated in recent decades, resulting in increasingly severe weather and climate-related hazards.

Farming season in Ghana

In the absence of reliable irrigation systems to guarantee uninterrupted farming, planting season in Ghana is tied to rainfall pattern. The southern part of Ghana has an extensive rain forest while the north is mostly savannah.

Traditionally, southern Ghana has a tropical climate with two main rainy seasons, from March to July and from September to October, separated by a short dry season in August and a long dry season from mid-October to March. The northern savannah zone has only one rainfall peak.

However, the growing unpredictability of weather caused by climate change, has affected the preparations of farmers as each planting season is characterised by unpredictable weather patterns.

Mr. Edward Kareweh, Secretary, General Agriculture Workers Union, told the Ghana News Agency that the calendar for the planting season had not been stable in recent years due to the unpredictability of the weather.

He said the situation affected crop productivity as farmers, particularly those who do not have direct access to information on the weather, are unable to plan effectively.

“Last year, the weather was favourable to us. We had a lot of rainfall throughout the year and that accounts for the increase in crop productivity that we observed in the year…some years are bad, and it affects the productivity and income of farmers,” he said.

Climate-smart practices

The Ghana Meteorological Agency is likely to provide the 2024 weather forecast by the end of February or early March, and farmers are expected to plan their activities accordingly.

For areas that observe surplus rainfall, early season start dates, shorter dry spells and excess floods, the experts encourage farmers to enhance vigilance against crop pests, while areas that experience water deficits are advised to focus on drought tolerant species.

Dr. Stephen Yeboah, Senior Research Scientist, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research-Crop Research Institute, urged farmers in the Southern part to pay attention to the 2024 seasonal weather forecast ahead of the major farming season in April.

He said the seasonal forecast would help farmers to understand the onset and the cessation of the rains to determine the kind of crops to cultivate.

Dr Yeboah said farmers need to acquire inputs such as fertilisers, insecticides, and seeds on time to prevent being thrown off guard by unpredictable weather.

He encouraged farmers to consult agriculture extension officers in local operational areas about the best climate-smart seeds to procure, as well as identifying the best location for a specific crop that can withstand climatic crisis.

“In the case of maize, because of the current climate variability, we recommend that farmers buy maize seeds that are drought tolerant. This will help the farmers to build resilience against climate vulnerability,” he said.

Dr. Yeboah said farmers could also procure early maturing seeds – that can mature faster and escape drought.

He urged farmers to be wary of fake seeds (grains) on the market and to buy from government-approved input dealers.

“Farmers should ask for certified seeds. Every certified seed is embossed with a label which indicates the name of the variety and characteristics, germination percentage, date of production, and date of expiration,” Dr. Yeboah said.

As Ghanaian farmers continue to rely on rainfall to schedule their farming activities, their vulnerability to climate change may intensify in the coming years.

Farmers and the agriculture sector, which account for about 54 per cent of the country’s GDP and employs more than half of the population, should not be at the mercy of the weather.

Ghana, like the rest of the region, is experiencing the effects of climate change, such as erratic rainfall patterns, rising temperatures, and an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events such as floods. These events are anticipated to worsen in the coming decades, and their impact could completely undermine food security measures.

The country may have no control over the weather but has control over how to respond to the impact of the weather by investing in climate-smart interventions and sustainable farming techniques, especially among smallholder farmers.

By Edward Acquah, GNA

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