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Rheinischen Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn (2010)

Irrigate or migrate ? Local livelihood adaptation in Northern Ghana in response to ecological changes and economic challenges

Schraven, B.

Titre : Irrigate or migrate ? Local livelihood adaptation in Northern Ghana in response to ecological changes and economic challenges

Auteur : Schraven, B.

Université de soutenance : Rheinischen Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn

Grade : Doctoral Thesis 2010

Résumé partiel
This thesis has been written in the framework of the GLOWA Volta Project (GVP). The German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) has launched several research projects, whose foci are on global climate change and its interference with local hydrological and socio-economic conditions. The GLOWA Volta project was initiated as one of these projects. The overall objective of this project is the analysis of the socio-economic and physical determinants of the hydrological cycle in the West-African Volta Basin in the face of global environmental change. The project’s main aim is the establishment of a scientifically sound Decision Support System (DSS) for all relevant stakeholders and actors in the area of water resource management. Particularly, the availability and the management of water under changing environmental conditions is one of the most important objectives of the GLOWA Volta Project. Within the overall project, different types of irrigation and their livelihood-adaptive potential were studied from the beginning of the project onwards. The specific hydrological and socio-economic impacts of different irrigation systems represented an important element in the research agenda of the project. In order to understand the impacts and drivers of the expansion of irrigation farming, also the expansion of shallow groundwater irrigation (hereafter SGI) in Ghana’s Upper East Region - a purely farmer driven expansion process - became one of the project’s research focuses. SGI can be perceived as an income earning strategy to reduce vulnerability : besides other ecological changes, the Upper East Region, Ghana’s second-poorest region, is expected to be affected by processes of climate change like enhanced rainfall variability leading to an increased vulnerability of the local peasant population towards harvest insecurity and thus also towards food insecurity. These predicted effects of ecological change are no longer ‘still up in the air’ but can be already felt at present by many small-scale farmers. SGI is an irrigation form that is based on the use of near-surface groundwater close to small riversides, which usually fall completely dry during dry seasons in Northern Ghana. The groundwater is either pulled up with buckets out of wells on riverside plots or it is pumped out of dugouts in the riverbeds via motor pumps. This small-scale irrigation kind is practiced during the dry season to an increasing degree in several places in North-Eastern Ghana. Where until the early 1990s this irrigation form was practiced by only a few farmers, a heavy boom of dry season SGI farming could be observed in the last one-and-a-half decades. There are several driving forces for that : SGI is not hard to learn for the local farmers and this knowledge can be easily shared among the farmers. Furthermore, the initial investment costs - at least for the farmers who do not use an irrigation pump - are comparatively low. Usually, there is no problem in accessing the necessary farm land and additional labour due to a high degree of local solidarity. Finally, infrastructural improvements have contributed to more attractive market channels for SGI farmers in the study region, where many of them cultivate tomatoes during the dry season. It can therefore be assumed that currently several thousand farmers in Ghana’s North have adopted this cultivation method. On the other hand, labour migration, which - although highly interlinked with patterns of regional underdevelopment - traditionally has been the most important way for peasant households in Northern Ghana to cope with natural disasters like floods or droughts but also to mitigate the consequences of food shortages or epidemics, is on the decline. Initially forced by the British colonial administration and later on a voluntary basis, many young ‘Northerners’ left in the dry season, where in the North no rain-fed cultivation is possible, to the Southern part of (pre-independent) Ghana to work in the goldmines or on cocoa farms. The peasant communities in the North started to appreciate this form of migration to an increasing degree as it did not only reduce the pressure on the home households’ food stocks when one or more of its members went to the South to work during the dry season. But also cultural implications play an important role. Travelling to the south rose in the Northern population’s esteem because it introduced their young men to concepts of modernity. Furthermore, the experiences and knowledge migrants could gain during their labour migration stays were widely regarded as very valuable for the home communities. Migration, also in its more permanent forms, has thus become a daily routine for wide parts of the North-Ghanaian population. But especially in the areas where dry season farming has become more important within the last years, migration flows have decreased. At this point, the question is : why has SGI developed into such an attractive livelihood (adaptation) strategy in Ghana’s North within the last years whereas seasonal migration as a strategy to mitigate the consequences of events threatening small scale farmers’ livelihoods dropped significantly despite its traditionally high economic and cultural appreciation ? Or to be more precisely : what are the underlying social, political, cultural or economic factors leading to an increase in SGI and to a decrease in seasonal migration ? This question will be the central research question for this thesis whereas not the decision making process on both livelihood strategies - SGI and seasonal migration - will be in the focus of the analysis but rather the specific developments of both adaptive processes in their historical, political, cultural and economic contexts. The complexity of households and further social structures which form livelihoods and their specific compositions make the adapting or non-adapting of certain strategies to more than just a simple ‘either-or’ decision as the title of this thesis - irrigate or migrate - involuntarily might imply.

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