Changes in climatic conditions are not a recent phenomenon and different epochs on the geological time scale show how climate change has led to the extinction of some plants and animals. The more recent Holocene epoch, also known as the ”Age of Man”, has seen worrying climatic changes including extreme warming and cooling and the extinction of some large mammals in many parts of the world.
Global climatic changes have not only caused the extinction of mammals, big and small, but in some instances, threatened the survival of plants and animals that serve as food sources for humans. In many ways, climate variability affect almost every sector in a country including health, agriculture and the economy. For most developing countries where reliance on agriculture is the bedrock for their survival, any occurrence that tends to negatively impact on that sector plunges their economies into crises and eventually, development tends to suffer. A major threat, moreover, of the unfolding changes in climatic conditions are the impact on a country’s food security.
Threats to food security is not only a consequence of the fast emerging Malthusian catastrophe, where food supply is unable to match the exponential growth in population size, but also, a direct consequence of climate change. In Ghana, like many African countries in the sub-Saharan region, the system of farming is heavily reliant on rainfall. Irrigation, an alternative source of water supply for crops in farms are virtually non-existent in many communities that serve as food basket for the countries. Consequently, any slight change in rainfall patterns has the potential of affecting annual yields. Such shot-falls create food shortages; with the little available only accessible by the rich.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), “Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. Indeed, the impact of climate change is intrinsically interwoven with food security and this can be viewed from global to local levels considering the components of food systems.
Climate Change trends in Ghana
The trends show that Ghana has been experiencing climate changes over a substantial period of time. According climate researchers, rainfall pattern in Ghana was mostly high in the 1960s but this decreased to low levels in the latter part of 1970s and early 1980s. This decline in rainfall patterns still prevails in recent times. A year period data also show that temperatures in all zones in Ghana are rising, and rainfall has been reducing and becoming increasingly erratic.
The impact of climate change is projected to be severe on Ghana, though there will be fluctuations in both annual temperatures and precipitation. According to a 2010 World Bank report on Economics of Adaptation to Climate Change, Ghana will continue to experience rising temperature especially in the Northern, Upper East, and Upper West regions. Other parts of the country, however, are expected to experience very cold temperature.
Climate researchers have observed significant climatic variations in Ghana with their corresponding time periods. The period January–July 1976 and October–December 1989 is reported to have experienced very hot weather conditions with the period 1983–1984 experiencing severe droughts and a year-long bush fires. The years 1991, 2012 and 2013 experienced severe rains resulting in floods that destroyed properties running into millions of cedis with some persons losing their lives in the disaster.
Presently, Ghana has a high temperature with the average annual temperature ranging between 24 °C to 30 °C. In spite of this average annual temperature, there are instances where the temperature can be 18 °C and 40 °C in the southern and northern parts of Ghana, respectively. Rainfall in Ghana generally decreases from south to north. The wettest area in Ghana is the extreme southwest where annual rainfall is about 2000 mm. However, the annual rainfall in extreme north of Ghana is less than 1100 mm. The country has two main rainfall regimes which are the double maxima regime and the single maximum regime. In relation to the double maxima regime, the two maximum periods are from April to July and from September to November in Southern Ghana. While the single maximum regime is from May to October in Northern Ghana, this is followed by a long dry season from November to May. Over the years, the temperatures in all the ecological zones of Ghana are rising while rainfall levels have been generally reducing.
Climate Change and Food Security in Ghana
Climate change is likely to contribute substantially to food insecurity in the future, by increasing food prices, and reducing food production. Food may become more expensive as climate change mitigation efforts increase energy prices, water required for food production may become scarcer due to increased crop water use and drought and competition for land may increase as certain areas become climatically unsuitable for production. In addition, extreme weather events, associated with climate change may cause sudden reductions in agricultural productivity, leading to rapid price increases.
Food availability, access, stability and utilization are the key parametres for measuring food security situations in any country. On all fronts, climate change is negatively impacting on agriculture and farmers are already adapting to rainfall variability and higher temperatures by shifting sowing dates and changing crop mix or plot location.
Food availability addresses the “supply side” of food security and is determined by the level of food production, stock levels and net trade. Climate change is making Africa become dependent on food imports and aid due to increasing environmental degradation of arable lands, low soil fertility, depletion of water bodies, high incidence of pests attacks and diseases that affect crops and livestock and decreased animal productivity from high temperatures. In Ghana, a reported $450m and $374m of rice and chicken respectively are imported annually into the country. Variability in rainfall patterns coupled with high temperature is causing changes in growing seasons for food crops resulting in lower agricultural yield. These factors are largely contributing to shortages in the national food basket and gradually causing glides instead of the expected gluts.
An adequate supply of food at the national or international level does not in itself guarantee household level food security. Climate change has important implications for food distribution as it affects accessibility due to destruction of road, bridges and other infrastructure, and influences the functioning of markets and other social and economic institutions. Extreme weather events affect local production and therefore local income and accessibility to food. Quite a number of roads that lead to farm lands in Ghana are in deplorable state and this in effect affects the distribution of food stuff across the country. While food crops get spoilt on farm lands, many communities risk being cut off from the supply of food crops and for the few that get on the market, they are too expensive to be afforded by all.
Utilization is commonly understood as the way the body makes the most of various nutrients in the food. Sufficient energy and nutrient intake by individuals is the result of good care and feeding practices, food preparation, and diversity of the diet and intra-household distribution of food. Combined with good biological utilization of food consumed, this determines the nutritional status of individuals. Climate induced changes affect food diversity, causes increase in vector diseases of humans, and pests of livestock and crops and therefore affect food utilization patterns.
Even if a country’s food intake is adequate today, they are still considered to be food insecure if they have inadequate access to food on a periodic basis, risking a deterioration of the country’s nutritional status. Adverse weather conditions, political instability, or economic factors (unemployment, rising food prices) may have an impact on a country’s food security status. Food stability is a direct consequence of food availability and access. However, extreme events, such as droughts, floods and high temperature tend to threaten the stability of food access and utilization. Such factors that contribute to food insecurity are expected to become more frequent as a consequence of climate change leading to frequent temporary food shortages.
Mitigating the Impact of Climate Crises
Tackling climate change impacts on food security needs to be addressed with adequate resources and well thought-through policies. Key measures such as effective irrigation systems, a more scientific forecasting mechanism to aid farmers to plant crops in the right seasons, planting of climate resistant crops and protection of the environment through a more conscious and sustained policies will help mitigate the potential impact of climate crises on Ghana’s food security situation.
The writer is Philip Acquaye,
the Head of Department,
Mass Communication and Journalism,
BlueCrest University College.