By: Esther Wahabu, Research Officer– Social Sciences, International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Accra, Ghana

Prachi Patel, Migration Communications Consultant, International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Pennsylvania, United States 

In Ghana, regional and district planning officials are responsible for assessing issues around gender, migration and climate resilience in their communities, and then creating plans for sustainable and inclusive development based on their findings. But doing so isn’t always straight-forward.

Transplanting tomato in the upper east region of Pwalugu in Ghana. Photo: Hamish John Appleby / IWMI
Transplanting tomato in the upper east region of Pwalugu in Ghana. Photo: Hamish John Appleby / IWMI

“If you don’t really understand the issues,” says Rita Ayorka, a district planner in Nadowli, “how do you come up with a plan to help bring a good outcome?”

For Ayorka, a good outcome would be local realities and farmers’ concerns being addressed in national policies to benefit her district.

Trends in the community, such as women taking on more farming responsibilities, or youth migrating away in search of better employment can also be called ‘social transformations.’ But often, officials like Ayorka do not have the tools or data to analyze trends around gender, migration and climate resilience. Or, if they do, it can be difficult to incorporate their observations into policies.

“We are supposed to discuss gender in the plans,” says Emmanuel Awapuani, Gender Desk Officer, Nandom Municipal. “But you need to understand the needs and aspirations of women in the district first, for example, which requires an exhaustive analysis in the district. Most often, we do not have the capacity to do this analysis.”

Or, when it is collected, the data may be disorganized. According to Ms. Esi Buah of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, existing data does not yet clearly differentiate between a subsistence farmer and commercial farmer. This makes it hard to understand the different factors that affect each type of farmer as well as what interventions would be best for each group.

Research can help fill the gaps. The International Water Management Institute’s Resilience Against Climate Change and Policy Advocacy (REACH-STR) project, funded by the European Union, collects and shares social transformation data with planning officials. Researchers perform surveys, in-depth interviews or conduct focus groups to understand local trends.

And in addition to collecting data, the project organizes knowledge and learning events as well as dialogues about social transformation to build the capacity of policy makers at different governance levels. These events facilitate knowledge exchanges and help stakeholders and researchers co-develop tools to guide policy makers.

During events, stakeholders can share what they have observed in their communities. In turn, researchers can introduce insights and findings from their research to, collaboratively, inform policymaking. These policies can inform farmers’ planning for early maturing crop varieties, water harvesting for irrigation, and climate smart agricultural practices as well as support livelihoods outside of agriculture.

Discussions at REACH-STR event held in Ghana. Photo: IWMI

For example, at the project’s most recent learning event in November 2020, district and regional officials shared that youth migration for galamsey (illegal gold mining), kayayie (head porters) and agriculture has reduced work forces in rural areas leading to low agricultural productivity. Youth migration increases the vulnerability of women, children and the aged who are often left behind, but also leads to households having increased incomes through remittances as well as greater access to technology.

Climate variability in the region has led to erratic rainfall, poor soil fertility and low crop yields. Some farmers are burning charcoal, cutting down trees to supply timber and pulp, and overusing agro-chemicals – actions which can harm the environment. Yet others have also adopted climate resilient activities, such as growing drought resilient crops, and engaging in non-farm activities, such as soap making, bee keeping and shea butter processing.

Women in the region have increasing access to farmland, cultivating large areas and taking on more leadership roles as they move into male dominated activities. And, it is becoming less rare to see boys and men partaking in traditionally female, domestic activities, such as collecting water.

It is critical to generate this on-the-ground data and make it available at all governance levels, from local to national. In the past, social transformation analysis has been incorporated into some government policies such as Ghana’s Planting for Food and Jobs (PFJ) campaign, which strives to improve food availability, provide jobs for unemployed youth in agriculture, and reduce poverty.

But these policies are churned from the national level, which may make them less effective. Instead, the REACH-STR project helps local officials take a bottom-up approach and develop policies which reflect grassroots realities. Collaboration between stakeholders, from municipal councils and district assemblies to private institutions, non-governmental organizations and representatives from marginalized communities, can lead to inclusive planning which incorporates a vast range of viewpoints.

By prioritizing the perspectives of farmers on the ground, facilitating dialogue and generating data, the REACH-STR project can contribute to creating policies which more effectively support rural agricultural communities in Ghana’s Upper West Region.