Impacts of Climate Change in Ghana by Abdul Ganiyu Alhassan

As Ghana contends with a mounting economic crisis and rampant violence unfolding across its northern border in Burkina Faso, the north of the country is also increasingly suffering from the impacts of climate change, contributing to a surge in north to south migration among rural northern farming communities.

The Ghanaian economy’s dependence on agriculture renders it particularly vulnerable to climate change. While the sector still comprises 21% of Ghana’s GDP, its share of total employment fell from 55% in 2006 to 33% 2021, a trend that canin large part be attributed to climate change, in addition to livelihood diversification, inadequate institutional financing, and insufficient public investment in agricultural production. The combined effects of these factors have driven Ghanaians from the sector in droves as it becomes more difficult for farmers to earn a living. A mix of unpredictable rainfall patterns and extreme weather are causing periodic droughts interspersed with floods and windstorms, directly impacting crop production. This is particularly the case in the country’s northern savannah ecological zone, where the population has long endured stark inequalities from the south. These disparities reflect both ecological conditions and service delivery. The rate of poverty remains above 50% in the northern regions, and despite the region having the highest unemployment rate in Ghana, 80% of children between the ages of 5-14 are still engaged in agriculture.

Now, climate change is further aggravating food insecurity among northern farming communities, increasing the proportion and intensity of poverty. Amid these challenges, many communities are adopting mobility as a coping strategy and moving south in search of work. Though north-south migration is not a new phenomenon in Ghana, the recent increase in movement patterns has been alarming. Initially, migration was mainly dominated by men who moved on a seasonal basis. More recently, however, it has come to involve all kinds of people, including children between the ages of 8 and 17 migrating independently all year round. What is the relationship between this phenomenon and the impacts of climate change? And what challenges does this raise for Ghana as a whole?

In northern Ghana, agriculture is predominantly on a smallholder basis in which rural producers rely on the farm as the main source of income. Amid very low irrigation coverage, production in the five northern regions of Ghana relies heavily on a single, all-important rainy season. Therefore, climate variability, marked by “erratic rainfall, onset, cessation, number of dry days and increasing temperature,” particularly impacts staple crop production yields in the region. For its part, the World Food Programme has identified growing rates of climate change-induced “erratic rainfall with long dry periods” as a key driver of food insecurity in northern Ghana. In addition, due to its geographical position and relative abundance of pastoral resources, Ghana is a key destination for pastoralists who cross the border from Burkina Faso in search of pastures, escaping climate change-related stressors and the militant insurgency further north. The presence of these pastoralists has further increased the effects of climate change in host communities due to overgrazing and, in turn, flooding.

It is currently unclear the exact numbers of people who have chosen mobility as a climate change adaptation strategy, but scholars have argued that millions of people in Africa will likely be forced to leave their homes due to the impacts of climate change over the 21st century. In Ghana, there is a complex relationship between climate change and mobility patterns. Over the years, rural farmers from the north have been drawn to so-called transition zones in southern Ghana that enjoy two rainy seasons (compared to the north’s single season) and are therefore less affected by the heavy climatic stressors seen in the north, with more fertile land and farming opportunities. In addition, the south boasts employment opportunities inherent to its status as Ghana’s industrial heartland, with large southern towns serving as hubs for non-farming activity. As such, out-migration from the north has been rapidly increasing to urban areas such as Kumasi, Accra, Takoradi, Sunyani, Koforidua. Some studies have also stressed that social amenities such as better roads, access to healthcare, potable drinking water, and education have been drivers of north-south mobility.

Upon relocating south, many migrants seek out work as farm labourers or at refuse dumps and scrapyards in urban areas – such as at the enormous Agbogbloshie e-waste recycling site in Accra – to supplement incomes and support their families back home. Smaller numbers land jobs with construction firms and production industries. Some women engage in ‘kayeye’ – carrying goods on their heads for a fee – or work as house maids. However, they also must contend with high levels of insecurity, inadequate protection, and high costs of living, making it challenging to save money for remittances. Because of rising unemployment in many of these southern destinations, some migrants also become involved in illicit activities such as armed robbery, prostitution, and drug abuse. The impacts of mounting north-south migration have also put pressure on already strained urban areas, as seen in numerous cases of urban flooding (due to congestion and poor drainage), the development of slums, pressure on social amenities, and underemployment. These circumstances have often put host cities on a collision course with migrant workers, rendering the latter jobless and homeless in the process. For example,  July 2021, Greater Accra Regional Minister Henry Quartey oversaw the demolition of the aforementioned Agbogbloshie scrapyard, a historic hub for northern migration propping up thousands of livelihoods, as part of his “Let’s Make Accra Work” urban plan.

Considering that these signs of strain are already evident, any further surge of climate change-induced out-migration from northern Ghana is set to have widespread knock-on effects around the country, both north and south. As humanitarian analysts warn that expanding jihadist insurgency in the Sahel may drive displacement and food insecurity in the coastal West Africa region, the case of Ghana illustrates climate change’s possible role as a threat multiplier, interacting with security and economic dynamics to drive humanitarian crises in the region.

DisclaimerThe opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author(s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Navanti Group or its partners.