The impact of climate change on human migration in the upper west region of Ghana: The case of peasant farmers in Nadowli District

Sumani, John Bosco Baguri
Jim Jordan, PhD
Department of Environmental Studies
Out-migration from Nadowli District like Northern Ghana dates back to the pre-colonial era (before 1850). The rate of migration has been increasing and the direction of flow has changed over the years. This poses developmental challenges to some sending communities and households, destination regions and successive governments. Most attempts to investigate causes of migration identify economic, political, socio-cultural, conflict/wars, and environmental degradation at a general level, as key factors influencing migration from northern Ghana. However, climate variability/change is suspected to influence human migration spatial behavior, especially in farming communities in developing countries around the world. The major economic activity of these communities is farming. Their livelihoods are therefore climate-dependent. A deteriorating climate may eventually displace affected inhabitants after they have exhausted all possible immediate coping strategies, a phenomenon that has already occurred in other parts of the world. This climate-related migration may be masked by other economic, political and soci0-cultural factors, which are mostly visible to the public. This thesis research was therefore designed to explore the possible relationship between climate variability/change, agricultural performance, and migration among peasant farmers in Nadowli District of Ghana. Migrants’ gender, age, destination and the consequences of out-migration on the sending communities were also investigated. The climate in Nadowli District has generally been deteriorating over the years, becoming warmer and drier, and accompanied by declining agricultural production and productivity, leading to food deficits. Human migration was identified as one possible adaptation to the prevalent food insecurity conditions in the study area. However, human spatial migration behavior is triggered by a complex web of factors, including environmental, economic, political, socio-cultural, conflicts/wars, and so on. In ranking the causes of migration, climate change/variability emerged as the most important factor influencing the decisions of peasant farmers to migrate after other coping strategies have been exhausted. It was observed that all the other causes of migration are directly or indirectly influenced by climate factors. The study also found that a high proportion of migrants constituted the most productive cohort of the population, with middle aged males being the majority. Out-migration as an adaption strategy was generally beneficial to the migrants, and presented sending households and communities with only minor adverse consequences. Based on the insights from this study, I recommend that the numerous development policies, programs and initiatives aimed at poverty reduction in order to stem out out-migration in Nadowli District should address the link between climate change and development. In the short-term, these programs and initiatives should aim at supporting peasant farmers with improved seedlings, drought-resistant crop varieties, irrigation dams/dug-outs, subsidized agricultural inputs, in addition to extensive agricultural extension services. Other adaptation strategies to enable peasant farmers cope with climate-stimulated vulnerabilities include the institution of micro-credit schemes to help farmers diversify into alternative livelihoods, sensitization of farmers to engage in sustainable farming and sound soil conservation practices, and to cultivate high-yielding and short-maturing non-traditional crops. Ghana Meteorological Service Department should be adequately tooled and trained to improve climate prediction and weather forecasting. This will provide peasant farmers with information regarding when to plant and possibly when to anticipate adverse growing conditions. Any assistance short of this will be treating the symptoms of the migration challenge and not addressing its actual causes. A public policy should be instituted as a last resort to assist the most vulnerable to migrate if all other options fail. In the long term, all development policies, programs, projects and activities should integrate climatic concerns, from their planning stages through to their implementation, so that development efforts will not worsen the deteriorating climatic conditions. I also recommend further research focused on the relationship (s) between climate variability/change, agricultural performance, and human migration involving more communities and a relatively larger sample size.