Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Kur-Yang Maasofaa is a business man. He’s keen on detail but keeps to the facts, and he speaks English with the slow, dry precision of someone who values his education in a district where more than 70 percent of adults cannot read or write.
He keeps meticulous notes at every community meeting, and the power of the pen he wields makes him a respected character in the community. He’s also elderly, disabled by a badly arthritic knee, and walks with a cane that he props on the frame of his orange flame-colored bicycle to zoom around Dazuuri village in Ghana’s Upper West region.
When subsistence depends on your ability to toil in the fields or travel long distances to market, the elderly and people with disabilities are among those most vulnerable to the threat of food insecurity. The risks are heightened by the impacts of a changing and increasingly variable climate. But if anyone could have figured out a way to confront these challenges, it was bound to be Kur-Yang, armed with his trusty notebook.
KNOW YOUR ONION, GROW YOUR ONION
Dry-season gardening has become an increasingly important adaptation option for Dazuuri’s inhabitants. The extra income derived from selling vegetables during a normally unproductive time of the year has benefits far beyond the nutritional boost the fresh produce offers.
Normally the activity is reserved for those with access to land close to the river, or enough time and labour to put in the effort required for a garden. But Kur-Yang and a handful of Dazuuri’s other disabled residents have managed to get around these obstacles by forming their own group and petitioning for help from their district assembly.
The legitimacy conferred by having group status meant their petition was recognised, and the local government teamed up with several NGOs to make their dry-season garden a reality.
“There are five blind people in the group, and 15 disabled, including me,” Kur-Yang explains. “During the dry season we cultivate vegetables, and in the rainy season the garden is converted into a rice plantation. Each member of the group takes care of his or her own portion of the garden, but the whole group decides which crops to plant in a certain year. Whatever comes from your portion of the land belongs to you, and you can do what you like with it.”
His crop of choice is a practical one: onions. “I prefer them to other crops,” he says, “because I can make a good profit even if I only carry a few to market.”
WATER, WATER - NOT EVERYWHERE
The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) is taking a look at climate-smart practices like dry-season gardening and some of the barriers that prevent them from being adopted in places like Dazuuri village.
Though help has been remarkably forthcoming for this resource-scarce region of Ghana, the disabled group’s garden is not without its challenges.
The difficulties have been exacerbated by the changing climate, as Kur-Yang is quick to observe.
“Water is one of the biggest challenges that we have in the garden. When we first started work in the garden we got our water from shallow wells that we dug during the dry season. Because the rains used to be reliable, there was always water in the wells to support the work in the garden, but not anymore,” he explains.
Although outside assistance has supplied the group with much-needed boreholes, even these valuable assets are not a fail-proof solution to water scarcity.
“Even now that we have boreholes in the garden, that water becomes scarce at times too. Not only that, but if the borehole stops working we must go and fetch the people in town that installed it so they can come and fix it. It’s not something we can repair ourselves, which means we often go without the boreholes altogether,” says Kur-Yang
In response, he and his companions have tried to adopt measures to stop the soil drying out so quickly. “One thing that we have started doing is mulching using groundnut leaves. When we do that it takes a longer time for the water to dry out, which means we don’t have to water as many times in a day,” he says.
Although the potential for dry-season gardening to facilitate climate change adaptation is clear, gardens are input-intensive. They need a reliable source of water and labour, structures such as fences to keep out wandering livestock, and a steady supply of technical advice and know-how.
Kur-Yang is fortunate to be part of a group that has a high degree of ongoing institutional support, but farmers who are not as organised or well connected may not be so lucky.
Nonetheless, the example of Dazuuri suggests that if more communities commit to similar climate-smart endeavors, we can expect to see considerable advances in the adaptive capacity and food security of some of Africa’s most vulnerable individuals.
Caity Peterson is a visiting researcher based at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia, working in the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). From July 15-20, CGIAR and its partners are participating in the Africa Agriculture Science Week (AASW), in Accra, Ghana. For updates from the conference follow @Cgiarclimate and #AASW6 on twitter.