Better decision support for improved livelihoods among farmers in northern Ghana

A farmer harvests her millet crop in Ghana's Upper West region, which has previously suffered failed rains and rising temperatures. Farmers in northern Ghana are now able to access useful climate services for better decision making. Photo: N.Palmer (CIAT)

More than 6,000 smallholder households in northern Ghana are now better able to access accurate and location-specific climate and weather information enabling them to make better farming decisions.

Given the vulnerability of agriculture in West Africa to climate change, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) is, as part of its portfolio of flagship projects, providing climate services to farmers.

The Climate Advisories and Insurance Development (CASCAID) project aims to reduce the impact of seasonal climate risk from farm to country levels in Ghana, Mali, Senegal, Niger and Burkina Faso.

In Ghana, CASCAID is implementing the Participatory Integrated Climate Services for Agriculture” (PICSA) approach. Implementation involves a consortium of institutions including the University of Reading, the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), National Meteorological Services, National Agricultural Research Institutes as well as national and international NGOs. More than 6,000 smallholder households in northern Ghana have been trained in the use PICSA.

The PICSA approach uses established farmer groups to introduce accurate and location-specific climate and weather information in the form of graphs and probabilities that are useful and useable. This information, produced by the National Meteorological Service, is considered together with locally relevant crop, livestock and livelihood options and participatory decision-making tools to enable farmers to make better-informed decisions to fight against climate variability. Following this, seasonal and short term forecasts are also provided.

The work in the north of Ghana involved partnership between the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS Ghana) and the Ghana Meteorological Agency who produced location-specific historical climate information for nine stations in the north of Ghana; and the University of Reading who provided training on the PICSA approach. The PICSA team worked with NGOs such as the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA Ghana) and OXFAM in the dissemination of the approach in 2015. PICSA is currently being implemented in 140 communities across 10 districts of Ghana’s Northern Region.

To kicstart PICSA in the lead up to the rainy season, ADRA - Ghana and OXFAM trained and capacitated government and NGO staff and agricultural extension officers who were pleased by the practical nature of the training and the new ideas that PICSA had introduced. At the end of the training, these extension officers worked with groups of farmers using their new skills and ideas.

PICSA Training

A farmer explaining her resource allocation map to other participants during a PICSA training. Photo: CCAFS WA

The usefulness of the training was testified by many farmers. For instance, a focus group member of the Yepala community said: "I have seen the graphs from the Ghana Meteorological Agency and have realized that the rainfall amounts pattern has not changed as we have been thinking but rather it has been varying from year to year. Hence we should look for crops and activities that would match each change per the seasonal forecast information."

97% of farmers trained in the PICSA approach had made changes in their farming enterprises based on the information they received from the PICSA training

A recent survey found that 97% of farmers trained in the PICSA approach had made changes in their farming enterprises based on the information they received from the PICSA training; for example, using the historical climate information to select crops and varieties (such as shorter duration maize varieties) that were best suited to the local climate. Likewise, a large number of farmers reported diversifying into new livelihood activities and many were using the participatory tools, especially participatory budgeting, to help in their planning and decision making.

Extension workers were encouraged and reported that farmers had been approaching them to discuss new ideas and to seek their help in acquiring new crop varieties and their advice in taking up new livelihoods following the training.

The PICSA approach, in its first season in West Africa, was primarily through the direct training of farmers in existing farmer groups (of which 40% of participants were women). In addition to this face-to-face training, ZAA FM, a prominent radio station in the north of Ghana, has broadcast a series of farmer mobile phone-ins based on the PICSA approach which have included representatives from Ghana Meteorological Agency and the trained agricultural extension officers.

84% of farmers had shared PICSA information with their peers

The strength of the approach is highlighted by farmers’ enthusiasm to share the information: 84% of farmers had shared PICSA information with their peers, with each reaching an average of five of their fellow farmers. "It is good information. We, the local volunteer farmer trainees, shared the materials given to us with other literate colleagues in neighboring communities; explained the concepts to them and asked them to share with their community members. We have also been sharing the information in churches, mosques, as well as at social gatherings," said a volunteeer from the Yepala Community.

In 2016, PICSA will consolidate and build new partnerships to reach more farmers in Ghana, as well as expanding to other CASCAID countries: Senegal, Burkina Faso and Mali.

Download the PICSA manual:

Dorward P, Clarkson G, Stern R. 2015. Participatory Integrated Climate Services for Agriculture (PICSA): Field Manual. Walker Institute, University of Reading.

The PICSA approach was developed through a collaboration between CCAFS and the Walker Institute at the University of Reading.

Blog written by PICSA team working in West Africa. Francis Torgbor works for AIMS-Ghana, Graham Clarkson works for University of Reading, Kofi Asare works for the Ghana Meteorological Agency.

Contributions were received from Catherine Dembele (World Agroforestry Centre -  ICRAF), Peter Dorward  (University of Reading) and Andree Nenkam (International Crops Research Institute for the Semi Arid Tropics - ICRISAT).

Editing by Vivian Atakos, Communication Specialist for CCAFS East Africa.