Schraven, Benjamin: Irrigate or migrate? : Local livelihood adaptation in Northern Ghana in response to ecological changes and economic challenges. - Bonn, 2010. - Dissertation, Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn.
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author = {{Benjamin Schraven}},
title = {Irrigate or migrate? : Local livelihood adaptation in Northern Ghana in response to ecological changes and economic challenges},
school = {Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn},
year = 2010,
month = nov,

note = {At all times, people had to adapt to processes of ecological change. But the strategies and mechanisms of the adapting of livelihoods to those processes have certainly gained more and more global attention since the effects of climate change are said to be one of the most crucial topics (not only) in the field of development studies and development practice in the 21st century; even though there always has been critique on the accuracy and the underlying methodological approaches of the estimated dramatic consequences of global warming and its alleged implications for adaptation measures (e.g. Dessai et al. 2009) or its interference with certain political agendas, respectively (e.g. Lomborg 2007).
However, the worldwide substantial growth rates of industrialization, motorization and urbanization within the last decades and centuries have (at least) contributed to a global process of climate change, which is expected to become a fundamental challenge of mankind in the 21st century. Its assumed short-term consequences in form of natural disasters, such as floods, droughts or cyclones, as well as its long-term consequences like dramatic shifts of rainfall patterns, rising temperatures, desertification or rising sea levels, have the potential to significantly affect agricultural production worldwide. In particular the livelihoods of millions of agricultural small-scale producers in the developing countries in the tropics and sub-tropics are considered to be endangered by environmental degradation and its effects, which are not necessarily and solely caused by results of climate change. Especially for the poor rural population in these countries, processes of ecological degradation are a predicted threat to their livelihoods, which manifests itself in the form of rising levels of poverty and food insecurity.
Within the last two decades, the international debate concerning the main challenge of the alleged consequences of global environmental change shifted from attempts of mitigation these changes to finding means and ways of adapting to them. Wide parts of the literature mainly perceive the adaptation of livelihoods in rural areas of the developing world as a procedure which is or has to be initiated by NGOs, governmental organizations or international donor agencies (e.g. Agrawal 2008; Reid and Vogel 2006). However, this ‘mediating’ perception on adaptation does not address processes which are solely based on the initiative of local people and pushed forward by them, respectively. In the following, these local developments will be understood as activities where individuals or communities on site generate adaptive measures that are spread without the mediation or interference of donors or agencies. This study will prove that local processes of livelihoods adaptation can be mainly based on existing local knowledge, local institutional settings and local patterns of social organisation. In contrast to that, the mediating perception on livelihood adaptation aims at establishing new regimes for adaptation related resources. Secondly, this thesis wants to deal with the adaptation of livelihoods in a holistic perspective. This means that it does not only cover climate or other ecological parameters since several studies on farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa (e.g. Ponte 2002; Bryceson 2002) underline that within the last decades, besides climate change, also many political, demographic or economic processes like the structural adjustment programmes in Sub-Sahara Africa during the 1980s have severely affected peasant livelihoods and have ‘called into play a multitude of diverse and dynamic activities geared towards making a secured livelihood’ (Yaro 2006: 126). Although many authors from the mid 1990s onwards have diagnosed a trend towards deagrarianisation in Sub-Saharan Africa , subsistence farming is still the central element of a large majority of African rural people’s livelihood portfolios. At the same time, peasant or small-scale agriculture is increasingly being perceived as a future rather than a phase-out model for the agricultural development in Africa in times of severe ecological, political and economic changes and challenges - contrary to the traditional modernization theory driven view on small-scale agriculture (Toulmin and Guèye 2005).
This thesis has been written in the framework of the GLOWA Volta Project (GVP). The German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) has launched several research projects, whose foci are on global climate change and its interference with local hydrological and socio-economic conditions. The GLOWA Volta project was initiated as one of these projects. The overall objective of this project is the analysis of the socio-economic and physical determinants of the hydrological cycle in the West-African Volta Basin in the face of global environmental change. The project’s main aim is the establishment of a scientifically sound Decision Support System (DSS) for all relevant stakeholders and actors in the area of water resource management. Particularly, the availability and the management of water under changing environmental conditions is one of the most important objectives of the GLOWA Volta Project.
Within the overall project, different types of irrigation and their livelihood-adaptive potential were studied from the beginning of the project onwards. The specific hydrological and socio-economic impacts of different irrigation systems represented an important element in the research agenda of the project. In order to understand the impacts and drivers of the expansion of irrigation farming, also the expansion of shallow groundwater irrigation (hereafter SGI) in Ghana’s Upper East Region - a purely farmer driven expansion process - became one of the project’s research focuses. SGI can be perceived as an income earning strategy to reduce vulnerability: besides other ecological changes, the Upper East Region, Ghana’s second-poorest region, is expected to be affected by processes of climate change like enhanced rainfall variability leading to an increased vulnerability of the local peasant population towards harvest insecurity and thus also towards food insecurity. These predicted effects of ecological change are no longer ‘still up in the air’ but can be already felt at present by many small-scale farmers. SGI is an irrigation form that is based on the use of near-surface groundwater close to small riversides, which usually fall completely dry during dry seasons in Northern Ghana. The groundwater is either pulled up with buckets out of wells on riverside plots or it is pumped out of dugouts in the riverbeds via motor pumps. This small-scale irrigation kind is practiced during the dry season to an increasing degree in several places in North-Eastern Ghana. Where until the early 1990s this irrigation form was practiced by only a few farmers, a heavy boom of dry season SGI farming could be observed in the last one-and-a-half decades. There are several driving forces for that: SGI is not hard to learn for the local farmers and this knowledge can be easily shared among the farmers. Furthermore, the initial investment costs - at least for the farmers who do not use an irrigation pump - are comparatively low. Usually, there is no problem in accessing the necessary farm land and additional labour due to a high degree of local solidarity. Finally, infrastructural improvements have contributed to more attractive market channels for SGI farmers in the study region, where many of them cultivate tomatoes during the dry season. It can therefore be assumed that currently several thousand farmers in Ghana’s North have adopted this cultivation method.
On the other hand, labour migration, which - although highly interlinked with patterns of regional underdevelopment - traditionally has been the most important way for peasant households in Northern Ghana to cope with natural disasters like floods or droughts but also to mitigate the consequences of food shortages or epidemics, is on the decline. Initially forced by the British colonial administration and later on a voluntary basis, many young ‘Northerners’ left in the dry season, where in the North no rain-fed cultivation is possible, to the Southern part of (pre-independent) Ghana to work in the goldmines or on cocoa farms. The peasant communities in the North started to appreciate this form of migration to an increasing degree as it did not only reduce the pressure on the home households’ food stocks when one or more of its members went to the South to work during the dry season. But also cultural implications play an important role. Travelling to the south rose in the Northern population’s esteem because it introduced their young men to concepts of modernity. Furthermore, the experiences and knowledge migrants could gain during their labour migration stays were widely regarded as very valuable for the home communities. Migration, also in its more permanent forms, has thus become a daily routine for wide parts of the North-Ghanaian population. But especially in the areas where dry season farming has become more important within the last years, migration flows have decreased.
At this point, the question is: why has SGI developed into such an attractive livelihood (adaptation) strategy in Ghana’s North within the last years whereas seasonal migration as a strategy to mitigate the consequences of events threatening small scale farmers’ livelihoods dropped significantly despite its traditionally high economic and cultural appreciation? Or to be more precisely: what are the underlying social, political, cultural or economic factors leading to an increase in SGI and to a decrease in seasonal migration? This question will be the central research question for this thesis whereas not the decision making process on both livelihood strategies - SGI and seasonal migration - will be in the focus of the analysis but rather the specific developments of both adaptive processes in their historical, political, cultural and economic contexts. The complexity of households and further social structures which form livelihoods and their specific compositions make the adapting or non-adapting of certain strategies to more than just a simple ‘either-or’ decision as the title of this thesis - irrigate or migrate - involuntarily might imply.
Seasonal migration and SGI can both be regarded as livelihood strategies as well as livelihood adaptations at the same time. Based on the findings and suggestions of the relevant recent literature, a livelihood strategy can be understood as a process in which people access necessary assets via a complex setting of institutions, social relations or organisations. Therefore, an adaptation of a livelihood strategy is an adjustment or modification of the whole process, which is usually caused by certain triggers in the context of the livelihood system, e.g. changing ecological patterns affecting farming outcomes or changes in the economic framework conditions. Livelihood adaptation and livelihood strategy thus constitute a close nexus. To operationalize the central research questions, the theoretical construct of livelihood strategy/ adaptation and its theoretical and causal implications are the base for the analysis framework. The developed framework is the starting point for the further analysis of this thesis. In a second step, the region the study is covering will be introduced. Particularly, the current processes of ecological change and the traditional adaptive economic and cultural meaning of migration patterns as well as the interference of labour migration with regional underdevelopment will be described. Furthermore, the description of the local patterns of social organisation will be an important part of this thesis due to their crucial importance in the adaptation context. Based on that, an empirical part analyzes the processes of irrigation farming and seasonal migration within the described framework. Based on that, the research questions will be answered in the conclusion part.},

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