Climate change prediction models have indicated that the Sudan and Guinea Savanna zones of Ghana will continue to experience increasing temperature and decreasing precipitation trends [1
]. This confirms previous findings that between 2030 and 2039 the rainy season might start in June or even later in Northern Ghana [2
]. It is also projected that the standard deviation for the onset of the rainy season will increase [3
], which suggests that not only will it shift but also it will become even more “erratic” [4
]. The implications are that Northern Ghana would witness more extreme weather conditions such as droughts, dry spells, and floods. This situation will eventually affect agriculture, the environment, and human livelihoods. In particular, it is anticipated that adverse impacts on the agricultural sector will exacerbate the incidence of rural poverty [5
]. Adaptation practices are therefore needed to help agrarian communities better face extreme weather conditions associated with climate variations [6
Adaptations are adjustments or interventions that take place to manage the losses or take advantage of the opportunities presented by a changing climate. Adaptive capacity has been defined as the ability of a system to adjust to climate change (including climate variability and extremes), to moderate potential damages, to take advantage of opportunities, or to cope with the consequences [7
]. Adaptation practices are therefore pre-emptive in nature. They are designed to mitigate potential adverse effects and take advantage of the potential benefits of an envisaged change in climatic variables.
Several studies in Ghana have reported adaptation practices in agriculture, including crop diversification, change of planting date, hybrid varieties, and soil moisture conservation techniques [8
] In Uganda, income diversification, digging of drainage channels, and the use of drought-tolerant varieties have been reported [10
]. In addition, mixed farming, mixed cropping, tree planting, use of different crop varieties, changing planting and harvesting dates, increased use of irrigation, increased use of water and soil conservation techniques, and diversifying from farm to non-farm activities have also been reported in Nigeria and in South Africa [11
Globally, many studies have been used to understand farmers’ perceptions about climate change and its associated effects on agriculture. Although perceptions are not necessarily consistent with reality, they must be considered to address socioeconomic challenges [13
]. Perception has been defined as the process by which organisms interpret and organize sensation to produce a meaningful experience of the world [14
]; and that a person’s perceptions are based on experiences with natural and other environmental factors that vary in the extent to which such perceptions are enabled [15
]. Previous studies have shown that the way in which people experience climate shocks varies across different social groups, geographic locations, and seasons of the year, with men, women, and children all experiencing different levels of hardship and opportunity in the face of climate change [16
Discussions of adaptation practices and barriers to adoption need to be informed by empirical data from farmers. Adaptation practices in agriculture are generally location-specific [17
]; hence, it is crucial to understand farmers’ perceptions about the risks they face. To ensure farmers’ readiness for extreme weather events and collaboratively learn about the evolution of weather patterns, efforts to focus on farmers and their current activities, knowledge, and perceptions are essential [18
]. Farmers’ willingness to accept and use prescribed measures could be enhanced if their perceptions and understanding are considered in designing such measures. By contrast, current models used in predictions of climate change and adaptation practices are at a global scale and need to be downscaled to accommodate realities at the community level [9
In the Lawra district of Ghana, agriculture production is the dominant source of food and household incomes for the vast majority of rural households. Agriculture production is largely rain-fed. Farmers’ dependence on an annual mono-modal rainfall pattern coupled with farm resource constraints make agriculture very vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Results of previous studies have revealed a negative correlation between seasonal rainfall and volume of staple crops (i.e.
, sorghum, millet, and groundnut) produced annually in the Lawra district over the past 20 years [20
]. This study explored farmers’ perceptions regarding long-term changes in climatic variables and the associated effects on farming. It also identified and prioritized adaptation practices based on farmers’ perceived importance. Constraints on the use of adaptation measures were also identified and ranked. This study will help government policy decisions about suitable adaptation practices that are applicable and most preferred by farmers. It will also ensure that critical barriers to adoption are effectively addressed.
Generally, farmers are aware of climate change, since more than 80% of the surveyed respondents have perceived long-term changes in temperature and precipitation trends. In Sub-Saharan Africa, similar findings have been reported in the Sekyedumase and Wa West districts of Ghana [8
], Uganda [10
], and Senegal [24
]. Other studies have also shown that, in the last 100 years, there has been an average global temperature increase of 0.74 °C [25
Climate change model predictions for the Guinea Savannah Zone of Ghana revealed that the increasing temperature and decreasing precipitation trends will continue [1
]. This implies that agricultural stakeholders should identify relevant and applicable adaptation practices to mitigate the effects of the impending change in climatic variables.
The study showed that farmers’ perceptions about the causes of climate change are mostly centered on human factors (i.e.
, deforestation and bushfires) and gods/ancestral curses. Similar findings have been reported in the Wa West district of Ghana [13
] and in Northern Nigeria [5
This study showed that some farmers are already adjusting their farming activities in response to droughts, dry spells, and floods. The FGDs revealed that increased access to agricultural extension officers has impacted positively (67%) on farmers’ implementation of adaptation options. Similar findings were reported in Bangladesh, where more than 75% of respondents were using adaptation practices [23
]. However, a previous study conducted in the Sekyedumase district of Ghana showed that less than 44% of farmers use adaptation measures due to lack of funds [8
This study also revealed that farmer-perceived important adaptation practices were different from the actual practices being implemented. Although farmers ranked improved crop varieties (e.g., drought-tolerant and early maturing crops) and irrigation as the most important adaptation strategies, only 14% actually implemented measures in these categories. The majority of respondents (51%) used crop diversification activities (i.e.
, mixed cropping and crop rotation). Similar findings were reported in Northern Nigeria [5
]. Feedback from the group discussions showed that most farmers did not have access to improved crop varieties; hence, they could not implement their most preferred measure. Results of the group discussion showed that farmers are generally aware of the annual recurrent dry spells and droughts. Also, although they view irrigation as the most important solution to these extreme climatic events, they failed to rank it as such. This is because, according to farmers, water resources such as dams and dugouts are very limited in the district. Field observation showed that most of the available water bodies for irrigation are broken down.
Also, in this study, unpredictable weather, high farm input cost, and limited access to timely weather information and water resources were identified as the most critical barriers to adoption. This is likely the case, because in Ghana, the main sources of weather information are television and radio broadcasts. The majority of farmers surveyed did not have electronic gadgets and hence could not readily access weather information. Also, the FGDs revealed that farmers in the Lawra district operate under limited resources due to limited agricultural credit and subsidies. Field observations revealed that the limited number of irrigation facilities (i.e.
, dams and dugouts) were either broken down or dried out. Similar barriers to adoption have been reported in South Africa [12
] and Nigeria [26
With properly tailored policies, smallholder farmers can adjust to climate change and improve their crop production. To do this, climate change policies need to factor in farmers’ understanding of the risks they face and potential adaptations to climate change. In this regard, interventions of the Ghanaian government should focus on the development of improved crop varieties and irrigation facilities. More specifically, the development of drought-tolerant crop varieties and the construction of dams and dugouts need to be prioritized in the list of climate change adaptation practices in the Lawra district. Also, there is a need for stakeholders to adhere to proper management and maintenance of existing irrigation facilities.
The perception that climate change is also caused by traditional gods and ancestral curses implies that scientists and development experts should consider the cultural and traditional beliefs of farmers when designing adaptation practices. As such, a bottom-up approach must be used to ensure that farmers’ beliefs and understanding are a crucial part of the design and dissemination of adaptation practices.
Farmers’ access to timely weather information also needs to be prioritized to help farmers in their production decision-making processes (e.g., selection of adaptation options). The Ghana Meteorological Agency and agricultural staff need to be properly trained and resourced to collect, collate, and disseminate accurate weather information timely and widely. Also, the government should boost the capacity of scientists and agricultural staff to develop and promote appropriate and effective technologies to help farmers adapt to climate change. In addition, the prevailing high cost of farm inputs and lack of credit facilities and subsidies require the government to ensure that agricultural loans with flexible terms are made available to farmers to boost their capacity to adapt to the changing climate.
Finally, further research is recommended to assess the feasibility of farm-level adaptation practices to climate change. This will help governments, researchers, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and farmers to develop and implement adaptation measures that are sustainable, resilient, and reliable.