Locally-Led Adaptation: From risk to resilience, a story from Ghana’s Upper West Region

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Locally-Led Adaptation: From risk to resilience, a story from Ghana’s Upper West Region


In Ghana’s Upper West Region, communities face multiple climate risks but demonstrate resilience through locally-led adaptation strategies. CDKN Ghana’s engagements in districts like Lawra, Nandom and Jirapa highlight innovative approaches such as dry season gardening and community-led initiatives. Despite challenges, these communities showcase the power of local leadership, resourcefulness and inclusive communication in building resilience.

According to Ghana’s Fourth National Communication (NC4) to the United Nations Framework on the Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC), communities in the Upper West region are classified as some of the most vulnerable, with high sensitivity to climate risks and low adaptive capacity. Yet, in the face of accelerating climate change impacts, communities in the region are actively engaging in diverse locally-led adaptation (LLA) strategies to enhance their adaptive capacity.  

As part of CDKN’s work on LLA and in line with Ghana’s country strategy, the CDKN Ghana team engaged with communities in three of the most vulnerable districts in the Upper West region: the Lawra, Nandom and Jirapa districts. The team’s engagements aimed to enhance the capacity of the communities in these vulnerable districts. The engagements also  focused on understanding the communities’ climate  risks, impacts and agency, and a needs assessments conducted  to help better identify the most important information and tools necessary for adaptation within these communities. To do this, the team used a participatory approach which included a game called “farming juggle”. In this dynamic ball game, players transform into farmers, juggling multiple risks (climatic and non-climatic), designed to energise participants and stimulate reflection on decision-making under stress.

Key insights: Climate risks, impacts and communities’ adaptive capacity

In all three districts, the communities grapple with inconsistent rainfall patterns, which cause delayed planting seasons, and subsequent widespread food insecurity for most of the year. During the participatory exercises, one of the farmers in the Brutu community in Nandom district shared that his inability to provide food for his family is affecting his mental health.

“In recent years, I am unable to rely on my farming livelihood to provide food and other resources for my family as I used to. As the head of the household who is responsible for the upkeep of my entire family, my inability to do so makes me think a lot these days”.  – Farmer, Brutu Community. 

To address the risks from inconsistent rainfall, some communities are engaging in dry season gardening along the Black Volta River. They grow drought-tolerant seeds and seek loans from  the village savings and loans associations (VSLAs) for alternative farming initiatives. Farmers engaged in dry season farming use local water harvesting techniques like Zai pits and half moons to conserve water for their crops. Young people in particular, are exploring off-farm opportunities, and often migrate to cities for work during the dry season, and return during the rainy seasons to farm with their families. However, this can prove to be a stopgap rather than a solution, since stable job opportunities remain elusive, and out migration deprives farming households of their active labour force.

At the same time, non-climatic challenges, such as limited access to farming inputs and relevant information, exacerbate the situation. This is especially true for women farmers. A women’s group leader in Orbili commented that there is a gender disparity in information access, which makes women more vulnerable: 

“Lacking personal radios, we depend on second-hand knowledge shared at our group meetings, often missing out on vital agricultural insights”. – Women’s group leader, Orbili 

A combination of these risks will eventually impact a community’s capacity to implement strategies that can enhance crop resilience for food security and maintain income levels. In response, communities such as Orbili (Lawra District) and Doggoh (Jirapa District) are adapting through interventions – for example, using homemade compost from crop residue as part of their agricultural practices, generating income by selling fuelwood to purchase inputs, and joining community groups to access information.  

Key learnings from communities

The community engagements have revealed several significant learnings:

  1. Localised solutions: Each community develops unique adaptation strategies tailored to their specific challenges. Localised approaches ensure that solutions are relevant and effective. For instance, community leaders often use by-laws and taboos to deter people from farming too close to the riverside or prevent indiscriminate bush burning.
  2. Community involvement and leadership: Active participation and leadership from within the community are critical for successful adaptation. Communities are more likely to embrace strategies if they have played a role in developing them.
  3. Importance of information dissemination: Effective communication and information sharing are key to building resilience. Ensuring that tools like community radio and sensitisation programmes are inclusive helps with spreading awareness and educating community members about best adaptation practices. For instance, radio sessions are conducted in the local language and community members are able to participate in discussions through phone-in sessions.
  4. Innovation and resourcefulness: These communities demonstrate both innovation and resourcefulness, from utilising crop residues for compost to engaging in dry season gardening and adopting other sustainable farming practices.
  5. Financial constraints and solutions: Financial challenges are a common theme. Strategies such as seeking loans for farming or selling fuelwood highlight the communities’ efforts to overcome their financial challenges.

The experiences of the Nandom, Lawra and Nadowli communities in the Upper West region of Ghana provide insights into locally-led adaptation. Even though challenges persist, their adaptation strategies, which centre on innovation, local leadership and effective communication, offer some guidance for other communities facing similar challenges. By understanding their specific risks and leveraging local knowledge and resources, these communities are paving the way towards a more resilient future. The role of CDKN Ghana is to continuously work with these communities to understand their risks and further explore innovative solutions that can build their resilience.

The CDKN Ghana team’s engagements seek to not only empower these vulnerable communities but also offer vital lessons towards global climate change adaptation efforts, emphasising the importance of locally-led initiatives and the power of community resilience.


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