Mechanisms and Pathways for Climate-sensitive Transformational Change of Smallholder Agriculture in Ghana



Efforts to transform smallholder agriculture and improve productivity have yielded some positive results. Yet, smallholder productivity in Africa remains low relative to America, Asia, and elsewhere, threatening food security and livelihoods. A major reason is the slow pace of transformation in the agricultural production, research and development processes, and the effects of climate change impacts. This thesis examined smallholder transformational change processes using the Transtheoretical (Stages of Behaviour Change) theory in a mixed-methods survey conducted in the Keta Anglo area, in the Coastal Savannah agro-ecological zone of Ghana with over 400 smallholder vegetable farmers.

The study found that over 91% of smallholders were aware of the climate change phenomenon. However, awareness did not automatically translate into a high level of climate-sensitive practices. Status as head of household, membership in a Farmer Based Organisation and access to Extension services had significant relationships with smallholder perceptions of climate change impacts. Access to Extension services and land ownership were significant factors that affected smallholder stage of transformation. Smallholder perception variables measured as awareness, recall and beliefs were all significant predictors of smallholder stage of transformational change.

The thesis concluded that the “one-size-fits-all” approach that is characteristic of most current Extension methods undermines efforts to transform smallholder agriculture in order to increase productivity. It is therefore recommended that Extension methods should aim at addressing farmer needs by disaggregating their perceptions and stage of transformational change specifically. Land tenure and ownership issues should also be addressed to enhance available mechanisms for transformation.



1.1               Background


In the 19th and 20th centuries, improvements in agricultural productivity propelled economic development and food production in most of the developed world (Swanson, Kobayashi, & Tewfik, 1998). However, in Africa, persistent low agricultural productivity has perpetuated food insecurity, malnutrition and loss of livelihoods especially among smallholder farmers who own over 90% of the farms in Africa (FAO, 2013; Seini, Musah, & Bonsu, 2014). In this thesis, a ‘smallholder’ refers to individual farmers who typically have landholdings of about 1 hectare and may be working the land alone or with family members (FAO, 2014). Based on agro-ecology, income from these farms are at times unable to support smallholders and their families, forcing them to expand their cultivation unto other lands, intensify production to increase or maintain productivity, and include non-farm income generating activities to augment their livelihoods (Uphoff, Kassam, & Harwood., 201l; FAO, 2014).

Since the 1960s, there has been a transition from reliance on expansion of cultivated land as a primary method to boost agricultural productivity to improving yields per hectare or acre (Ruttan, 2002). In addition, a myriad of interventions were used to address low productivity through the provision of inputs, transfer of technical expertise and innovation at the farm level (Davis, 2008; Ruttan, 2002). These interventions produced extraordinary yields that revolutionized land and labor productivity in certain parts of the world, especially Asia, Europe and America (Ruttan, 2002). This system of intense productivity, termed the Green Revolution, was characterized by a shift from a peasant – human and animal labor based system of production, to mechanized systems like the use of ploughs, mechanical threshers, irrigation, fertilizers, pesticides, pumps, high-yielding varieties (HYVs) of seeds, as


well as credit facilities (Parayil, 1992). Attempts were made by the World Bank, donor partners, governments and members of the agricultural research and development community to introduce the Green Revolution to Africa with HYVs, pest management systems and other modern agricultural practices (Parayil, 1992; Davis, 2008). At the dawn of the 21st century, attempts to improve productivity are still being made (FAO, 2014).

Despite these efforts, agricultural productivity is only about one tonne per hectare in Africa compared to 25 tonnes per hectare in Asia (Adjei-Nsiah et al., 2013; FAO, 2013). Unfortunately, climate change has emerged as a new and critical magnifier to the existing threats to food security, livelihoods and the wellbeing of the earth system (Beddington et al., 2012). Smallholder farmers and coastal dwellers at the bottom of the economic pyramid are most vulnerable to climate change impacts due to poverty and low adaptive capacity (IPCC, 2007; 2012).

While agricultural production is known to be a major contributor to climate change by way of Green House Gas (GHG) emissions, climate change impacts are also a major factor in agricultural production (Wollenberg, Nihart, Tapio-Bistrom, & Grieg- Gran, 2012). Consequently, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) forecasts that by 2050 about 250 million Africans especially smallholder farmers, women, children and coastal dwellers, would be most vulnerable to climate impacts such as droughts and floods due to poverty and low adaptive capacity (IPCC, 2007). There is a call to transform agricultural research and development to address the looming climate threats (Wollenberg et al., 2012). Yet, there is no consensus in the literature about how to achieve transformation (O’Brien, 2012). Consequently, how to curb climate change emissions and ensure transformation of smallholder practices at the farm level remains challenging (Wollenberg et al., 2012). Further research is needed


to unravel how transformation occurs amongst smallholders in Africa to support increased agricultural productivity.

It is widely recognized that besides innovation at the farm level, a different kind of innovation that is transformational in nature is needed to build the capacity of smallholders and provide access to actors, networks, and mechanisms to transform agricultural systems and create institutions that alleviate the ‘pervasive bias’ against smallholders to ensure food security and improved livelihoods (Djurfeldt, Holmes, Jirström, & Larsson, 2005; Hall et al., 2006; Hounkonnu et al, 2012; Scoones et al., 2008). The FAO (2014) describes the needed innovation to bring about transformation as a three-part process of (1) developing the capacities of farmers to improve production levels, (2) enhancing farm management practices and (3) improving their abilities to work within innovation systems that link various actors above the farm level together. From a traditional Agricultural Extension perspective, developing capacity involves improving the Knowledge, Attitudes, Skills and Practices (KAPS) of smallholder farmers (Dunsberry, 1966; Swanson & Claar, 1984). Besides developing capacity in general, Marshall et al. (2014) propose developing transformational capacity to help farmers to cope with climate change impacts on their farming activities and livelihoods. Many researchers (Groot, 1998; Hall, Janseen, Pehu, & Rajalahti, 2006; Jiggins & Rolling, 1997; Nederlof & Pyburn, 2012; Scoones & Thompson, 2008; Quarmine, 2012) confirm that in order to increase productivity and achieve sustainable development at the local level, the capacity to make changes at the institutional and political levels above the farm or local levels are also needed. This links the smallholder transformational change debate to the Agricultural Innovation Systems (AIS) approach which has emerged as a promising framework to tackle smallholder productivity,


livelihood and food security issues based on partnerships across all hierarchical levels and scales (Hall et al., 2006; Scoones et al., 2008).

1.2               Research Problem


Man has been on a quest to improve agriculture since time immemorial. Governments, aid agencies, researchers, extensionists and others have made significant investments into various ideological pathways to improve agricultural development over the last half century. This promoted a multitude of extension approaches, methods, and mechanisms. A review of the agricultural extension literature shows a transition in the different mechanisms used in improving agricultural development over time. Hall et al. (2006) classify the paradigms, approaches and underlying mechanisms used to bring about innovation and thereby transformation in the agricultural sector as “Transfer of Technology” in the 1950s, 60s and 70s and “Interactive Learning” from the 1980s until the present era of Agricultural Innovation Systems (AIS).

In spite of these efforts, agricultural productivity in Africa has remained low relative to other parts of the world like Nebraska in the United States, Latin America and Southeast Asia (Dormon., Van Huis, Leeuwis, Obeng-Ofori, & Sakyi-Dawson., 2004; FAO, 2014; Lobell, Cassman & Field, 2009). Table 1.1 for instance shows the productivity levels for maize across various global regions which highlight the low average yields, and yield potentials for sub-Saharan Africa (Lobell et al., 2009).

Unfortunately, climate variability and change has emerged as a critical magnifier that could exacerbate already low productivity levels (Wollenberg et al., 2012; IPCC, 2007). Indeed, according to the IPCC (2007, 2012), the emerging climate change phenomenon will worsen agricultural productivity even more than ever (Beddington et al., 2012). Stakeholders in the agricultural research and development


arena see value in transforming the agricultural sector. However, how to achieve transformation remains a challenge (O’Brien, 2011; 2012).


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