A true life story of a vulnerable farmer
Aki Akilo, a 29 year old peasant farmer hailed from the Northern part of Ghana. He has four wives and ten children. He always works tirelessly in scorch sun; weeding, watering and harvesting his crops. Aki Akilo complained of stiff neck and pains after returning from his farm and suddenly passed away that same evening of Cerebral-Spinal Meningitis (CSM) in March this year. His four wives wept and their children moaned. Being a witness to that event, I didn?t realize the time I started shedding tears. It was pathetic that day to see an energetic young man of such age going to farm to bring food to the table and only to be told he is no more.
Farmers, because of the nature of their profession, spend a lot of time outdoors in all types of weather especially in summer heat and humidity when crop production is in full swing. But while the sun helps sustain crops, its intense heat can cause potentially life threatening illness to farmers especially in the northern part of Ghana.
In Ghana, more than 70 percent of farming work is labor intensive as many farmers use hoe, cutlass and shovel to farm as they cannot afford the modern method of farming, and during periods of high temperatures, this could have a deleterious effect on agricultural productivity, sustainable farming and farmers? health just like the case of Aki Akilo.
Studies have indicated that there is increased metabolic heat loads characterized with heavy work performance. Using shovel to scoop loose sand could be measured within the range of 266 W.m2 and 407 W.m2. In the same vein performing a task of drilling falls within 217 W.m2 to 290 W.m2. Continuous work with shovel by a person of 75 kg without rest or cooling can increase core body temperature. In categorization of task by ISO 7243, working with shovel, pick axe, drilling and cutlass are likely to fall within high and very high metabolic rate and work intensities (ISO, 1989).
Heat related illness is prone to occur in high heat exposure where core body temperature exceeds 39 ?C. Such level of heat can create dizziness to fatal heat stroke, during the performance of a task in the regime of high and very high work intensities in excessive heat environment without cooling or rest.
The rise in heat exposure in Northern Ghana has created a negative effect on the health of the resident population and its consequent impact on agriculture which is the key occupation of the people at the north. According to climate vulnerability Monitor, heat stress is prevalent since almost all the farmers work during the most heat extreme period of the day and this affects their productivity and impacts on the sustainability of farming. Working during periods of high temperatures, particularly in full sunshine, can have serious health consequences on farmers and can reduce their productivity by decreasing work comfort and performance. Heat affects health and productivity but such impacts would be expected to worsen under climate change unless proper adaptation measures are instituted.
Dr Francis Yeboah Head of Molecular Medicine at the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital (KATH) speaking at a workshop organized by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the theme: “Integrating Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation in Development Planning.” said certain fluids, including the cerebrum spinal fluid are affected when the body absorbed too much heat. He also said too much heat could affect how the brain worked and could also increase the risk of cardiovascular or heart diseases. He explained that even though the body could absorb some heat, the required body temperature is 37 degrees Celsius, when the body temperature rises above 40 degrees Celsius there is cause for concern?.
In some parts of Northern Ghana, a large number of farmers live in round houses which has no adequate ventilation. Though the grass used as roofing relatively cool down the temperature in the rooms as compared to roofing sheets and later contract Meningitis.
Meningitis is a dry season disease that depends on temperature and humidity. It is an epidemic disease that occurs during the dry season where especially in the northern part of Ghana, festivities take place. These events bring people together in a way that increases disease transmission. In 2013, CSM killed 10 people out of the 146 cases reported in the three northern regions. These needless deaths confirm how climate change affects people especially the vulnerable in the society. Experts say degradation of the environment contributes to climate change, which has adverse effect on human and animal health, social integration as well as the economic well-being of the people.
A report by the northern Regional Directorate of Ghana Health services who said, a total of 75 confirmed cases of the disease were reported in the first quarter of the year from four districts. The disease is common in March and April every year in the country.
According to Dr. Joseph Somuah Akuamoah, the Executive Member of Good Life Ghana, Climate Change he noted was enhancing the severity of these weather conditions in the Meningitis belt. He said the Northern regions had been the focal point for this infectious disease over the years, thus necessary steps must be taken to ensure the security of residents. He further discouraged overcrowding in churches, dormitories and other public functions and advised people who lived in poorly ventilated houses to as a matter of urgency, open widely their windows and doors to allow adequate ventilation.
I therefore call on the Government of Ghana and other stakeholders to take Afforestation especially in the three northern regions very seriously since desert is encroaching.
There is the need for government also to adopt preventive health care by building health posts in rural and deprived areas so that people who suffered illness as a result of the change in climate would be attended to.
Moreover, people should be vaccinated during early detection for effective treatment to reduce the severity of the disease to the barest minimum, especially in the North. Farmers should also be educated about the dangers of building without windows.
Farida Abubakari, Ghana
Global Ambassador for Youth and Enlightenment and Welfare (YEW) Ghana
Agricultural Economist, Soil Scientist and a Climate Tracker for the Adopt a Negotiator program. Email: email@example.com