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ALMA Reviews Blog: Making Climate Services Actionable for Farmers in Ghana: The Value of Co-Production and Knowledge Integration

Making Climate Services Actionable for Farmers in Ghana: The Value of Co-Production and Knowledge Integration

By Emmanuel Nyadzi (Wageningen University), Andy B. Nyamekye (FAO) and Fulco Ludwig (Wageningen University) 

Published in 2022 in Indigenous Knowledge and Climate Governance: A Sub-Saharan Perspective, eds. Eromose E. Ebhuoma and Llewellyn Leonard, Springer, Cham, 97–110.

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“Western” climate science and especially its techno-scientific framing, as well as its evocation of objective factuality, have long been a focal point of critique in academic debates on global climate policy. In seeking to learn more about factors that prevent alternative modes of knowledge production from featuring prominently in discourses on climate governance, as well as in possible solutions to the problem, we came across the recently published volume Indigenous Knowledge and Climate Governance: A Sub-Saharan African Perspective (2022), which investigates indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) in sub-Saharan Africa and assesses their potential for promoting adaptation to climate variability.

The book was edited by Eromose E. Ebhuoma and Llewellyn Leonard, both of whom are affiliated with the Department of Environmental Sciences at the University of South Africa in Johannesburg. The – almost exclusively African – contributors to the volume cover a wide range of case studies from both a regional and a disciplinary perspective: 15 countries of West, Central, East and Southern Africa are represented by case studies, whereas the scholars’ disciplines range from environmental sciences and geography to religious studies, peace studies and development studies, to name just a few. In their introduction, Ebhuoma and Leonard claim that “the western view of ‘knowledge’ has, since its introduction in Africa, not fully taken into account the holistic nature and approach of non-western ways of indigenous knowledge production” (pp. 2–3). In response, the book seeks to provide a platform for African voices on indigenous knowledge production and climate change adaptation. The case studies collected in the volume compellingly show that IKS can play a crucial role in achieving Sustainable Development Goal 13 (“combat climate change and its impacts”), as indigenous peoples hold valuable knowledge and can respond in creative ways to major challenges related to sustainable resource management, climate resilience and the establishment of food systems (p. 2).

The book is structured in three parts, of which the first provides many rich examples of how indigenous peoples apply their knowledge systems to adapt to climate change. Part two goes a step further and questions how scientific knowledge production and indigenous knowledge systems can be fruitfully combined to “scale up climate resilience” (p. 6). The contributions of the final part set out to analyse the factors that impede the inclusion of indigenous knowledge systems in climate governance and planning. 

This review concerns the eighth chapter, “Making Climate Services Actionable for Farmers in Ghana: The Value of Co-Production and Knowledge Integration”, which was written by Emmanuel Nyadzi, Andy B. Nyamekye and Fulco Ludwig. The chapter, which belongs to the second part of the book, not only provides an exciting discussion of the possibilities for integrating IKS and “Western” climate science, but also supports its theoretical reflections and arguments with empirical data from a four-year study in the Kumbungu district of Northern Ghana, which was conducted by the authors between 2016 and 2020. While there has been a growing recognition of the value of co-production and knowledge integration for climate governance in academic literature, only very few studies have tested its implementation and benefits so far. Thus, the chapter’s strength lies in its novel approach and ability to provide compelling evidence for the benefits of co-production and knowledge integration of both indigenous methods of weather forecasting and meteorological forecasts.

The authors begin the chapter with a discussion of the discrepancies between the increasing need for reliable climate information services for agriculture and the serious constraints farmers face in using them. Despite growing concerns about the impacts of climate variability, weather information services are scarcely used by farmers when planning or making projections. According to the authors, the “mis-match between forecast and needs, forecast inaccuracy, language barriers, use of technical forecast terminologies [...], inconsistency and untimeliness of information provision” (pp. 97–98) impede their use. The study thus seeks to address these issues by integrating widely used indigenous ecological indicators for weather prediction – such as the behaviour of animals, the positions of the sun, cloud and moon, wind speed and direction, and physiological changes of vegetation – with data from scientific forecasting, through the co-production of a single climate information service to inform farming activities (p. 99). For this purpose, rice farmers were asked to provide information through the Sapelli app, an open-source mobile application designed to enable people with no or limited literacy to use smartphones for environmental monitoring. More than sixty rice farmers from Northern Ghana took part in the project. The data retrieved from the Sapelli app was then integrated with data from meteorological observation services. Over the four years, the authors conducted more than 70 interviews with practitioners and farmers, organised 9 workshops and held 7 focus group discussions to solicit information, collect farmers’ information needs and regularly engage with farmers to obtain their feedback on the project, as well as to monitor their use of climate information services (p. 101).

From the analysis of this data, the authors conclude that co-producing weather forecast information and integrating the two knowledge systems improved the reliability, design, information generation, as well as regional uptake of climate information services among farmers in Northern Ghana. The authors argue that the Integrated Probability Forecast (IPF) method “performed generally better than any of the individual [scientific or indigenous] forecasts” (p. 104). Furthermore, the results of the interviews show that the IPF method has far greater acceptability potential among farmers (93% of farmers accept its results) because it “resolves the issues of contradicting forecast information, requires less meeting time and improves forecast reliability” (p. 104). Nyadzi, Nyamekye and Ludwig conclude that “end-users’ needs cannot be completely understood through producers’ one-size-fits-all lens” (p. 105), which is often imposed by global policymakers, scientists and researchers from “the West” on local populations in the Global South. Instead, it is crucial that “the context must be analysed paying attention to the preferences of locals and end-users” (ibid.), as well as to the complex nature of local climate change problems, which requires multiple perspectives. 

In consequence, the findings of the study are a forceful reminder of the importance of levelling the hierarchies in producing knowledge for climate adaptation and mitigation. The integration of different epistemologies and modes of knowledge production responds to the need for a more equal exchange and for the production of actionable knowledge for those most affected by climate variability. However, the authors also stress that successful co-production of knowledge requires constant reflection on the process, as well as reconfiguration and modification of existing knowledge based on experiences of successes, failures and lessons learned. Neither Western science nor indigenous accounts can claim incontestable epistemic authority. Moreover, the authors do not claim that IKS can be epistemologically placed on the same rank as modern scientific inquiry. Instead, the chapter emphasises that a closer and more comprehensive engagement with indigenous and local standpoints in knowledge production and policy processes is valuable and necessary for overcoming the technocratic one-sidedness of current climate politics, which perpetuates unsustainable global relations and the status quo of Western geopolitical dominance. It is our opinion that all those interested in how a counter-hegemonic, integrative re-thinking of climate science could work will find the chapter presented here, and the edited volume of which it is a part, of great value.  


Reviewed by: Solveig Degen, Ann Philipp


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Foto: ©Cynthia Matonhodze, Harare, Zimbabwe

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