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Climate change has long since threatened the very existence of people in Africa: A report from Ghana

Less harvest, more poison: Climate change in Ghana

Kleve District Deanery

Extreme heat, weeks of drought, violent storms: more and more people in Germany are becoming aware of the effects of climate change. In other parts of the world, climate change has long threatened the existence of people. Brother Michael Schmitz, a native of Kevelaer, can tell us about this. He belongs to the Salesian community of Don Bosco and has lived in Ghana, West Africa, for more than 25 years.

Caption: Together with his protégés, Brother Michael Schmitz (second from left) experiences the effects of climate change in Ghana. Photo: Salesians of Don Bosco

There, Brother Michael, whom the locals only call "Obolo" (in German "strong, fat man"), is active in children's and youth work. Before that, he helped build a technical training centre in a rural region. In the meantime, he also "worked in agriculture and in the house. So I have seen some of the problems well in recent times."

One of the main problems, he says, is that the rainy and dry seasons, which actually alternate reliably in the country, which is characterised by a tropical climate, have changed. "In the 90's it was still the case that the rain developed well in February and March, now it happens that the first rain falls at the end of March, but not regularly," Brother Michael reports, "after a few weeks some rain comes again, but not enough for seeds and vegetable plants." That is why there have been considerable crop failures in 2019, he says.

For the local people, he says, this has had a concrete impact. "Maize is one of the staple foods," says Brother Michael, "the dry season failures cause prices to double." But there is more to come for the farmers, he fears: "With the dry season, for three years now, bugs have been coming into the maize with the morning dew and eating the young leaves. That's why we have to spray with insecticides so that not everything is lost. The same goes for fruit trees like mango or chocolate nut trees, which have to be sprayed before flowering." This costs money, and it has never been investigated whether the chemicals leave residues on the fruit.

Support from the state is irregular. "In larger cities, there is an office of agriculture that is financed by the government. If someone needs help from them, some of the experts come by. They also help out with poison sprays and pesticides. But the regular advice is not given."

Unfortunately, Brother Michael regrets that the people in Ghana are hardly aware of climate change. In general, environmental awareness is hardly pronounced. "Everyone in Ghana knows that in the 1990s the last virgin forest trees were felled and shipped to Europe. Today, thick trees are grown that can be felled after only 20 to 25 years. Many trees are bought by Indians and also go to India," says the religious.

In addition, old cars, imported from Germany among others, are being driven up, without any consideration for safety and exhaust values.

Even the popular bathing in the Atlantic Ocean, which Ghana borders in the south, is no longer unreservedly recommendable. "It's a nice opportunity to cool off," says Brother Michael, "but when you come out of the water, there are plastic bags of all colours hanging all over your body. Because for everything you can buy in the market or elsewhere, there are plastic bags, suitable for all goods in eight different sizes." On the African continent, he said, it is currently above all the countries of Burundi and Rwanda where environmental awareness is being expressed and which can hopefully influence others in a positive way.

The missionary was astonished by the experiences he had to make in Germany during his home stay in Kevelaer this year: the hot and dry summer, which did not offer him any cooling compared to Ghana, bent railway tracks, disintegrated road surfaces. He finds initiatives like Fridays for future or climate emergency declarations in some cities all the more important. With these, he says, Germany is on the right track. However, Brother Michael cannot understand some behaviour in the private sphere, such as extensive lawn sprinkling during drought.

For the future, he would like all people to take a broader view: "We have to join hands and help the people in the poorer countries. Only together can we save this global world of nature and pass on and model a good life for the next generations."

Anke Lucht

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