BUEA, South West— Walters Apong, who lives in a tightly packed cosmopolitan called Ekona, not far from here, has a new addition to his plantain farm: large metal jerry cans fitted with funnels hand-made from scrap roofing sheets.
He has stored rain water in the cans, which amount to about 5000 litres. It is a novelty that allows him to have a steady supply of water deep into the dry season, which has become unpredictable because of irregular rains.
Storing up rain water, he says, helps him keep newly planted crops watered in spite of prolonged dryness. With many streams either dried up or heavily polluted, stored water is an alternative when spraying the farm with pesticides and other chemicals.
Across the South West, farmers are embarrassing rain-harvesting, moving away from complete reliance on rain-fed irrigation, which is still the dominant practice.
Even though rainfall has increased over the past five decades, it has become erratic and unpredictable. Shifts in seasonal rains often leave farmers with bouts of dryness, often lasting several months.
Spontaneous adaptive actions like rain-harvesting are helping farmers overcome [prolonged dryness] and ensuring continuous supply of water throughout the year.
Experts are blaming climate change for the new reality, which has led to a decline in crop productivity across the region, even though it has some of the most fertile soils in the country.
Several years ago, a popular Colocasia crop disappeared from the region – leaving farmers without answers. They are similarly stunned by the behaviour of the climate, which seemed quite predictable in the past.
These days, rains come when you do not expect and fails to come when you expect, says Apon, who has been a farmer for more than ten years.
“During the dry season,” he says, “the sun is too hot, the soil is too hard and causes crops to dry up.”
Spontaneous adaptive actions like rain-harvesting are helping farmers overcome the difficulty and ensuring continuous supply of water throughout the year.
Beyond offsetting unexpected periods of dryness, stored water is helping farmer expand off-season gardening, especially of vegetables and cereals like corn.
Apong explains that his jerry cans have helped his harvest grow. His neighbours use similar methods, like replacing scrap roofing sheets with tarpaulins or plastic sheets. Others have built concrete “tanks” on their farms.
“Without this we would not be able to harvest anything,” he says.