Mary Vuvor is a retired school teacher and lifelong farmer living in the village of Dagbamete in Ghana, West Africa. In her story, she shares her answer to a powerful and worrisome question that communities around the globe are now facing.
What happens when the seasons don’t come?
Some of Mary Vuvor’s earliest memories are going to the farm with her father to tend to their cassava, maize, and beans. These were the three crops that her parents’ and grandparents’ generations planted, and when Mary grew and started her own farm, these were the crops she would plant as well.
The farm provided a rhythm and a structure that communities were built around. Mary explains, “For as long as I can remember, there was an order and a predictability to the farm and the seasons. Instead of a calendar or a watch, these were how we marked the passage of time.”
She continues, “The first and major farming season is Ada. Normally, this is the time of the heaviest rains. During Ada, we mostly plant beans and occasionally groundnuts. These crops not only yield something that we can eat and sell, but they also provide nutrients to the soil that prepares it to grow the crops that follow.”
“The next season is called Kele. This is the hot and dry season in which we plant cassava and maize. These are the two staple ingredients that we eat year round, which also make up most of our diet.”
Previously, Mary was able to grow enough from her farm to feed her household and extended community members, with plenty left over to bring to the local markets and sell.
However, in the last seven years, she has seen a major shift in the seasons that has had devastating effects on not just her farm and community, but all of Ghana.
“For as long as any of us can remember, Ada has come before Kele. They were two distinct seasons that came in sequence, each with their own characteristics. Now everything has changed.
She continues, “There is nothing that we can identify as the rainy season or the dry season anymore. Sometimes the rains don’t come at all, or they come during times they never used to. It’s as if the sun has stopped rising and setting like we’ve always known it to.”
The impacts have been immediate and widespread. Crops that once thrived are now rotting in the ground. The beans they once planted to replenish the soil can no longer be planted in time, creating a ripple effect that has completely disrupted their yields.
Mary says the effects are visible everywhere. She explains, “Our yields are smaller and are no longer enough to meet the community’s needs. There are fewer and fewer things at the markets, and the cost of what is there is sky high. Where before we were fully self-sufficient as a community, now we are struggling.”
In the face of these unprecedented challenges, Mary and her fellow farmers have made changes to their longstanding practices to try to adapt.
She says, “We’ve begun to mulch our soil to try to retain moisture. Now, whenever there is even a small amount of rain, we cover the soil with dead plants and leaves to try to make sure the water stays in the ground longer.”
“We have also started allowing livestock to come and graze on our land, which we never would have before. Now that the beans and groundnuts aren’t able to add nutrients back to the soil, we are turning to cows to help add nutrients through their manure. It’s not a perfect solution, but it helps.”
When asked what she thinks the future might look like as these impacts progress and our climate continues to change, Mary reflects on a proverb in her language of Ewe that says, “Agble si ŋukuwɔge la, eximeɛ wòkpɔne le.“
Directly translated, it means “You can tell what the yield of a farm will be when the corn starts growing silk”.
But beyond the literal meaning, the proverb is used to remind people that there are always signs and waypoints that will help you figure out what direction you’re headed in. It’s up to you to take that information and work towards the best outcome.
“We have seen the signs of where we’re headed if we don’t make change. For us, the impacts are already causing great suffering in our community. Now, where do we go with this information? What will we do to make a change? It will never go back to the way it was, but we have the power to make something better than it is now.”
If Mary’s story resonates with you, we invite you to join My Climate Plan as a founding member to take action together for a climate safe future.