Episode 1

What do trees have to do with rain?

Show Notes

Inconsistent rainfall and a lack of reliable water are no small challenge for rural farmers, but two innovative communities in Ghana have found creative solutions to their water issues. The thing they both have in common? Trees!

Join us in the surprisingly green landscape of Mem, where we learn about the community’s unique approach to securing rainfall—planting teak trees. Teak trees, with their towering canopies and ability to absorb carbon dioxide, have become a vital part of the community's strategy to combat heatwaves and unreliable rains. Yaw Donko, a local resident, takes us back to the beginnings of Mem's tree-planting initiatives and how the community rallied together for this nature-based solution.

Journeying to Pieng in Ghana's Upper West Region, we also learn how the community used trees to stabilize slopes and filter the water around a crucial pond. The collective effort highlighted by Gbentie Mariama and Bakoo Tia has helped fortify the community against future drought.

Both Mem and Pieng showcase the resilience and innovation of rural communities in Africa as they face water-related challenges head-on. Join us on this episode of Nature Answers to see the power of nature-based solutions in action and the incredible stories of communities adapting to a changing planet.

This episode was produced by L. Manuel Baechlin and edited by Tara Sprickerhoff.

Transcript

Gifty Moakoa (translated)

When the rain falls, that’s what we use in everything we do, bathing of my child, washing, cooking, drinking, that’s what we use.

Martine Moguem

But what happens when you can not rely on the rain? 

What can a community do to keep the water flowing? In the communities we travel to today, nature has the answer. 

Welcome to Nature Answers: Rural Stories from a Changing Planet. We explore stories of how communities in rural Sub-Saharan Africa are working with nature to adapt to the climate crisis.

 I am your host, Martine Moguem.

 I invite you to join me as we visit Mem and Pieng. 

These two communities in Ghana saw reliable water access disappear due to climate change.

 But let me tell you how  local ingenuity, and a little bit of help from nature, has kept water flowing into town. 

Let’s go to Mem. The road  is long and bumpy. The community is five kilometers outside of Atebubu in central Ghana.

On the day we visited, potholes filled with rainwater, and missing patches of road had been swept away.

It made driving really difficult. And yet, the wet road conditions were also a sign of a nature-based solution in action. 

I should probably explain what a nature based solution is. And why they matter.

Sareme Gebre 

My name is Sareme Gebre. I am the Nature-based Solutions specialist for Farm Radio International. I have a background in economics but I also specialised in sustainable development. When I studied economics I realized economic issues are related to the social environment and economic aspects of our daily lives.

So Nature-based Solutions, in a simple way, are actions that work with nature to solve some of our biggest challenges in our society like climate change, food security, like water security. more specifically it is about protecting, restoring and sustainably managing our natural ecosystem, so we can ensure human wellbeing without harming biodiversity or nature

Martine Moguem

This entire podcast is part of a project being run by Farm Radio International about Nature-based Solutions. 

We’re working with radio stations in sub-Saharan Africa to engage and learn from the communities adapting to climate change. They are already using nature to find solutions. We’re sharing their stories so that other communities can learn from their example. 

But back to this story. 

The nature based solution we’re talking about today is water. Near Mem, water is usually rain. And rain is a major problem for many communities in the region.

Hannah Adubea (translated)

My name is Hanah Adubea

Martine Moguem

Sitting on two chairs in the shade of a cement building, we spoke with Hannah Adubea, a local farmer.   

Hannah Adubea (translated)

Sometimes you see the leaves of their plants shrinking. It tells you that there is a lot of heat there.

Martine Moguem

Heatwaves and unreliable rains are particularly troubling for farmers.

That’s because they rely on good crop yields to provide for their families.

Hannah Adubea (translated)

There is a lot of heat waves in their communities. They have to first experience heat waves before they experience rainfall. But at this place it is not like that.  

Martine Moguem

So how has Mem managed to navigate the climate?

Especially amid a rainy season that grows more unreliable every year due to climate change.

Trees.

That’s right. 

We were told that initially teak trees were planted to tackle the immediate issue of strong windstorms which were ravaging the region.

But what makes that a nature-based solution?  

Teak is a type of hardwood tree known for its large canopieS and potential to grow up to 40 meters tall.

Though they’re not indigenous to Ghana, teak trees are common in the country due to their potential use as electricity poleS.

Trees absorb carbon dioxide. They stabilize ground and act as natural windbreaks. If planted with other species, they can also help to increase biodiversity. Their size also acts as an impressive wind block once fully grown. And, if communities are involved in the control of resources, selective logging and the coordinated planting of the trees can bring income back to the community. 

That’s the thing about nature based solutions. Not only must they benefit nature, but they must benefit the community.

Sitting in a handcrafted wooden chair on the front porch of his home, Yaw Donko recalled the time Mem first began planting trees, many years ago.

Yaw Donko (translated) 

Initially we heard about other communities, particularly in the Ashanti region, getting much rainfall. And, how they were benefitting from the planting of trees. So we thought we could also do the same.  

Martine Moguem

According to Yaw, it took some convincing to get everyone on board.

Yaw Donko (translated)

We all put ourselves together and entered houses in Mem to inform people of the good news. They came together and decided that then they would plant trees. 

Martine Moguem

In nineteen-ninety-one, Mem’s leaders took their concerns to the nearest city.

Atebubu is several kilometres outside of Mem. 

But compared to Mem, Atebubu is full of people. It’s busy (BIZ-eee), and markets line the roads. 

The group spoke with members of the local Agricultural Office who eventually granted their request for the seedlings.

And so, using tractors and anything they could find, the community of Mem set about planting.

Hannah Adubea (translated) 

I was strong back then and I contributed to the planting. I was very excited. Without the trees, things would have been difficult by now.

Martine Moguem

Everyone who could, took part in the planting process.

This included women like Hannah Adubea.

Hannah Adubea (translated) 

My major role I played was that we were taking the seedlings to those who were planting. So, we carried them to the people who were planting at the planting site. 

Martine Moguem

Capable of driving through most terrains and pothole-filled roads,  it’s tractors like the one you’re hearing now that helped bring farmers to the location.

Hannah Adubea (translated)

We had to wake up early i nthe morning and gather ourselves to go there. Because, at that point, we were experiencing much heat.
My extended family, they were all part of the planting of the trees. 

Martine Moguem

But what does this have to do with water? 

Gifty Moakoa talked to us sitting cross-legged on a garden chair with her seven-month-old boy strapped to her back. 

She had plenty to say about the trees’ impact on her family.

Gift Moakoa (translated)

I believe strongly that with the presence of the trees here, that is why we get the rain. 

I’m young, so I came to hear this from my grandmother and then my mother, that trees call the rain. 

Martine Moguem

 Community members told us they believe the trees have led to more rain.

Though the science is still emerging, there’s some evidence to believe they may be right.

And Ghanaian experts told us the same. 

One thing is for certain.

Since planting the trees, Mem has seen more consistent rainfall, especially during the rainy season.

Gifty Moakoa (translated)

When the rain falls, that’s what we use in everything we do – bathing of my child, washing, cooking, drinking… That’s what we use. 

Martine Moguem

Mem began tree planting initiatives more than 30 years ago.

And now, it’s somewhat of a green paradise.

Trees are growing everywhere,

From farms to right beside homes.

A good way to measure Mem’s rain phenomenon is by looking at how other communities are faring nearby.

Gifty Moakoa (translated) 

When people come by from other communities, they talk about it and how on their end they’ve been getting no rain.

Martine Moguem

Gifty has a unique connection to some of these other communities.

Her mother and father only recently made the move to live in Mem.

They use the difference in climate to their advantage.

In Mem, they farm eggplants and pepe. Plants that require plenty of water to grow.

And in their original community, they were only farming plants like maize.

Maize doesn’t require the same amount of rainfall.

But rain doesn’t just impact how food is grown. 

Kwaku Kwaah’s favourite pass-time is playing soccer.

Or football, as it is more commonly called here.

Fortunately for him, Mem has a soccer field located near the heart of the community. 

He goes there to play when he is finished working.

Here’s the kicker!

The trees have even had an impact on his soccer games. 

Kwaku Kwaah (translated)

When it gets to dry season and it doesn’t rain, you don’t enjoy playing football on the field because the grasses are dried up. 

They were playing on the pitch during the dry season and the place became very dusty. They would be struggling on the dusty pitch to play. Now it is way better.  

Martine Moguem

Mem isn’t the only community in Ghana tackling water-related climate challenges using nature based solutions.

Closer to the desert than the coast is Ghana’s Upper West Region,

Near the border with Burkina Faso, sits Pieng.

It is a community of more than 1,500 people.

And it routinely suffers from drought.

That’s why their local pond has become so crucial.

It provides Pieng with the water needed to wash clothing, cook, and boil shea nuts.

The first time we visited, the community was waiting for rain.

The second time, it was pouring.

Streams of water ran in zigzags across the dirt road.

We spoke with Bakoo Tia in a community center with a metal roof. 

You’ll hear it in the clips. 

 We learned more about Pieng’s struggle with reliable rainfall.

Bakoo Tia (translated)

We are finding that climate change is affecting our water. We have to go quite a ways to get water. 

Martine Moguem

It wasn’t always like that.

The pond that Pieng relies on, used to hold clean water year-round.

Bakoo Tia (translated)

When I was young, it was far better than the rains now. 

Martine Moguem

Since the droughts, silt has entered the pond.

The muddy water made it difficult to wash and cook.

But Pieng, like Mem, wasn’t ready to give up. 

Wearing a bright green hijab, Gbentie Mariama explained how they jumped into action. 

Gbentie Mariama (translated)

As a community, we decided that because the place was bare, there was nothing. We should put trees around it and regularly check if the water was still being silted. 

Martine Moguem

Looking back, Gbentie (GEH-ben-tea) said she was glad the trees were planted.

Gbentie Mariama (translated)

If we had not planted trees around it, we would have very sandy water. 

Martine Moguem

Let’s go back a bit! 

Trees prevent erosion by holding soil in place,and keeping sediment out of waterways.

 When it rains heavily, they can also filter floodwaters, and keep surface soil from pouring into the pond. 

But this solution is all a lot easier said than done. 

People told us the planting wasn’t exactly easy.

First, Pieng needed seedlings.

Ghana’s Savannah Accelerated Development Authority is a government body charged with coordinating development in northern Ghana. When they were told about the afforestation project, they showed up to assist.

Back in the community center Fuseini Lamise recounted the planting process.

Fuseini Lamise (translated)

It was hard, but because it was something that would help us, I felt I had to do it. 

I was thinking that a time would come when the waterway would benefit us, because I could already see animals drinking there. 

Martine Moguem

Bakoo Tia told us nearly everyone who could help with the tree planting, did.

Bakoo Tia (translated)

The whole community has planted trees at the dam. 

Martine Moguem

We were shown the planting site on our way through the community…

And learned that the community faced a second challenge.

Once the trees were planted around the pond,

 they needed more water to keep them alive.

What followed was a community effort like no other.

Pieng turned the pond into a small dam, to shore up the water they had. 

That’s the sound of fresh rainwater running into the dam.

They also added small waterways to keep the vegetation watered. Picture little trenches dug parallel to the main dam.

The channels carefully surround trees and other shrubbery.

Fuseini Lamise (translated)

What was hard for me was that the things that people typically use to clear the trench weren’t available to us, so I was using hoes and axes to dig instead. 

Martine Moguem

The work took all day.

Fuseini Lamise (translated)

For lunch, most of us would cook TZ in our houses and bring it, or sometimes boil cord and mix granot with them,  

Martine Moguem

TZ, also known as Tuo Zaafi, is a popular food in northern Ghana.

It is made from maize or millet. 

Fuseini Lamise (translated)

I would get up very early, cook and by the time I was finished cooking I would carry the food, by which time some men would already be working. So I would get up around four. 

Martine Moguem

But there were also moments of lightheartedness during the planting and digging process.

Fuseini Lamise (translated)

What was funny for me was seeing women using pickaxes because we all wanted water. I had never dreamed of this, seeing women there, doing the same things as the men. 

Martine Moguem

The dirt from digging the trenches was used to build a wall along one side of the pond,

That formed the dam.

The dam keeps rainwater from rushing away.

Wearing a smile, Bawule Iddrisu described the moment when water first entered the dam.

Bawule Iddrisu (translated)

When water first went through the waterway, everybody was happy. Everyone came down to the waterway to see the water flowing. 

Martine Moguem

Who knew the sound of running water could be so fulfilling?

Bawuile Iddrisu (translated)

Now that we are getting water, my hope for the future is that the water stays, so that the animals can drink, and the children can be washing their clothes anytime. 

Martine Moguem

Whether it is Pieng, nearly 24 hours north of the capital city by car, or Mem,

both communities we visited were tackling water challenges in a sustainable way.

Their stories of resilience and innovation are echoed by many other communities in Africa.

MUSIC

Manuel Baechlin

This episode was written and produced in Ghana by me, L. Manuel Baechlin. 

With help from staff in Farm Radio International’s office in Accra, Ghana who provided valuable insight and made me feel welcome

The sounds were recorded on location by myself, Christopher Edwards, and Morgana Adby.

We joined as part of an internship program with Carleton University’s School of Journalism. 

 The translations were voiced by David Addo and Laurentia Ababio. 

It was edited by Tara Sprickerhoff.

Farm Radio compensated community members who participated in interviews. 

It is common practice to compensate a person in this region for the time they are spending being interviewed. 

Our podcast would exclude many important perspectives if we only interviewed those who could afford to step away from their economic activities without compensation.

Nature Answers was produced thanks to funding from the Government of Canada. 

The people behind the voices

These are the faces of the community members we interviewed in Mem and Pieng. 

It is common practice to compensate a person in this region for the time they are spending being interviewed. Our podcast would exclude many important perspectives if we only interviewed those who could afford to step away from their economic activities without compensation.

Photos by L. Manuel Baechlin

Producer

Nature Answers is made in partnership with Carleton University's School of Journalism. Journalism students from the school were hired to spend 2-3 months in Ghana and Uganda in 2023 to conduct interviews and tell these stories in partnership with Ghanaian and Ugandan broadcasters and Farm Radio International's Ghanaian and Ugandan staff members. 

Farm Radio International Ghana’s L. Manuel Baechlin visited the community of Shelanyili to learn about their Nature-based Solutions. In Ghana on Friday, August 18, 2023. CHRIS EDWARDS / FARM RADIO INTERNATIONAL

L. Manuel Baechlin

Manuel Baechlin is a filmmaker, journalist and photographer whose work has been published by the Canadian Journalism Forum, the Toronto Star, CBS Broadcasting Inc., Maclean’s, CBC and others. He graduated from Carleton University’s School of Journalism with a combined honours in film studies and a Rogers Communications Award in Television Journalism. Manuel spent the summer of 2023 as a journalism intern at Farm Radio International’s Ghana office.

Learn more about the nature-based solutions in Mem.

The farming community in central Ghana benefiting from teak trees planted three decades ago

Residents of Mem, a community in central Ghana, planted teak trees over 30 years ago. Today, they are seeing the benefits, like increased shade and protection from windstorms.
Read More

This podcast is produced thanks to funding from the Government of Canada and in partnership with the Carleton School of Journalism. 

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