Northern Ghana trails the rest of the country in terms of wealth, not least because of its environmental challenges — low mean annual rainfall (about 900 mm per year), frequent droughts, and shallow soils susceptible to erosion. Given its dry climate and a high incidence of rural poverty, it is also considered the part of Ghana most vulnerable to climate change. Nonetheless, population densities are relatively high and growing, particularly in the Upper East region, where most people work in agriculture. While rates of out-migration are among the highest in Ghana at over 20 percent, birth rates are also above the national average. At the same time, northern savanna regions have served as receiving areas for Fulani migrants from Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger. Thus, the population of the Upper East region has more than doubled from almost 500,000 in 1960 to over a million in 2010.
Due to the precarious environmental situation and high pressure on resources, the Upper East region has long been a focus of development interventions in natural resource management. Already in colonial times, protected areas had been set aside and timber plantations of local tree species established, in particular Ceiba and Anogeissus. The earlier small-scale water reservoirs also date from that period, when they were created to help meet the dry season water needs of the rural population. Since then, donor-funded projects have rehabilitated the old reservoirs and constructed new ones (Snyder and others, 2013). Today, 149 small reservoirs and 129 dugouts can be counted in the Upper East region. They provide a source of water for livestock, domestic use, dry season irrigation, and fish production. A total area of nearly 9 sq km is irrigated by these systems. The water surfaces appear as small blue patches in the images, and an increase in number and size can be observed between 1986 and 2013. They are not to be confused with the larger irregular dark surfaces, which are temporary and represent areas recently burned and charred by grass fires.
A close-up view at higher resolution of the community of Bugri shows land use around the reservoir, which has a surface area of almost 10 ha and is one of the more important reservoirs (see inset). Downstream from the dam, reservoir water benefits fruit trees and allows for dry season cultivation of a variety of garden crops (onions, peppers, tomatoes). A portion of the dry season crops are sold on the market, whereas wet season crops such as maize, millet, beans and rice are mainly grown for household consumption. The ability to have two or three growing seasons per year, to keep more livestock and to sell produce on the market has made the communities with access to reservoirs more food secure and better off than neighboring communities without reservoirs (Namara, Nyamadi, and Barry, 2011). Tree densities were found to be higher and tree species more diverse in communities with reservoirs, since the availability of alternative and more sustainable sources of income has lessened the pressure on tree resources. An additional benefit that appears to have arisen from the presence of reservoirs is a strengthening of local governance and institutions, as these communal structures require collective management and have hence encouraged community organization.