Heat exposure on farmers in northeast Ghana
School of medical and Health Sciences
Environmental health hazards faced by farmers, such as exposure to extreme heat stress, are a growing concern due to global climate change, particularly in tropical developing countries. In such environments, farmers are considered to be a population at risk of environmental heat exposure. The situation is exacerbated due to their farming methods that involve the use of primitive equipment and hard manual labour conducted in full sunshine under hot and humid conditions. However, there is inadequate information about the extent of heat exposure to such farmers, both at the household and farm levels. This paper presents results from a study assessing environmental heat exposure on rural smallholder farmers in Bawku East, Northern Ghana. From January to December 2013, Lascar USB temperature and humidity sensors and a calibrated Questemp heat stress monitor were deployed to farms and homes of rural farmers at Pusiga in Bawku East to capture farmers’ exposure to heat stress in both their living and working environments as they executed regular farming routines. The Lascar sensors have the capability to frequently, accurately and securely measure temperature and humidity over long periods. The Questemp heat stress monitor was placed in the same vicinity and showed strong correlations to Lascar sensors in terms of derived values of wet-bulb globe temperature (WBGT). The WBGT in the working environment of farmers peaked at 33.0 to 38.1 °C during the middle of the day in the rainy season from March to October and dropped to 14.0–23.7 °C in the early morning during this season. A maximum hourly WBGT of 28.9–37.5 °C (March–October) was recorded in the living environment of farmers, demonstrating little relief from heat exposure during the day. With these levels of heat stress, exposed farmers conducting physically demanding outdoor work risk suffering serious health consequences. The sustainability of manual farming practices is also under threat by such high levels of heat exposure.