Ghana’s new agriculture policy is leaving behind its smallholders

In a recent meeting at the Ministry of Food and Agriculture in Ghana, we were presented with the designated Minister, Dr. Owusu Afriyie Akoto’s plans for what the new government is going to offer its farmers: Planting for Food and Jobs, a Campaign for Rapid Growth.

The plan makes grand claims to promote growth in food production and create 750,000 new jobs through a focus on five areas: seed, fertilizer, extension services, marketing and e-fertilizer. The growth will come from five main food crops maize, rice, soybean, sorghum and vegetables and in the north of the country where I work, the focus will be entirely on the first three: maize, rice and soy. Notably, yam, millet, livestock and other animals are not included, as well as other natural resources like shea.

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Women’s shea production and processing group, Ghana

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African yam mounds

The campaigns focus on getting every Ghanaian to grow food for the country is reminiscent of the 1970s Operation Feed Yourself policy that focused on Green Revolution development approaches only without the focus on mechanization and a renewed emphasis on seed and fertilizer. A novel feature is that local district assemblies will have a main coordination role alongside the local Ministry of Food and Agriculture units. We will wait to see what support to strengthening local government systems will be provided beyond hiring new extension staff proposed. The National Buffer Stock (NAFCO) will be reinvested in, operating as the market, storage and processing option. We also wait to see if support for operations is budgeted for and not just infrastructure maintenance.

Most worryingly is that the government is only registering ‘lead farmers’ those who have 10 acres or more of one of the targeted crops. In a place where virtually all farmers are smallholders who grow many crops to meet a diverse diet and reduce risk, government extension have expressed concerns about who the government is targeting and how their services will shift. As one extension staff said in the meeting, “I bet we won’t even get up to 100 farmers registered for the entire district”. Since farmers are registered for where they are farming and not where they live, it is likely that most of the farmers registered will not be those in the rural communities, but business men from the city or government staff who have the capital to rent and prepare land, hire labour and access inputs on a medium scale. Moreover, it is likely that women (especially those who do not inherit land) and the ‘teeming youth’ will not have the ten acres needed, leaving them behind.

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The extension staff I work with perceive their jobs to be about developing smallholder livelihoods and rural communities and in the meeting, they began strategizing about how they could register them so they are included. One suggestion was through the registration of groups of smallholders (farming based organizations), like cooperatives where they could aggregate land. But, no, individuals are only allowed. Others suggested registering smallholders with plots next to each other, but under one name. I can’t help but think about the deep mistrust between smallholders and government and the potential community conflict that could arise because smallholders’ land, rented tractors and hired labour are already being monopolized by these business men who can afford to pay more at the necessary time. Now the government is supporting them, not the smallholders.

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This campaign for rapid growth is worrying because where there is rapid growth, there tends to be rapid inequality and rapid environmental degradation. There seems to be a mismatch between what the government, NGOs and the private sector sees as the future of agriculture in Ghana and what smallholders themselves want. Chemical fertilizer for example is being widely adopted by smallholders, and government (with pressure from farmer lobbyists) have subsidized the cost from around 100 GH cedis to 85 GH cedis per 45 kg bag to reduce costs. However, smallholders have issued concerns to me about the impact this fertilizer usage has on soil health and the quality of food produced. Those both near and far away from town are reluctantly adopting fertilizer because of desperation and they perceive themselves as being addicted to these expensive chemicals. The improved, shorter varieties of seed provided produce more in times of erratic rainfall, but the quality of produce and ability to withstand drought is also a problem perceived by smallholders. We will also wait to see what kinds of seeds are encouraged in the future and perhaps the renewal of hybrids and other non-open pollinated varieties smallholders are not willing to adopt will make its way back in the name of growth. Moreover, the focus on e-extension and e-fertilizer was tried and failed last year because of the technical and literacy problems across the country. We await to see what new innovations are provided to combat this.

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After all, it is the medium scale farmer who is willing to invest and depend on these inputs year after year to generate surplus, moving on when the soil is dead, but not the smallholder who needs to think about sustaining her subsistence and existence first – food quality, diversification and environmental sustainability.

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Smallholder farmers in Ghana

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Blog post on Women & Food Waste @FoodWasteStudy

I just published a blog post here for the Food Waste Studies Group International on
Food Waste – What do Women Have to do With It?

Check it out and the group for an active discussion, resources and community on all things food waste.

Follow us on Twitter @FoodWasteStudies

GMO food is ‘Generally Missing Observation’ & Why Smallholders in Africa are so Against Growing it

To all of the converted – to those who turn to the quick, technical solutions of GM food for saving the ongoing food crisis – there is something you should know.

We actually have enough food in the world to feed everyone (FAO, 2014).

Those who are often the hungriest tend to be farmers (Watts, 2013).

Despite all of the gains we have made in technical improvements (we are producing 17% more food per person than we did 30 years ago) close to a billion people are hungry and this number has not changed for decades. In some regions, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, the situation is getting worse.

So if hunger and malnutrition still exists despite improved technology and food production to meet the growing population, than what is going on? Why are so many people still hungry?

Like any technology, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) do not exist in a vacuum. Whether they are successful in increasing food production by deterring pests and insects, or add nutritious elements to the crop itself, this is by no means something that farmers want to grow or consumers want to eat.

Worse still, there is actually very little research conducted about GMOs. The recent article we published here finds very little evidence pointing to the health, environment or political economic gains from biotechnology.

Food for thought

In this paper we ask important questions about equality issues: will an innovation cause unemployment or migration in rural communities? Will the rich get richer and the poor get poorer? Have the negative impacts of an innovation been considered?

Uribe, Glover, and Schnurr’s (2014) contribution makes clear that contextual factors such as governance and policy frameworks, credit availability and seed markets, as well as local agro-ecological factors such as insect pests, shape food security outcomes of GMO technology.

So what is the actual evidence?

Evidence of positive gains from GMOs in Africa:
– In a most recent meta-analysis, Klümper and Qaim (2014) details that herbicide-tolerant crops have lower production costs although insect-resistant crops have higher seed prices.

– Production levels of GM crops for herbicide tolerance rose by 9 and 25% above that for insect resistance. For example, average yields for GM cotton in South Africa from 1998 and 2001 were 25% higher than for conventional cotton with average increased earnings of 77%. Additionally, in Burkina Faso Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) cotton hectares increased by 126% in 2010 from the level in 2009. According to Clive (2013), biotech cotton in low- income countries increased the income of 16.5 million smallholder farmers in 2013, including success in India (Kathage & Qaim, 2012).

Despite the few positive studies, evidence of gains for most is quite mixed and uncertain. If one thing’s for certain, an overwhelming majority of farmers have collectively organized against GMOs across the continent of Africa. Particularly against the private-sector-led agriculture investment strategies for food security that pushes GMOs.

pest-cartoon

The evidence supporting farmers concerns in Africa are many:
– Cases exist where industrial agriculture pushed by large corporate investment and their respective technologies have contributed to a decline in community development and environmental conditions (Patel, Torres, & Rosset, 2005) because they have no mechanisms or incentives to ensure basic rights (Carney, 2012; Patel et al., 2005, p. 430; Shepherd, 2012; Yengoh & Armah, 2014)

– Related neoliberal economic models of deregulation policies to allow for technology have weakened government services that regulate markets, which push vulnerable smallholder farmers to give up farming and migrate (Kuuire, Mkandawire, Arku, & Luginaah, 2013).

– The focus on technical and short-term fixes by public–private partnerships shifts funding away from fundamental structural problems (DFID & Wiggins, 2004).

– Even the focus on incorporating the smallholder farmer into the value chain has been found to work for only the top 2–20% of small-scale producers, who are often only men (McKeon, 2014, p. 10) and typically excludes farmers themselves in the planning process.

-Generally, smallholder farmers are unable to afford traditional agriculture technologies and especially not the more costly new biotechnology (Patel et al., 2005).

– Due to the monopoly of power on biotechnology by certain major corporations, GM crops would result in the costs of inputs increasing and the diversity of seed choice declining (Shiva, Jafri, Emani, & Pande, 2000).

Terminator technologies ensure that farmers must either purchase new seed for each season or buy chemical keys to activate bioengineers’ crop traits, which will also put certain farmers at a disadvantage.

– Engineered genetic constructs may contaminate other farms unintentionally (Bailey, Willoughby, & Grzywacz, 2014).

-Leakages of GM crops into the food and feed supply have been reported with Prodigene corn, Syngenta Bt10 corn, and Liberty Link rice pointing to larger implications if done in places with poor infrastructure regulation (Bagavathiannan et al., 2011).

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In current political economic conditions, should we really be pushing this stuff?

So even though there is some positive evidence that points to increasing yields and lowering production costs for farmers in Africa, the political economy of production (cotton in South Africa for example) has resulted in inequitable profit-sharing, coerced eviction, and widespread indebtedness of farmers (Witt, Patel, & Scnurr, 2006). It is unclear in the range of studies accounted for in the meta-analysis (Klümper & Qaim, 2014) whether these factors are considered and how they relate to food security or nutrition.

“When are you people going to stop coming into our continent with your recipes for solving our problems rather than supporting our own solutions?” – USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah in Rome in May 2012 speaking to the National Alliance. (McKeon, 2014, p. 13)

Policymakers, planners, donors tend to blame farmers for being ignorant, backward, lazy and low to uptake the technology. The implication is that farmers do not know what is good for them. That they do not understand the vision for modernization and progress for the future of their agriculture systems and food security.

However, perhaps it is the farmers who know what is best for their own farms.

The bioethical concerns over GM crops and other biotechnology needs to be situated in the much wider related issues of poverty, inequality, and social justice that puts the smallholder farmer at the centre of analysis, which is why debates of biotechnology must be understood within the broader context of neoliberal agrarian policies.

The Varied Roles of Extension Services Provided to Farmer Organizations for Food Security

It is official, I am moving to Pujehun district located in southern, Sierra Leone for a few months. I will be consulting on a project that aims to improve the food security of people living in poor, rural communities in West African countries to ensure that they have access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food.

I will be consulting on one part of the overall system to contribute to,
a) Increasing the effectiveness and use of agricultural extension services (government, NGO) by training extension staff in planning, implementing, and monitoring and,
b) Provide business support services to farmer organizations, and strengthen them for the adoption of good agricultural and livelihood practices.

Here, I want to explain the value farmer organizations have for food security and the importance of the different roles extension services have.

Why Agricultural Extension?

Agricultural extension historically has been about technology transfer, through an extension staff transferring knowledge from research stations to farmers by using individual, group, and mass media methods. Farmers gain this knowledge and improve their practices to produce greater yields. The obvious link between this to food security is: an improved and greater yield of food crops, such as rice leads to more food available.

However, making more food available in communities is only one part of the food security story. Mostly because you cannot grow everything you wish to eat. Also, there is often times enough food available, but the most hungry cannot access it. Food can be inaccessible because of,
•Poor infrastructure & natural disasters (I cannot physically get to the markets where food is sold);
•Food is too expensive (I cannot afford / have the cash to buy food);
•Social/cultural norms (I cannot leave the house alone or I can only interact with certain actors in certain markets);
•Violence and corruption (I do not feel safe when buying food because of potential threats from others);
•Poor health systems (I am too sick to get food and process it);
•Lack of information (I do not know where or when the food is sold or what the standards/rules are);
•Inadequate support institutions (I do not have the capital needed etc.)
Source: Angela Mwaniki, ‘Achieving Food Security in Africa: Challenges and Issues’

The goal of improving productive yields is only one dimension of food security. I would argue, more importantly, access to food, varied markets (not just food markets, but also agricultural markets) and overall livelihood development (employment generally) is critical for food security. Bearing in mind the issue of nutrition is much more complex as this requires improved health, water and sanitation systems beyond agriculture or livelihoods.

More recently, agricultural extension has varied roles to improve availability and access to food, markets and overall livelihood development. Some of the roles include,
Human Resource and Empowerment role: help farmers and rural communities organize themselves and take charge (empowerment) of their growth and development.
Community-Organizing role: understanding the structures, by-laws, rules will help leaders to plan, implement, and monitor their own livelihoods. Helping communities to build, develop, and increase their power through cooperation, sharing, and working together to negotiate and interact with other markets.
Problem-Solving and Education role: helping farmers and their communities to identify problems and seek the right solutions by combining their indigenous knowledge with other knowledge and by using their resources properly.
• And most commonly…Technology Development role: by linking research with community group needs and helping to facilitate appropriate technology development
Source: Shankariah Chamala and P. M. Shingi. FAO. Chapter 21 “Establishing and strengthening farmer organizations” in Improving Agricultural Extension. A Reference Manuel

Extension staff learning from farmers about their technology, not just the other way around

Extension staff learning from farmers about their technology, not just the other way around

Rice Sheller - simple technology, but critical for agribusiness development

Rice Sheller – simple technology, but critical for agribusiness development

Why Farmer Organizations?

Farmer organizations give farmers bargaining power in the market place, enable cost-effective delivery of extension services, and provide a space for empowered members to influence policies that affect their livelihoods. Private sector organizations establish farmer organizations to reduce the cost of dealing with farmers, enhance the volume and quality of farm produce, and improve credit recovery from farmers. Governments establish farmer organizations to improve rural service delivery. National policies aimed to help rural people become organized even provided blueprint structures in the form of cooperatives and commodity organizations.

Problematically however, extension staffs traditionally have never had training in the theory and principles of community organization or skills in the process of establishing these organizations. As a result, many farmer organizations were established overnight on paper and remained only active during the period that government subsidies were distributed and not beyond this. Today, the elite tend to capture the services and resources, while the poor and marginalized are left out. Very few attempts are made to develop the management capacities of farmer organizations leaders, their members, and extension staff. This is where my work comes in.
Source: Wilhemina, Quaye; Ivy, Yawson; Tawiah, Manful John; Joseph, Gayin. (2010) ‘Building the Capacity of Farmer Based Organisation for Sustainable Rice Farming in Northern Ghana’ Journal of Agricultural Science 2.1 :93-106.
Source: Salifu, A., Lee Funk, R., Keefe, M., and Kolavalli, S. (2012) ‘Farmer Based Organizations in Ghana’ Ghana Strategy Support Program. IFPRI Working Paper 31. August

Extension Staff & Farmer Group Training Session

Extension Staff & Farmers Training Session, where everyone role plays being a women in a women’s farming organization. I made the real life female farmers the decision makers for 2.5 hours and you should hear them challenge others and make difficult decisions for planning a business!

Rural bank account application example

Rural bank account application example

What I hope to Accomplish

My aims are to build the capacities of farmer organizations: rice farmers can actively create cooperatives, partnerships and mobilize local resources independently.

I also hope to strengthen the varied roles agricultural extension staff have in strengthening the potential for community empowerment, human resources and problem solving. I will be training extension staff in modernized techniques for engaging with farmer organizations that are based on learning by doing, visual educational techniques, and participatory action and facilitation. This includes understanding the rules and governance structures needed for sustainable and functional collective action through farmer organizations.

Why In Sierra Leone?

When people think of Sierra Leone, the not so comforting images of Blood Diamond spring to mind (where Leonardo Di Caprio was heard coining the term TIA –This Is Africa- remember?). But it has been 10 years since the end of the civil war, and the country has made progress. This is why the Government’s focus has shifted towards agricultural sector development. In 2010, the Smallholder Commercialization Program was launched to support smallholder farmers’ linkages to markets through farmer organizations, subsidized inputs and infrastructure rehabilitation. Rain-fed upland rice dominates food supply and tree crops supply the bulk of Sierra Leone’s agricultural exports and domestic palm oil consumption, but many trees were destroyed during the war.

This agricultural focus has come out of the destruction from the civil war when significant proportion of the rural population became marginalized from productive land. Institutional structures were destroyed, including much of the road networks, input materials etc. It is hard to imagine a place with no national water supply, sewage system or electricity grid, where everything runs on a generator, but that is Sierra Leone today.

I have had the opportunity to travel to meet the staff in Sierra Leone for initial needs assessment. I was amongst several organizations that pitched different tools for change and it was what I had to offer that the staff opted in for and thought was worth investing in. I will keep you posted on any progress made.
Source: Binns, T., and Maconachie, R. (2005) ‘Going Home in Postconfilct Sierra Leone’. Geography 90. 1: 67-78.

Project Staff & Farmer Group Representatives

Project Staff & Farmer Group Representatives

Ghana and Remaining Present

It is extremely important to remain present, as a living, aware, conscious entity, fully alert in the existing moment, remaining inwardly still. Otherwise we might get caught up in changing times on the outside and forget our true nature on the inside. – Random quote I cannot remember where I read it.
Retreats and reflection time
One challenge foreigners have while working and living overseas is remaining present in our daily experiences. To me, remaining present requires a realization – mental, physical, spiritual – of the situation you are currently in. Not the one you were once in, or the one you are moving towards, but the current situation. The state of presence to me is initiated by simple things such as, a smile, handshake or statement and is dependent on a personal frame of mind. Fellow development workers claim that because of stress, frustration, distractions or the drudge of ordinary life, remaining present is a difficult task. It seems the longer I live in Ghana the less I reflect about my life here because what seemed so strange and foreign is now part of my life. Without reflection and realization, appreciation is difficult for me. I think the significance of remaining present is less about realizing what is in front of you and more about appreciating it.Farming Organization and Myself Reflection has been of utmost importance for me here because of rapid personal and professional growth. Remaining present fosters realization and appreciation for how I have grown – the ultimate goal for why I have come to Ghana.
My office work
What started my thinking about this was a conversation I recently had with work colleagues. Usually our conversations begin with statements such as, “you people…” meaning us white people or foreigners, followed by sweeping generalizations about cultural assumptions and actions. We spend most of the conversation breaking down stereotypes and falsities.
Differently, this conversation was about me and my actions, not anyone else’s. A few people mentioned that they were impressed with my adaptation to Ghana. Not just to the heat, the language barriers or even malaria, but they were impressed that I could stay positive and pleasant, while remaining so far away from family and my home. I explained that they were right, I am happy, but I do miss home every day. I miss my mother and father who I appreciate for their worry, strength and sincerity about my health and lifestyle here. I miss my brother, who just turned 21, an important age in my culture and who I was not able to celebrate with. I miss my grandmother and her loving pleasantness that always brightens my day. My friends, aunties, uncles, cousins, I wonder how they are moving forward and I am unable to take part in the ways that I want to.

I explained to my colleagues that despite these thoughts, it is because of “you people” or Ghanaians and the community here that has welcomed me so I can remain positive and pleasant. I did not think it was possible for a culture to be so open, free and generous and explained how different things are in Canada. I am happy here,

Because strangers are interested in having conversations with me about anything and everything; Because I am greeted by all the children every time I walk by, every time; Because I am called by 10 different people over the phone to make sure I am ok when they have not heard from me; Because they are genuinely sympathetic and take action when I am physically struggling; Because I am accepted at my office and encouraged; Because I can play soccer with a serious boys team, despite me being nowhere near fast or skilled enough;Trying to keep up with the boys Because when I cannot get my motorcycle up the hill or started, someone will do it for me and wait to make sure I am ok; Because I am ALWAYS invited to eat, even from the same bowl sometimes; Because I am brought random vegetables from the farm by colleagues just to try; Because I am given gifts for working with farmers, instead of the other way around; Because I am always shocked when given a bag full of eggs as a gift from the village; I am always shocked when given a bag full of eggs as a gift from the villageBecause of the smiles and hearty giggles that are matched by my equally large smile; Because of the hand gestures and shakes with a snap followed by a movement to your heart and head; Because I can join anyone and sit with them at anytime; Because of the small random surprises and gestures of kindness for free – greetings, knocks at my door, fixing my water meter etc.

Although this happens every day of my life I am reminded that it was once never part of my life. Calling a friend back home for her birthday, she reminds me of how much I will need to again adjust when I return to my own culture. She explains how conversing, while walking her dog in the neighbourhood she grew up in has become difficult. Here, if I do not converse, even from my motorcycle or on my way to the latrine, people will assume something is wrong, as it is an expectation to ask about someone`s sleep, how their body feels, how their children and husband are, even if you have never met them.serious practice

I am also reminded of appreciation and presence by the new EWB volunteers who have arrived. From their inquiries and their challenges, I remember to ask myself “what would a Ghanaian do?” before acting. This will probably be a statement I will carry with me for a long time.

On top of reminders from others, I find that travel on buses and trains provides a space for reflection that I often try and take advantage of and pushes me to acknowledge or remain present.

I feel lucky to have spent 8 months in Ghana and even luckier to have another 3.5 months left.

Water Shortages, Food Scarcity, Funerals, Lights Off – Reflections About Discouraging Experiences

I woke up this morning sweating because the power went out in the village (as did my fan) and to Moses, my roommate attempting to negotiate a bucket of water from a neighbour. Our water tank has been approaching empty for five days and we have been unsuccessful in finding a suitable way to fill it. If the lack of access to clean water is a problem for me, you can imagine the difficulty it would be for others in the village. There are three main sources of water accessible in the village,

New building that pumps water to the town. The door is so high because in the rainy season the water floods that high

Water pipes connected to people’s homes months ago have just had water flowing from them for the past two weeks. I am not sure what the delay was, but water meter installation for tracking usage did not happen until a month or so ago. Even with this, the water was not flowing until two weeks ago. Despite the infrastructure in place, the pipes are only turned on once a week, for an hour to fill your tank. The water meter costs 40 Ghana cedis to install, I am not sure how much it costs to install the piping system and a tank costs minimum 80-100 Ghana cedis. The cost of the pipe water is about 10 Ghana peswas for every 5-6 buckets of water and people outside of town have been protesting. When I ask questions about why there was a delay, my neighbours who are staff at the Agricultural College cannot give me an answer or provide a contact or resource.

Broken down water pumping building built just after colonialism

The Ghana Water Company Limited is apparently to be blamed and they often use the excuse that when there is no electricity they cannot pump the water. But there are still so many questions left unanswered. I also know that in the district capitol only half the village has running water, despite a piping system in place to everyone’s home. How is it that half a district capitol bordering the capitol of the region has running water that is only available to public taps and not those in compounds, despite infrastructure in place?

River where the building pumps water to the town

There is a reservoir with pipe water just across the road from my house. The reservoir is filled, however it has been left empty for a week or two periodically since I have been living here. Women used to come to the reservoir, carrying big metal bins on their head to carry water back to their compounds. One of those bins probably weighs as much as I do. There is a tractor that transports water directly to offices or people’s personal water tanks for a fee of 6 Ghana cedis. However, I have not seen the water flowing from that reservoir or tractor operating in a month or since the pipe water was flowing. This is the water I usually fetch, but the operator of the tractor has been difficult to locate with the excuse that the tractor is broken. However, I also see at least two other tractors being used. No one else can use the tractor except the individual people responsible for them. Apparently, each office building or department is supposed to have a tractor, but I have only seen three different tractors in the area. The District office at the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) where I work does not have a tractor. Why does a MOFA office not manage its own tractor? Why do other departments like a laboratory have a tractor and why is only one person responsible for it when they are in high demand?

Women carrying water from the river

The tractors I have seen that are available and working are assigned to go to the dam nearby, which is not clean enough water to drink or cook with. Apparently ‘villagers’ use that water because the transport or tractor services are cheaper. People use that water to make building materials, like cement or bricks from mud. I have been recommended that this water is not clean enough for me to use, so I keep quiet and continue to wonder why I can’t hire one of those tractors to go to the reservoir for me to collect pipe water.

There are open wells in the area that are located in the middle of people’s compounds. In the rainy season (May-October) the well water is plentiful, and people have decently clean water in their own compounds to use.

Well dug for water that community uses

In the dry season however, starting in November, most of the wells dry up and people (women) resort to carrying huge loads on their head from a not so close dam because they cannot afford to buy a water tank or the cost of transport services available. Why is it that something so basic like water required of good sanitation needed of a healthy lifestyle has not been addressed as a priority in a place that is only 34km away from the region`s capitol?

Water has also been a common conversation amongst farmers and their advisors. Dry Season gardening and farming is a real issue in Northern Ghana. As people continue to burn the landscape (if the sun has not already done so) and cut down trees, the climate becomes desert like with dry strong winds, no moisture and poor soil fertility. As one Agricultural Extension Agent announced to me “I have to go save some trees, the farmers do not understand that the Sahel desert is upon us if we continue to cut trees down.”

Holes recently dug for water

People burn the landscape for various reasons. One popular reason is to find bush meat like grass cutta and burning the forest is the local way of hunting it, while bush fires spread like wild fire – literally – because of the dry, desert like climate. Even when I discuss the zucchini garden I want to start in my backyard, the main question asked to me is where will you get water? Something I never thought about, as the Canadian gardens always have water flowing from a hose connected to a tap.

Dry Season in Northern Ghana

Food shortage is a huge issue in the dry season in Northern Ghana and this year many families will suffer from hunger. Some ‘role model’ farmers (the innovators, the risk takers, the business negotiators) are using hybrid seed and the irrigation dams available in the area to farm ‘seriously’ even if they have been advised not to for various reasons. I had one farmer barge into my office yesterday complaining that no one thinks he can grow now as it is too late. He refuses to take anymore advice from MOFA or farm only three months of the year when people in other parts of the world farm all year round. He tells me he is fortunate as he does not need to pay for land or dig a dam for water. He has decided to farm two hectors of hybrid maize (he bought the seed in Accra) and intercrop with water melon because one is deep rooted and the other is shallow. The watermelon vines cover the land maintaining moisture and coolness.

A river that runs off of the White Volta

He floods the land during the night as the sun will burn the earth in the daytime. Something other farmers and MOFA staff have mocked him for. This is a farmer who has lived abroad and seen other, more upgraded technologies that even MOFA staff have not been educated upon. If farmers are not being advised on certain technologies in the dry season because they are not as accessible, than how will they know there are alternative ways to farming only three months of the year?

Agriculture as a Business First Meeting with a Women’s Group

The water and food shortages have been causing disputes in the village I live in. The river running along the Secondary School in the area is their only source of water for the school. Since there is a food shortage, the Chief and the owner of the land gave permission for people in the area to collect fish from that river knowing it would pollute the only water source available. Instead of raising concerns to the Chief, the local people barged into fish when the students were distracted with a festival, naturally arousing a reaction from the students. There was a small violent action from the local people against the students and the students retaliated in a somewhat violent manner. Now that there are additional costs attached to the dispute, consensus on what should be done and whether fishing should take place in a limited water source has not been reached. As a landowner, how do you make a choice to use the land for food when people are going hungry or for water when it is the only available water source?

Food scarcity is a serious issue in Northern Ghana and particularly urgent across the region of West Africa. Listening to BBCs Africa Today News Podcast, Mike Wooldridge a broadcaster at BBC reports that there is an urgent and closing window of opportunity to address the drought and food scarcity issue in the West African region. The UNDP claims that the money needed to address the issue is 725 million dollars to scale up existing efforts.

This camel came from Niger where the drought and food scarcity is a major issue. This man fled

The EU who is one of the largest donors in this is collaborating with the World Food Programme (WFP) for providing food assistance to eight million people. The efforts are targeted at feeding programmes for children and pregnant women as a way of limiting the impact of the crisis. The cause of the crisis is a history of poor harvests due to erratic rains and crop pests, which leads to high prices in the market. The drought this year is more intense and historically frequent it is drastically altering yields. As a result, when people face a crisis like this they have to sell off their livestock and all of their family`s resources, which put them deeper into poverty.

Cattle eating off the dry land

In 2005 a quarter of a million people died because of the severity of the drought, 2010 was also a difficult year, but this year is proving to be one of the worst yet. The claim that there has not been enough attention in-between crises and a favourable political climate required to mitigate the consequences resulting from the drought is what causes it. What is a favourable political climate conducive to mitigating a food crisis in the long term? What does it mean to address the issues in-between crises?

That is the pump that takes the water from the dam to the town

Combined with the water and food shortages it is also funeral season for the Dagomba people living in the region – they are one of the biggest ethnic or tribal groups and make up the majority of people in the village I stay in. Funerals usually have hundreds to thousands of people attending with horses and gun shooting in celebration, depending on who is being honoured. It is almost every day that I hear gun shots in salute. The real difficulty is the time and resources these funerals require as all the guests need to be fed. Staff in the office are pulled in all directions, having to attend their own family’s funerals as well as the communities they serve to maintain trust and relationships.

Agricultural Extension Agent

Also, I am not sure if it because of this scarcity or complete coincidence, but more people seem to be dying or growing sick. Five staff in the office this week alone have called to tell me they have to delay the work as a family member has died or they wounded up in the hospital. When cultural practices put farming on hold during a critical point of food scarcity and hunger sensitive to timing and pull government staff and others out of their offices is it appropriate to excuse this?

Moreover, as we speak the lights are still out, reaching more than 24 hours of no electricity. In the mean time my phone and computer battery are dying, and 2pm when it is 40 degrees outside is approaching.

A Day in the Life of a District Dweller

I wake up 6 AM, shake my vivid dreams away and recognize the now common sight of my mosquito net and remember that somehow, someway I have ended up in West Africa. I unlock my room and even in the hall feel the seemingly cold breeze from the Harmattan weather – cool, dusty winds in the mornings with a temperature of around 15 degrees Celsius.

My Backyard

I immediately put on my exercise clothes and sweater for fear of catching the cataah (spelling uncertain) or common cold, which everyone seems to get around this time of year – not too unlike December in Canada. 15-20 degrees is actually too cold for me so I have to make sure I cover myself. I open all the windows, unlock the doors and head outside to greet my neighbours goods morning:

“Desba” – Good morning or how is the morning?
“naaaa” – response or fine
“Agbirre” – how was your sleep?
“Gombienne” – fine
“To” – ok

They have already begun sweeping the animal droppings, dust and other debris away that has wound itself around their house during the night. I walk down the path to the public latrines across from the Primary and Junior High School and unlock the one that belongs to me – yes, I get my own latrine.

There is a goat pen behind my backyard. The people take very good care of the animals and let them roam free in the day

I then run around the football pitch located behind the school until I am satisfied and greet all the school children staring at the white girl with the Manchester United shorts who is exercising like a footballer before they begin class. Walking back to my house I continue to greet people good morning and discuss their children and work. When I arrive I finish sweeping up and prepare breakfast. By this time my roommate Moses has waken. I know because he is either chatting loudly on the phone or listening to the morning news via his mobile – some new political pitch or scandal. Moses is a National Service Volunteer who works at the Agriculture Vetnary College laboratory down the road from the building I work at. He is interested in pharmaceutical biotechnology and hopes to attend a graduate program in ‘my part of the world’ someday.

I wash my clothes by hand at least once a week

For breakfast I use my gas cooker to fry two eggs with onions and some bread with raspberry jelly that I bought from the ‘white people’ store in the ‘city’ of Tamale. Sometimes I will settle for extremely, special pasteurised yogurt and cream cheese not found in the village. If I had not made lunch the night before (leftovers from dinner) I will prepare a tuna or egg sandwich with some type of vegetable (tomato, carrot, green pepe, garden eggs or apple). I do not have a fridge so all the goods I buy have to survive in the heat of the kitchen, although the mornings are cool now so life is good.

My kitchen

I also have a French press coffee maker and coffee grinds from Cost Rica, courtesy of Father Dom who donated it to me before leaving for Canada a week ago (miss you!). I get to have actual coffee with some sugar most mornings until I run out of coffee as they do not sell it here or in the city.

Where I bathe every morning, my bucket, cup and soap

I then go back inside to the hall where my desk is, turn on my computer and begin to follow the News stories of the day. What I feel like is my only real connection to anything outside the Northern Region of Ghana. Finishing up breakfast, I take two biggish bowls, fill them up with water from the Polytank in my backyard and wash the dishes. I then fill my bucket with some small water, bathe and brush my teeth in an empty concrete room outside in the backyard. What I wear to work is dependent on what I have to do that day, be it go to the field or fulfill administrative duties behind the desk. I can also choose to walk 10 minutes to work or take the motorcycle sitting in my living room that my roommate so graciously puts back in the house every night since I cannot lift it up the two steps.

View from the front door of the hallway

I am first to arrive at the office at 9:30AM, and I spend time chatting with the Watchmen and cleaners who have begun their day much earlier than mine. They unlock my office, which happens to be the ‘Extension office’ where I share a room with the Deputy – Supervisor of Extension of crops and also the Director’s right hand man. I begin to fulfill the plan of the day, which could be to prepare to go into the field, prepare for a workshop I will host, write reports and other administrative duties or visit a few farmers. As I do this, it is necessary to greet the staff who arrive and ask about their evening away from the office. How was your sleep? How is the family? How is your body? Are you feeling healthy? Is the 40 degree Celsius heat in the middle of the afternoon paining you? Then we complain about the dryness of our skin and scratchy throats from the extreme range in temperatures of the Harmattan weather. One of the staff will usually follow me or I follow them to a room to chit chat and I also try and spend time speaking to the Director, who I get along with well.

One of the Watchmen holding my favourite type of meat – Guinea Fowel

There are a few things I am pursuing at the Ministry of Food and Agriculture District office in Savelugu-Nanton district.

1.Implement the Agriculture as a Business (AAB) Program jointly created by the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) and EWB. AAB is a farmer group strengthening tool that encourages rural groups to take on small projects in agribusiness. It also builds the advisory capacity of Agriculture Extension Agents (AEA) to progress their skills in teaching and providing information to farmers. Working towards developing the knowledge, skills, attitudes and approaches to help staff perform better in the field whether on time management, innovation, facilitation, or market-oriented approaches is what I more generally work on. I am adjusting the tool so we can market and prepare it for private based extension services who have expressed interest in it. The program is heavily reliant on farmer meetings, which means I am in the field significantly more to do one-on-one coaching with the AEAs and evaluation of program effectiveness with farmers.

Rice piled up at the office

2.This one-on-one interaction with staff and farmers also provides me with a unique opportunity to pursue the favourite part of my job – testing innovations. I am working with AEAs, their Supervisors and the Director to identify existing technologies that could be further or newly invested in. More importantly, how we can prototype one or many of the identified ideas related to increasing the technology adoption rates of farmers. Some of those ideas include, peer-peer learning for farmer behaviour change, coordination, radio program on extension and a few others.

This is the time for harvesting – they are shelling maize

3.Lastly, and what I think most importantly, I am working towards utilizing district level knowledge (farmer perspectives), challenges, and needs to develop policy reports for advocacy to national level government. District level realities are often missed out in the design of projects and procedures and because decision making is extremely top-down, lobbying those district realties to regional and national level MOFA, other NGOs and projects is important influence work.

My work day normally ends between 4:00pm and 6:00pm where I either decide to walk to the taxi round where there are women selling small items: phone credit, bread, tomatoes, sugar or drive to the district capitol, Savelugu (about 15 minute drive on a paved road) to buy more complicated things.

Back home Moses is preparing food and I am greeted by all the neighbourhood children who take pride in helping with my bags and telling me about their day. I prepare for dinner that evening, either pasta or rice with vegetables to ensure a balanced diet. Multi vitamins, probiotics and anti-malarial drugs have saved me a bit. By 6:00pm the world is dark and Moses and I will share some tea and chat about the day: Canada-Ghana relations, the news or whatever else happens to be bothering us. Sometimes friends from work like Felicity or other people from different communities like Jaamal and Ganiwu will drop by and visit.

At 8:30PM I am exhausted from the day and decide to clean the kitchen, and prepare my bathwater. Fill the bucket half with water and heat small water in the kettle. It is just too cold for cold bucket bathes in the evening these days. Settle in my bed, under the net again to have a phone conversation with a fellow EWBer, family member in Canada or the boyfriend.

My bedroom

That is an average day in my life here in Ghana and I am so pleased that it is mine!