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.


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).

kill gene

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.

Land Grabbing for Agriculture is Causing Conflict in Southern, Sierra Leone

Something I have been hearing about since the day I arrived in Sierra Leone is about the conflict or ‘uneasy calm’ that has arisen from land grabbing for large-scale agriculture by foreign companies. ‘Land grabbing’ simply defined is when governments, banks or private investors buy up huge plots of land to make profits. In the particular case of Sierra Leone an estimated fifth of the country’s arable land has been leased since 2009 to industrial farming, many of them foreign companies producing biofuels from crops, such as oil palm and sugar cane.

On the way to the communities

On the way to the communities

Where I am working there is one particular land grab contract for arguably the largest oil palm plantation in Africa under the company Socfin Agricultural Company Ltd. The local farmers I have been working with in this Chiefdom have explained that this plantation is directly causing uneasiness/conflict, threatening their physical and nutritional security. This report published in 2013 provides evidence towards this ‘uneasy calm’ as a result of the land grab. I had the opportunity to witness this uneasy calm first hand, as I am working alongside three farming based organizations based within two of the communities within the effected Chiefdom.

Socfin Agricultural Company Ltd (SAC)
SOC is part of Belgian Socfin Group. It is leasing 6,500 ha and seeking to lease and plant an additional 5,500 ha with expansion to 30,000 ha in the Malen Chiefdom, Pujehun District, Southern Province. This has been sub-leased from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Services for the next 50 years at a rate of US$12.50 per hectare per year for the purpose of oil palm (crude palm oil) and eventually rubber.

There is an estimated 9,000 people effected across 24 communities.

According to SAC its promise to give back to the communities includes three roadwork projects and has built eight water wells, one ambulance, a primary school, some footwear and jerseys for a friendly football match, a generator and paint for the police station outside SAC’s operational area. To date, SAC has no intention of investing in agricultural programmes, nor has it looked at how local people who have lost their livelihood can be compensated.

The palm oil plantation referred to extends for as far as the eye can see

The palm oil plantation referred to extends for as far as the eye can see

Response from smallholder farmers
Farming based organizations (FBOs) I work with have expressed their ambition to build large scale farms to generate profit. No smallholder I have spoken to wishes to remain small scale, but their vision of large scale is something entirely different from a plantation. Many have expressed a desire to cultivate large areas with a range of diverse crops that service different purposes, such as for community/home consumption or for exports. Almost every farming based organization I work alongside is producing food crops for consumption and sale (rice, cassava, vegetables), despite the Ministry’s push for non-consumable commodities (palm oil).

With the situation in Sahn-Malen, people are extremely dissatisfied with the company SAC. SAC’s plantation has resulted in “loss of farm income and produce from the bush and tree-crop areas, the impact on food and nutritional security, new social ills and discord in the communities, and the limited and short-term employment opportunities available with SAC.” There is also dissatisfaction with the wages provided by SAC to those labourers who work on their plantation. Wages of Le 10,000 [about US$2.30] per day cannot compensate them for their lost farm income and produce. Moreover, due to the loss of local food production, the cost of food has risen with the staple, fish for example rising to between 15,000-20,000SL per unit from LE1,000-2000 prior to SAC’s plantation. The qualities of the meals have also deteriorated with cassava and sweet potato meals now missing meat and fish, vegetables (okra, garden eggs), beans and wild fruits resulting in lower nutrition.

Worst of all, the promises made by traditional leaders, politicians, company representatives and respected local people to agree to SAC’s investment have not been met and people are now angry and afraid. Expressions about the land include ‘It is for our children’ and they prefer the ‘freedom’ they enjoy as an autonomous independent farming community not to work under a company as a labourer.

I am meeting with farmers effected by the land grab situation

I am meeting with farmers effected by the land grab situation

Land is the social glue
As the above report rightly claims, land is a kind of social glue. FBOs and their respective communities have developed social groups that work together on communal pieces of land and share the harvests and profits from their sale. Land is the source of rural livelihoods and in Sierra Leone the farming systems and land use patterns are extremely complex, with different land types used for different purposes. Farmers have in the area have asked for my advice on what to do with their business because due to this land grab, there is a shortage of land with the greatest perceived loss being the upland farms, where people cultivate upland rice,
 as well as fruit and medicinal trees.

Now that people’s land have been taken away for palm oil, the sources of livelihoods have changed. The most important sources of income, such as sale of farm produce, value added farm products and farm labour have been either greatly reduced or gone altogether, which makes the work we are doing much more challenging. This lack of income is resulting in higher rates of poverty —the intended opposite effect of business or/ agriculture development. People often express to me that they are having more trouble paying school fees for their children.

It is also impacting the social context with an influx of ‘strangers’ that have moved to their communities to find work – so the assumption that the company is hiring local people is (might) also be false. There is also expressed concern about the potential risk of water contamination from chemical fertilizers and herbicides being used on the plantation.

The above report mentions that SAC’s plantation has resulted in less sharing and trust within the community, increased poverty which is resulting in conflict, teenage pregnancy (as families cannot afford their daughters), increased borrowing and debt, theft, sex work and divorce. There have been multiple murders over the past month, making the place unstable. Staff I work with can no longer travel alone, making service provision that much more difficult to provide and coordinate. After 4pm, people fear any vehicle on the road, and I have witnessed women jumping into the forest as we drove by. To be clear, this is not a security threat to me, as I do not live in the area, but a big challenge to our work, to people’s livelihoods and the well-being of those living in these communities.

Agricultural sector development is meant to improve the wellbeing of its communities. It is supposed to provide strong livelihoods, competitive markets, food and nutrition and all of the other benefits that come with development NOT instability, fear, mistrust, poverty, and violence.

Christian Aid (2013). ‘Who is Benefitting?’ Found at:

Grain. (2014) Sierra Leone farmers reject land grab for oil palm plantation. Found at:

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

Field Level Knowledge and Realities

The following document is a conclusion of Siera Vercillo’s research conducted over a three month Immersion Experience in Northern Region, Ghana. The statistics provided are originating from formal research conducted by EWB. The statements made are based on her analysis of qualitative research conducted in the field. Her findings are based on the limits of her experience and are by no means the exact truth on the ground.

Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) Ghana Policy

The main objective of MoFA is to alleviate poverty and increase food security through the agricultural sector by reaching the majority of people who are subsistence and smallholder farmers. The rationale for this is so government is better able to cater service provision to a larger proportion of those living in poverty and suffering from food scarcity in Ghana.

MoFA is a major player in both internally owned and foreign donor projects as an implementer at the district level. Projects choose to work with MoFA because it has a reputation as being the institution with the longest history working with local communities and its respective farmers, while providing a cheaper service relative to other implementers. A criticism that is often made regarding being a major implementer at the district level is that MoFA staff are often over burdened with too many contrasting roles and objectives, effecting their overall schedule and output. Despite this MoFA districts continue to take on the responsibility of project work because it provides them with additional funds and resources required of beneficial extension provision.

Staff at the MoFA Office I work at. Including the Director, AEAs, Supervisors, Typists, Drivers, Information etc.

As an EWB Team working in Ghana, we need to acknowledge the constraints our partners, such as MoFA are confined by and work within that system to accomplish our goals of technology adoption for more appropriate and improved extension services to farmers. Working within the system, however is different than working against it. We will have to decide as a team what our focus will be – to progress extension (in any system) or work towards a more enabling environment for MoFA’s extension service provision (or additional partner organizations). Depending on the resources available it would be possible to work towards both, however I anticipate a strategic difficulty in moving forward. Developing one off innovations that adapt extension so it encourages greater behavior change is not necessarily contributing to direct systemic change, especially if those innovations are unrelated to government services.

Specific policies MoFA National has set targets for and MoFA districts are working towards:

• Provide agricultural service delivery
• Public-private facilitation
• Facilitate capacity of human resources
• Facilitation of research and technology development
• Facilitation of linking agriculture and industry
• Facilitate integration of cross cutting issues like gender equity
• Facilitate international trade and domestic marketing of commodities
• Coordinate and enforce regulations & partnership activities and policies

Throughout the research conducted during the immersion experience, discussion around coordination and harmonization of donor projects and implementers have continually been raised as an area of concern and needed improvement. Having a better idea of the major players in the field would allow our EWB Team AgEX to better influence for coordinated efforts. This would contribute greatly to systemic change.

Extension Services at MoFA District Level

Agriculture Extension Agent (AEA) Snapshot:

An AEA is appointed to his position for life by MoFA National. Once hired, the AEA can be posted anywhere. The diversity across the country implies that sometimes an AEA lacks knowledge of the local language and customs, making integration required of an AEA in a community more difficult. It is possible to be recruited by a specific office through recommendations, but the letter of offer requires the signature of a chief executive member. To be hired by MoFA as an AEA a minimum certificate from an Agricultural College is required. Having a university level degree proves possibility to move directly into working above the AEA position to a supervisory position, such as a DAO. Despite this possibility and supervisory role, many supervisors or ‘DAOs’ work directly to provide extension because of resource constraints.

Farmer Group Meeting – learning about district level realities

An AEA’s work plan and schedule is normally based on national level programs, in addition to community demands. This requires knowledge and records of what farmers are doing in collaboration of sharing that knowledge to other staff. AEAs work around national level programs and adapt their schedule and extension methods to be more suitable for the farmers they cater towards. This is needed to demonstrate results for reporting back to MoFA National and other NGO based projects. For example, in the Block Farm program or Youth in Agriculture (YIA), an AEA might choose to work with individual farmers as opposed to farming based organizations (FBOs).

On average an AEA,
• Works 5.8 hours per day, travels 47.6 km and interacts with 15 people;
• 30% of AEAs average day was delivering technical advice on planting distances or applying fertilizer as well as monitoring application for good agriculture practices;
• 17-21% of the time AEAs had help or were helping beneficiary farmers;
• Majority of time spent was interacting in the field while measuring and demarcating plots 35-68% of the time;
• Interacting with farmer groups doing administrative, supervision, inputs 31%-26% of time;
o Farmer groups has average 15 members and 65% were male;
• 29% of the AEAs’ time interacted with individual farmers and 80% of which were male to measure and demarcate plots for YIA (Block Farm);
• Majority 70-75% of the average day spent administrating, facilitating and implementation of national incentives or development partner projects;
• 45-71% spent on enabling farmer access to development partners;
• Majority of time was spent on National level projects leaving less than 1% of time dedicated to responding to local farmer needs.

Constraints to Extension at MoFA:

Averages that projects base their design on, such as when to test soil or plant seeds can vary from local customary good agricultural practices because of diversity across the country and various regions. The experiments are usually conducted based on project level work. Project level work implemented by MoFA dictates when activities occur and is based on national and sometimes regional averages. Projects can be mismanaged or lack coordination affecting the timing of when experiments and activities occur. Timing in agriculture is absolutely critical and planting even two weeks late will have a tremendous affect on the results of yields.

Possible Solution: release funding on time and have triggers in place to cancel activities and provide back up in case funding is not released. This will hope to ensure that the time and trust of farmers with extension agents and MoFA is not compromised. This lack of coordination and poor timing actually works against technology adoption.

The expectation from farmers that things will come for free is a serious concern for any internally implemented activity. Many donor projects provide monetary incentives or other items for free in order to reward farmers for participation, being refreshments at meetings or tractor services. This is problematic as it does not sustain activities advised after project completion and changes the expectations of farmers for when AEAs provide any other type of service outside of donor projects. The reality is that MoFA does not have the resources to provide these types of incentives nor should they. The advisory services and prospect for improving farming productivity provided by extension services should be incentive enough. It is not sustainable to be providing things for free (keeping in mind credit is often perceived as something for free) as an incentive to adopt new practices.

AEAs can lack communication and participatory approaches in their work as formal education and employer resource constraints confine their knowledge and ability. For example, in Ghana the process for how certain people are chosen for decision making and communication in villages is not taught during the training or education of an AEA. Also, coming at the right time for when farmers need, not when projects or AEAs dictate, tend to be constrained in practice due to the way resources and incentives are allocated at the MoFA district level.

Limited access to services by female operators is a serious concern to advisory services provided as cultural and social constraints define women, AEAs and the work they do. Male AEAs (the majority) complain about what they cannot provide to women farmers and community members as their social context will not allow them. Social constraints on women often disallow them to participate the way their male counterparts do with an AEA.

Employee frustration due to lack of support from MoFA (fuel and motorcycles),
o the fuel allowances that are not provided on time (at the moment 8 months late)
o no motorcycle updates or other materials provided,
o no appropriate accommodations available in operational areas,
o low salaries,
o insufficient education development offered – many AEA claim there is not enough service training and learning materials,
o mis-communication and contradictions in what should be training farmers on

Directors decide which activities and projects to focus extension service provision. The process for this is fairly time consuming, complicated and seems to take up the majority of a Directors time. For example, to focus on crop diversification to develop the agricultural sector at the district level, a Director will write a proposal for an activity (demonstration plot) that a donor will have to pay for since MoFA National might not have allocated money for this. The Director believes based on his staff’s knowledge that this activity is greatly needed for the development of his district. Since the money provided for these activities is insufficient (or not at all) he has to lobby outside for more. There are projects or activities that are paid for by a MoFA district office, but the money is often tied by MoFA National, effecting the implementation of activities. In addition, this proposal and report writing and accountability meetings to attract and maintain donor project activities and expectations seems to take up the majority time of management staff. Perhaps, a reallocation of responsibilities within the District would be an intervention to test.

Intervention Idea: Coordinate extension services by MoFA staff within and across districts to efficiently maximize resources. Specifically, coordinate the extension provided by other districts that overlap. How is extension coordinated or best practices shared if general extension (even outside project work) is not necessarily a main priority?

My favourite neighbor and I sporting our MoFA Union Shirts behind our houses.

Intervention Idea: Peer-peer learning:: those farmers who completed a project will demonstrate to other farmers success of technologies and good agricultural practices. Fostering Peer – Peer learning and sharing of knowledge and resources is what EWB can develop as an innovation. Farmers who wish to try and share resources will work together to try different things. The farmers share the knowledge and have an impact on the community. An AEA will simply play a facilitator and match makers role (matching farmers with peers).

Intervention Idea: Farmer Selection – using Farmer Field Forums (FFFs) FFFs is a seasonal long set of activities with particular topics for impact points. An intervention can use FFFs to convince farmers to participate and use technologies. Using FFFs particular farmers can be picked who arere interested in learning new techniques. The FFFs have been critical to success before asking farmers to adopt new technologies, however there needs to be different knowledge sessions on all sorts of topics, outside of simple technologies application. Topics around attitudes and mindset development for instance.

Intervention Idea: Sensitization meetings at the officeto allow for farmers to be aware of details in a program and build their confidence. These tend to only be successful if farmers trust and have rapport. An exchange of ideas with researchers and other stakeholders (more participatory) leaving it open so farmers can share with each other and make suggestions would also be useful.

Common Barriers Farmers Struggle With

• Low use of improved seeds and fertilizers (limited access, high cost)
• Poor soil health (low application of technologies)
• Lack of land access
• Poor crop management practices and timely field preparation
• Reliance on rain fed production (limited irrigation and water management knowledge)
• Insufficient agricultural marketing system (lack of outlets, harvest losses: storage facilities, limited processing skills and facilities)
• High transaction costs (inadequate road and transport infrastructure, small volumes varied in quality, poor bargaining power, lack of institutional infrastructure and inability to aggregate produce)
• Limited access to credit (high interest, collateral requirements and low investments in agriculture by creditors)

Dagomba Chiefs and Elders

Technology Adoption Constraints

Technology adoption is seen as one poverty alleviation strategy in a broader sense. Most agriculture projects in Ghana and across Africa are about poverty alleviation and nutritional improvements. Better yields implies increased income of farmers. EWB’s value add in this approach is that we are working on the ground in the field developing a better understanding of what farmer realities and implementation failures are. And to this reality we bring critical thinking and quick interventions to inform other programs.

Currently, technology adoption is coming from an economic based perspective, which assumes that farmers are rational all the time. The truth is that this is not always the case. Social constraints, level of education and other components that shape and affect farmer behaviours that might be different from non-farmer behaviours. It is farmer behavior, attitudes and on the ground realities that upper level decision makers (donors and central government) do not necessarily account for when making decisions that affect services meant to assist farmers. This is due to not only a lack of understanding of farmer beahviour and on the ground realities, but also a lack of incentive to account for them – political and other competitive incentives are more influential. A farmer first approach is defined as looking to improve farmer’s extension services as opposed to the extension services provided by MoFA.

Supporting the boys football at the match

Agricultural best practices cannot just be carbon copied from other places in the world where it once worked since a specific situation and context contribute significantly to the success of the best practice. This supports EWB’s team strategy in our rapid-prototyping and searching approach to new interventions, testing and using what works.

Pong Tamale United FC – My Favourite Football Team, they have been a big part of my community here. This is at one of their matches

Agricultural Extension Services Team

I wanted to share a video recently filmed for the upcoming 11th Annual EWB National Conference coming up from January 11-14, 2012. The team I am working with has recently shifted strategy from working generally in the public sector in Ghana to a focus on improved agriculture extension service provision.

The reason for the shift is that it has historically been a focus and that the recent attention from the private sector in our innovations demonstrates that the agricultural advisory services system in Ghana is a complex one. We need to work with all stakeholders who are involved in these services to truly address the root causes of poverty and food insecurity.

We believe that since extension is the primary way that farmers can gain information about how to farm better that it is an important strategic focus. This includes growing a higher quality and quantity of food, as well as environmental preservation and expanding livelihoods. In a region where over 80% of the population is involved in agriculture, extension is a very important service.

Extension is as much about the how as the what. It’s one thing to have a cache of good agricultural info, but selling it to farmers is another challenge. For educated people or those who make rational decisions, simply providing information is enough: they will make the most profitable choice, or the one that maximizes their benefit. But for all the real human beings out there, extension is as much about marketing strategy as providing good information.

This does not mean that we will no longer work in the public sector, it just means strategically we will not be confined to it. I am currently partnering with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) in the Northern Region of Ghana because I believe in a strong public sector in supporting agricultural development in Ghana. For instance, one of the things I am working at the Savelugu-Nanton district level in the Northern Region of Ghana to upgrade the Agriculture As A Business (AAB) program so it is better prepared and marketable to those in the public or private sector interested in implementing the program.

We bring a farmer-focus or centered approach to extension services and conduct rapid-prototyping of solutions for providing better advice to farmers so they adopt new technologies. The main goal is to have farmers in Ghana have a more active role in their livelihoods, in making a decision of what to grow and how to grow it, while choosing the options or opportunities available to them.

If you are interested in learning about the tools and innovations tried and tested by our team, please contact me at +233-105-0954 or

Smart Interventions for Food Security in Africa

This post is dedicated to World Food Day and written for Blog Action Day (#bad11), a movement that aims to start a global discussion through thousands of blogs posts. This year’s topic is everything FOOD related!

Here is my contribution to the global discussion:

Over the next 40 years, agriculture will have to carry out an enormous task:

* feeding an extra three billion mouths as global population rises from six to nine billion;
* feeding the 854 million human beings who now suffer hunger and malnutrition. (FAO).

Food security is a situation in which all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs for an active healthy life (El-Hage Scialabba, Page 2). The security of food is affected by a number of factors, including an unstable social and political environment that preclude sustainable economic growth, war and civil strive, macroeconomic imbalances in trade, natural resource constraints, poor human resource base, gender inequality, inadequate education, poor health, natural disasters, such as floods and locust infestation, and the absence of good governance. All these factors contribute to either insufficient national food availability or insufficient access to food by households and individuals.

The root cause of food insecurity in developing countries is the inability of people to gain access to food due to poverty. Seventy-five percent of the world’s 1.2 billion poor live in rural areas of developing countries (Mwaniki, Page 3). They suffer from problems associated with subsistence production in isolated and marginal locations with low levels of technology. These subsistence and livelihood systems are risk-prone to drought and floods, crop and animal diseases, and market shocks. Sub-Sahara Africa remains the most food insecure region in the world, with 206 million hungry people. The share of hungry people declined from 35 to 32 percent during the last decade (El-Hage Scialabba, Page 3).

Flooded Crops due to Unpredictable Rains

Over seventy percent of the food insecure population in Africa lives in the rural areas. Ironically, smallholder farmers, the producers of over 90 percent of the continent’s food supply, make up the majority (50 percent) of this population. In countries where more than 34 percent of the population is undernourished, agriculture represents 30 percent of GDP and nearly 70 percent of the population relies on agriculture for their livelihood (Mwaniki, Pages 4-7).

Taken from the Nadia El-Hage Scialabba Report entitled “Can Africa Feed Itself?”

An Underdeveloped Agricultural Sector in Africa

A major challenge to food security in Africa is its underdeveloped agricultural sector that is characterized by over-reliance on primary agriculture, low fertility soils, minimal use of external farm inputs, environmental degradation, significant food crop loss both pre- and post- harvest, minimal value addition and product differentiation, and inadequate food storage an preservation that result in significant commodity price fluctuation (El-Hage Scialabba, Page 7). Ninety five percent of the food in sub-Saharan Africa is grown under rain fed agriculture (Mwaniki, Pages 7). Making food production vulnerable to adverse weather conditions. There is an overall decline in farm input investment including fertilizers, seeds, and technology adoption. Moreover, the soils continue to degrade leading to a reduction in the productivity of the farms.

Case Study: Ghana’s Agricultural Sector

Ghana faces the challenge of making substantial progress in food security because average yields over the years have remained stagnant. Commercial food imports and food aid have constituted about 4.7 per cent of food needs in the last fifteen years (FASDEP II). Rainfall is a major determinant in the annual fluctuations of household and national food output. This creates food insecurity at household levels, which can be transitory in poor communities and chronic in distressed areas.

Ghanaian farmer participating in National Level Programs

While Ghana can be classified as generally food secure, food-insecure populations exist in all regions because of resource limitations and lack of alternative livelihood opportunities. Malnutrition is a serious problem among children, adolescents and pregnant women due to insufficient levels of food intake and or diets not providing an adequate nutritional intake. Results from the 2003 Ghana Demographic Health Survey (GDHS) indicate that malnutrition contributes 40% to mortality among children less than 5 years. In spite of the improvements the rate of wasting is 3.5 times that expected in a healthy population while the proportion of under-weight children is 11 times the level expected in a well nourished population (FASDEP II).

In high population density areas, such as the Upper East Region, the situation is cyclical and severe for three to five months each year (FASDEP II). There are regional disparities in food insecurity due to seasonal food deficits in the three northern regions.

Near Bolga, Upper East Region, Ghana

For most households, hunger is frequently associated with poor harvests resulting from environmental degradation, poor weather, natural disasters, or conflict. Gender is also an important dimension of poverty, especially in northern Ghana where there is a sharp disparity between the income-earning opportunities of women and men.

Although the objective of attaining food security in Ghana is national, it is the poor that are the most vulnerable to food insecurity.

Food Security Interventions in Ghana

How can Ghana achieve food security? The solution lies in increasing food availability, food access and food adequacy for all. Because the food insecurity in Africa is directly correlated with poverty, it is necessary to not only alleviate poverty, but also create wealth for the target population.

The national vision for the food and agriculture sector in Ghana is modernised agriculture culminating in a structurally transformed economy that is evident in food security, employment opportunities and reduced poverty. In 2002, member countries of the African Union (AU) pledged to allocate at least 10 per cent of national budgetary resources for implementation of CAADP’s seven part vision for modernised agriculture (FASDEP II). The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has, in turn, developed an ECOWAS Agricultural Policy (ECOWAP) to address food security in the sub-region in conformity with existing regional and international commitments. Programme objectives include increased food production and income generation, increased inter-country trade, strengthened producers’ organisations and greater involvement of women in socio-economic decisions that affect household livelihood opportunities (FASDEP II).

The broad national strategy for the attainment of food security is to focus at the national and agro-ecological levels on the development of at most five staple crops (maize, rice, yam, cassava and cowpea) (FASDEP II). The commodities will receive support in terms of irrigation and sustainable management of land, improved planting materials, and appropriate mechanisation, to enhance productivity along the whole value chain.

The specific strategies for the attainment of food security and emergency preparedness are:
• Develop appropriate irrigation schemes for different categories of farmers to ensure production throughout the year.
• Introduce high-yielding and short-duration crops varieties.
• Develop effective post-harvest management strategies, particularly storage facilities, at individual and community levels.
• Liaise with the Ministry of Transportation for road transport and the Ministry of Harbours and Railways to improve accessibility and facilitate the distribution of crops.
• Target the vulnerable in agriculture, with special programmes that will enhance their diversification opportunities, reduce risk and enhance their access to productive resources.
• Enhance nutrition through coordination of programmes and institutions for food security, dissemination of nutrition and health information, and advocacy for food fortification.
• Strengthen early warning systems and put in place emergency preparedness and disaster management scheme, including contingency planning to ensure access of the poor to food during disasters.
• Establish strategic stocks to support emergency preparedness.
• Advocate for improved legal and policy frameworks for collaboration between institutions responsible for disaster management.

One half of rice farm the farmers did not adopt current technology – Damongo, Ghana

For this reason, coordination role of Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) as the lead agency for the development of the sector will be central in the implementation of policies. Greater devolution of responsibilities to the regional and district levels will also be pursued. MOFA defines food security as “good quality nutritious food, hygienically packaged and attractively presented, available in sufficient quantities all year round and located at the appropriate places at affordable prices” (FASDEP II). The element of food safety will be a concern in Ghana’s pursuit of food security.

Engineers Without Border’s (EWB) Interventions – How I am working towards food security in Ghana

A recent study of extension practices and adoption of agricultural technologies across Ghana revealed that while the vast majority of farmers (over 90%) may be aware of modernised technologies, actual adoption rates are still relatively low (Kwarteng et al., Page 3). This correlates well with our own observations from spending time working in district Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) offices. The same study also concludes that farmers receive the majority of their agricultural knowledge from MOFA’s Agricultural Extension Agents (AEAs) with secondary learning from fellow farmers (Kwarteng et al.). This suggests the main problem we should be tackling relates to actual adoption strategies as opposed to the spread of technical information.

Getting my hands dirty with roots and tubers – preparing for yam minisetts

By better understanding the question of why farmers adopt certain technologies and taking a farmer-first approach we hope to influence MOFA’s ability in how they promote them to benefit the farmers’s yields for the reduction of poverty and security of food.

How we will do this:

• We’ll use the McKinsey Influence Model to target and organize our learning:

• We’ll combine our own observations from the field, knowledge gained from other EWB teams and partners, and published literature to ensure a broad perspective in our understanding.
• We’ll keep in mind the social or other ‘irrational’ factors that may limit the spread of technologies and not solely focus on the rational farmer model.

Our current prototypes and what they are influencing:
– Using videos to market technologies: Conviction
– Using pictorial contracts to increase in-kind payments: Understanding
– Testing peer-to-peer farmer learning: Legitimacy
– Testing demand driven extension systems: Relevance and conviction
– Testing a contact farmer assessment tool: Ineffective use of resources

One day I will learn how to drive one – it is not currently the right season

From previous experience, we know how difficult it is to scale up a project within the MOFA system, but we are collaborating and experimenting with staff to see what innovations are going to work in the long term.

Conclusion – How does this relate to food security?

MOFA is a major player in the implementation of national level policy through district activities and projects. We believe that improving the service provision of the Ministry through participatory capacity building and acting as an advocate for farmers’ perspective are necessary factors for food security. Our mission is to bring a farmer-first approach to extension services that are meant to progress the technology adoption rates of farmers. The research has concluded that the extension is doing a sufficient job in disseminating information, as the majority of farmers are aware of new technologies, however where they are failing is in the understanding or conviction and reinforcement mechanisms needed in order for farmers to adopt the new technologies. Improved agricultural practices are often the biggest step to improving farmer yields necessary for food security and poverty reduction. Ensuring farmers are actively partaking in these technologies also means a modernised agriculture sector.


El-Hage Scialabba, Nadia. Can Africa Feed Itself?: Organic Agriculture and Food Security in Africa. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Romem Italy. June 6-7, 2007.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. How to Feed the World in 2050.

Food and Agriculture Sector Development Policy (FASDEP II). Ministry of Food and Agriculture. Republic of Ghana. August 2007.

Kwarteng et al., Extension Access and Adoption of Improved Technologies. 2010.

Mwaniki, Angela. Achieving Food Security in Africa: Challenges and Issues. Office of the Special Adviser on Africa United Nations. June 2005.

Technology Adoption Strategy. Engineers Without Borders Canada. August 2011.