Be part of the CowTribe- A veterinary services company in Ghana that uses mobile technology

First published here at the Africa Institute at Western University 

The ‘Uber’ of animal health

Animal production is critical to rural life in Sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in the semi-arid drylands, such as northern Ghana where water scarcity, more erratic rainfall and a shortening growing season due to climate change make crop production acutely challenging (Codjoe et al., 2012). Animals often function like a family’s savings account- they are an emergency resource available to overcome climatic and market shocks, such as drought and food price hikes (Scoones, 1995). Animal production can also be essential for crops, as manure adds back essential lost soil nutrients, and fertilizes more sustainably than chemical alternatives. They are also often the only adequate source of protein in areas with high malnutrition and serve as important symbolic gestures and gifts in customary ceremonies (Kristjanson et al., 2001).

In Ghana, animal production is low and has remained stagnate for the past 10 years because of a lack of monitoring systems, high incidents of parasitic infections among other reasons (Ministry of Food and Agriculture, 2016). Worryingly, in 2015, there was an outbreak of the avian flu (HPAI) killing 17.6% of all poultry in the country (CDC, 2016). There are also 28 livestock diseases in Ghana, which are killing millions of animals, and many are infecting people at alarming rates. For example, brucellosis is a zoonotic disease that when it spreads from cattle to women, can kill unborn babies. This is acutely affecting the Fulani in Ghana, a nomadic tribe commonly responsible for cattle grazing. Parasites, tics, tuberculosis are all tormenting school-aged children in particular. Fortunately, many of these diseases can be prevented with vaccines and this is recognized in Ghana’s national agri-food policy strategies. Unfortunately, the animal health systems, like clinics, drugs, tracking etc. are woefully underfunded and underserved by public, private and not for profit actors, and there are less than 100 veterinary technicians graduating each year in the country. Hence, in some communities, animal mortality rates are between 30-60% and could be reduced to 5% with simple vaccines and care.

Picture5Video filmed by Siera Vercillo in northern Ghana during the dry season

That is why I want to tell you about a new company in northern Ghana called CowTribe which was founded in 2016 to deliver life-saving vaccines, drugs, and emergency veterinary care in a reliable manner using mobile technology like databases, hotlines, SMS, and voicemails. Think of CowTribe as the Uber for animal health. Farmers subscribe to CowTribe’s services for only $5 via their mobile phone, they build a profile about their animals and CowTribe creates a health care schedule tailored to their needs, sending them reminders, information about disease outbreaks and risks. Farmers can also request for preventative assistance and emergency care, while home visits to administer drugs and conduct surgeries are coordinated.

CowTribe has already served 29,000 farmers in 119 communities in the Northern and Upper East Regions of Ghana. For 2018, their major partnerships are with the Cattle Farmers Association where they plan to directly provide animal health services to 8,910 farmers (and an expected 1 million farmers in upcoming years), as well as the Presbyterian Agriculture Station in Garu, Upper East Region to send multimedia to 4000 farmers.

Picture4CowTribe’s services

There are a few reasons why I am proud of CowTribe and their services. CowTribe is,

Delivering essential animal health services that are woefully underfunded

According to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), globally 30% of farm animals die due to preventative outbreaks and diseases by using simple vaccines. For every US$1 spent on a vaccine, more than $US100 is saved in treatment and potential mortality. Many farmers cannot adequately monitor their animal’s health, nor do they know what to do when their animal is sick or who to call to figure it out. In 2011-2012, I worked with overburdened veterinarian extension officers at the Ministry of Food and Agriculture who could not provide sufficient care to the thousands of farmers they were responsible for. CowTribe can fill in a much-needed service gap while using new communication technology to reach more farmers.

Reaching the most vulnerable farmers and respecting their needs

I had the opportunity to advise CowTribe while conducting my doctoral research in 2016-2017 on how to design tailored made care for farmers in remote communities who tend to be left behind by the public and private agriculture sectors. Using participatory research, we asked farmers important questions about their animals, their barriers to veterinary care and what they are willing to pay for. CowTribe reaches farmers in remote communities for their services, which most companies in Ghana say they do, but do not do so in actuality. Agribusiness, NGO, and government programs tend to work with farmers close to urban areas, middlemen, or educated, business elite and not the smallholders in remote areas that CowTribe works with.

Supporting women leaders and creating employment for youth

The co-founders of CowTribe, Peter Awin, and Alima Bawah are Ghanaians who have close relationships with farmers and the rural communities where they come from. Many of their staff are recent graduates who are looking for work opportunities in a context where youth unemployment is among the highest in the world (at 60%) and people are abandoning rural areas at unprecedented rates. I have introduced CowTribe to a number of recent graduates from the Animal Health and Production College in Ghana who are building their network of farmers and need financial support mentorship to launch their careers. This is a Ghanaian youth-led initiative intended to build a prosperous future for rural areas and who have not given up on agriculture.

I began working with CowTribe as a Veterinary Officer last year after I completed my education in 2016. My work is to vaccinate and deworm animals for farmers and give them information to register with the company using the mobile app. I help the farmers take details about the flock size, work with them to create a schedule for the treatment and prophylaxis and provide further extension. I am delighted to be pioneering CowTribe and that we are recognized internationally. As a young man, I had trouble starting, and had many problems and issues. I am very hardworking and ready to learn new things which was appreciated by the company. -Abdul Latif Sulemana

Follow CowTribe on Facebook or Twitter


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.


Women’s shea production and processing group, Ghana


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.


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.


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.


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.


Smallholder farmers in Ghana

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

Connecting to ‘Dorothy’: Insights into EWB Culture in Ghana

This post is meant to highlight, remind and role model certain behaviour, attitudes and reflection I would encourage my fellow colleagues to continue to act upon to shape the culture of our work in Ghana. It is also meant to foster a better understanding to the new volunteers who will be arriving and working with us in less than one month. I would also like to personally remind that the issue of comfort speaks to both mental satisfaction and physical health and safety.

This weekend my colleagues and I at Engineers Without Borders convened for the West Africa Retreat, otherwise known as the WAR. The WAR is considered a time to reconnect with colleagues and use them to help push ourselves out of our comfort zone and develop intentional skills and attitudes. Activities are not at all related to war like events, but instead include formal sessions related to our work or personal growth, feedback, reflection and even poetry slamming.

One of the most interesting sessions hosted was around the EWB culture of connecting to ‘Dorothy’. I have mentioned the term Dorothy at other times in this blog and as a reminder as to who Dorothy is:
she is our most important stakeholder, our informant, our evaluator and we are accountable to her when we do our work. We regularly consult her to make strategic decisions and we share her stories with others. She simplifies the complexity of our work and reminds us that development is about people. Dorothy is not a specific individual, but a representation of a complex category of people. Dorothy is a lot of different people and means something different to everyone working within EWB. Despite this subjectivity, Dorothy is meant to represent a person working each day and struggling against the odds to get out of poverty.

Farmer Group I am working alongside

EWB has a reputation for understanding Dorothy and using that knowledge to shape our actions, decisions and influence strategy for higher quality development work. Traditionally, EWB understands Dorothy because we spend time with her – maybe we live with a Dorothy, or visit her every week and ask her opinion about matters when decisions need to be made. Differently than many other development organizations, we are excited, interested and involved in her life and do not see her as simply someone who lives in poverty and deserves simple charitable donations to lift her out of poverty. EWB is an organization that I am proud of because of this innovative lens to developing a broken system. We are not saddened by Dorothy, but empowered by her to provide higher quality results.

The majority, if not all of the African Programs Staff at EWB have lived in the village alongside a community of ‘Dorothys’ and worked with partner organizations who are striving to directly improve the lives or system that affects her. For instance, since December I have been living in a village where my neighbours and community would be classified as a type of Dorothy. The Ministry of Food and Agriculture office where I work directly engages with the community to provide important services to Dorothy.

Friends from where I live

Before I moved to the village, I had the opportunity to travel and conduct research around Dorothy’s opinion and perspective on the problems she faces and solutions she thinks would be appropriate. I then took that knowledge to my Team and we are now using the research to shape our future strategy and influence other decision makers.

Many of the African Program Staff currently working in Ghana acknowledge that there has been a shift in the way we do work in Ghana. Just two years ago the majority of staffs were out in remote rural areas working and living with local families, but today 80% of the staffs are in big cities and or regional capitols living independently. Even those staffs, including myself, who live in a village are still close to a regional capitol and not in a more remote area. There are several factors as to why this has become the case – the type of work and influence we are doing, the experiences already had by staff etc.– and the way it is shaping the culture in the organizations is evident.

The session held at the WAR successfully flushed out thoughts and feelings about specific cultural changes and the benefits and consequences resulting from them. This is useful knowledge needed to decide how we want to shape the future culture of our work overseas in Ghana for when new volunteers arrive in the next month. Our actions, attitudes, words, living context, working situation etc., will impact the way the new volunteers continue to connect to Dorothy and remain living healthy and productive lives overseas.

A major question asked during the session was: How can we balance our own comfort with our experiential learning about poverty? The objective to answering this question was to begin brainstorming a reflection and sharing to each other of what we are proud of and want to push forward and how this relates to what we are uncomfortable about intended for ideas spurring normative change. Common themes or answers include:

Despite intentions and values of having a bottom line being Dorothy, African Programs staffs feel guilty and consider it a strong driver in lifestyle decisions. We need to push people to feel outside of that emotion, accept decisions people make and push them to make decisions that are correct for them. One way to do this would be to begin explicitly discussing what works and iterate on them.

That it is important to highlight important and positive experiences throughout someone’s placement overseas and the intention of why certain decisions are made. For instance, why someone may choose to live in a village versus the city. One important way to share that information in an interesting and meaningful way is through story telling.

Sacrificial Alter – learning about traditional religions in Ghana

Although we work for a charitable organization it is still important that we invest in ourselves. Because we spend a lot of time with Dorothy and work for her, feelings of guilt and service often come up. We are trying to push people to personally develop their own skills and ambitions and truly acknowledge that doing this will ultimately help better serve Dorothy, as opposed to debilitating and de-motivating feelings of judgement etc.

Since we live and work in a complex sector sometimes understanding Dorothy does not seem relevant for our job, however what needs to be acknowledged is that we all have different definitions of Dorothy.

Getting out of my comfort zone – climbed into a cave at the top of a cliff

Lastly, things are not polarised – Comfort versus struggle. There is a time where living in the village becomes very comfortable. Living in the village is not necessarily less comfortable and more of a struggle then living in a city. Remembering that and remembering why doing both is very important (sometimes one is more important than the other) depending on your current learning and working situation. What needs to happen and not be forgotten is to continue to get outside of your comfort zone for learning. That could imply visiting old family, friends, doing something completely alone. Finding new experiences to help you continue to learn is critical.

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.

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