Sunday, 31 July 2011

The Nature of my Work

Hello everybody out there,

So as promised this post will be dedicated entirely to my line of work here in Ghana, as it's come to my attention that what I'm doing here might not be too clear to everyone back home!

I'll start off by defining my overall position here in Ghana. I like to consider myself an Engineers Without Borders consultant for the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (sounds fancy eh!?). That means that I'm here to perform some service for MoFA, and that particular service is to work on the problems of technology adoption.

Technology adoption can be defined as farmers adopting new practices and inputs into there current farming system to improve some aspect of their farming. The problem is that the technologies that can improve this farming are sometimes available and yet farmers aren't ready to use them on their own land. One may ask why this is, and my friend I will tell you the 7 observed barriers to technology adoption:
  1. Lack of availability of the technology
  2. Lack of knowledge or understanding of the technology
  3. Lack of finances 
  4. Increased risk (or perceived risk) in using the technology
  5. Increased labor demand
  6. External social factors 
  7. Inappropriate technologies
Some of the barriers may seem obvious and others may not, and it may be surprising which of these pose the largest barriers to the adoption of new technologies. Although it's important to note that one of the most common barriers found with rural farming communities is the lack of finances to purchase new technologies, or at least this is the most commonly stated. But I question whether or not this is just talk, as some farmers will answer this way in the hopes that by giving me this answer I will provide them with money or resources. This attitude is created from several projects that come to farmers and give them something, creating a mentality that the only way to be helped is by receiving money or inputs. Furthermore, my work is to search for a way to alleviate some of these barriers to technology adoption with the over-arching goal of helping farmers produce more goods.

My answer has been to look at the contact farmers. A contact farmer is a particularly high capacity farmer who is used to aid MoFA activities in the communities by organizing farmers for meetings, contacting the AEA when there's an issue in the community concerning his work, or helping other farmers understand the messages the AEA brings to the community.

The issue here is two fold:
  1. That contact farmers are chosen by the AEA and not the people who'll be relying on him (the community members).
  2. That the contact farmers don't always fully understand their responsibilities, or can't carry them out. 
So my answer has been to design a contact farmer selection process which requires alot of input  from community members and a greater understanding by the contact farmer himself. By collecting a list of qualities of ideal contact farmers, first by meeting them in the field then by asking AEAs and other staff members what an ideal contact farmer looks like, I was able to come up with a set of questions for community members to answer centered around who would be the best candidate in the community. Lastly the selection process requires the contact farmer to sign a contract outlining the responsibilities, benefits, and rules of his position to create a greater understanding.

It is my theory that by allowing community members to choose the contact farmer and be aware of his responsibilities, there will be a certain amount of social pressure to fulfill them. Moreover, by having high capacity farmers act as contact farmers the barriers that can be alleviated are as follows:
  1. Creating a greater overall understanding of technologies by having a well equipped and trusted community member explain them rather than an AEA whom the community members are only frequently in contact with. 
  2. Decreasing the amount of perceived risk by having the contact farmer take up practices and visually prove to fellow community members that the risk doesn't out-weigh the benefit.
  3. Limit external social factors as the contact farmer would aware of all these and how to avoid them.
  4.  By creating a system where the community can inform the contact farmer of there needs and the contact farmer can observe these and inform AEAs and other MoFA staff, one can ensure that all technologies used and requested would be appropriate.
It's important to note that if an AEA can frequently visit the community this may not be needed, but most if not all districts lack sufficient transportation to make this a possibility. The case of appropriate technologies could also be alleviated by creating projects from the bottom up aswell, meaning they would come from the demands of the villagers, but the way things work now projects are created in distant city centers with the goal of alleviating poverty in rural areas they've never even seen with their own eyes. But without these changes it's my hypothesis that improving the selection process of contact farmers would improve technology adoption within the current scenario.

Hopefully some people were able to keep up with that, and if not I would love to be asked questions on this topic as it is what I've decided to spend four months of my life on! :)

Many blessings,
$$ Bill

Friday, 29 July 2011

Inspiring and Interesting: Some of the Chereponi faces!

Hello readers,

It's been  a while since I've made a post, I know. But if you guessed that I was just trying to make you anxious for the next post, you could be right! More likely though I've just been very busy with work, as the end of my time here in Ghana is approaching too quickly, so I have to work twice as fast in order to be satisfied with my achievements here in Ghana!

So This post is a little piece on two really interesting people I've met here. This isn't to say that their the only interesting people here in Ghana at all, because I think every single person I've met here has been very interesting. But these two have some interesting characteristics that make me want to let everyone I can know about them! So hopefully my faithful (or at least passerby) readers will remember just these two faces.

Emanuel, the Contact Farmer of Sambick community
I went to a community with a District Agricultural Officer (DAO) named Shani last week. On the trip I was both an observer and a researcher, by this I mean Shani was very busy with his own work on Block Farms (see next post to read about what this is) so I was trying to get as much done as I could on this trip while still following along on his work. So after an interesting visit to a community doing some projects under Shani's supervision we were en route to Sambick. I had been to Sambick before and I had noticed that this community was one of the only (if not the only) community who had taken up the practice of composting. When I had asked why they were doing this, this young man had responded "that because we lack resources, we can use this as fertilizer to make up for what we can't buy" (paraphrased). I was astonished first at the adoption of such a technology because it's a difficult and laborious practice that's completely uncommon, and secondly with the fact that he had so accurately described how this practice could benefit farmers who're willing to give it a try.

On this trip we were there in Sambick to take some field measurements, and as the secretary of his farmer group and the contact farmer (see next post) for the community we asked Emanuel to come along for the work. During the work I was pretty much useless, just kind of walking around with Shani and starting to regret coming along. But I started talking to Emanuel during the work and things quickly changed. I told Emanuel his English was very good and asked where he had learned, he said he had completed senior high school. As we were doing the field measurement he was quickly adding up acreages and remembering exactly what had been measured, I told him that if I were to measure this field this wouldn't be the way I would do it, and he agreed and told me how he would have done it. His idea was to measure the perimeter of the field then write all these measurements down, then make a calculation of the area and I agreed this would both be quicker and easier than measuring piece by piece as we were doing. I was astonished at how intelligent he was, and asked why hadn't he continued with his schooling? He told me that his grades weren't the best, and there was a lack of finances for this. I wondered how a person like this could have low grades, but as time passed I formed my own theory of how this could happen.

Emanuel told me he was 27 when I asked his age. I told him I don't think your that old, as you don't look it at all, and he told me he didn't think so either. This may seem strange to most people, not knowing your own age, but as children are commonly born in the house and the parents are illiterate they don't write down the date and time of birth. He told me that he had no way of finding out his real age, and I supposed he was at least four years younger than this. So my theory is he was in a grade level higher than he should have been and due to this it was a feat to have even completed senior high school below the normal age. Moreover, I found out that not only is he a secretary of his group he's also the zonal coordinator for the District Assembly in his community. This means he actively monitors his community and makes monthly reports to the Assembly so they can be aware of the activities happening there. In addition he asked to borrow our calculator and measuring tape so he could take the rest of the day to measure the field out acre by acre for his community members.

Needless to say I was impressed on many levels by Emanuel: he was extremely intelligent, hard working, and incredibly responsible. At his young age he was responsible for so much of the community's well-being and I don't think he realized just how amazing he is!

Introducing the one and only RIMKA
So on a bus ride back to my district almost 3 weeks ago I was talking to the boy sitting next to me about many things, but more importantly the topic of which languages I can speak came up. I told him I can speak English and a little bit of French, when I said this the man in a full denim outfit (Canadian Tuxedo) began speaking to me in french. The conversation went one for less than a minute before I had exhausted my vocabulary and we had to switch to English. So he and I started talking about our work, I told him I'm working with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture in Chereponi and he told me he was a rapper. Immediately I began to take the conversation much less seriously, as the idea of a rapper coming from a small district with a small amount of electricity available seemed totally ridiculous. Not long after I asked him if he did shows or things of this sort did a small boy 3 seats up say "I have one of his tracks on my phone!". The kid held the phone up and I was so surprised to see that this guy was actually somehow a somewhat famous rapper, at least in this area. He said my name is Abdul Kharim, but my rap name is RIMKA.

Not long after I got back my beard was getting out of control, so I started seeking a barber and my colleagues pointed me to a nearby stall with the VODAFONE symbol plastered on the side (just like so many other buildings) and inside who was I to find but RIMKA the rapper cum hairstylist. So we re-introduced ourselves and he told me he was running the barber shop in order to save up money for studio fees. I asked him if I could video tape some of his raps so I could show people at home, and he was excited to do so. He rapped 3 songs (2 French, and 1 Chikosi) and I can't say that I fully dug his rythm (maybe because I couldn't understand the language) but I can say the energy and happiness he put into it was amazing, just watching him made me feel extremely happy! The way this man can smile in the face of so many challenges and live out his dreams in a world where the chances are slimmer than anywhere else I was so inspired, I thought "I can do this too, live my own dream regardless of barriers or probabilities, and smile because I'm doing what makes me happy"

So that's all for this time folks but the next post will come very soon, and is promised to be only about the work I'm doing here! A forewarning for readers of the next post is that it will be a long one, and somewhat dry! But it's work that I'm extremely interested in and it's be great if some people out there could let me know what they think too!

Talk to ya'll soon,
$$ Bill

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Ballin' In the Poorest region of Ghana

Hi there readers,

In EWB during our placements here in Western and Southern Africa we have what we call village stays. These village stays can be simply defined as a week spent in a new village, which is in a new district, and even possibly a new region. We do this to expand our understanding of rural livelihoods, because we're exposed to one district and one community for almost four months and it's easy for us to start to understand Ghana through the lens of single district, assuming that villages all over the country are just the same as the ones we call home for our short stays here in Ghana.

The team I'm on in my placement, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture team, tried something new for our village stays this year. We tried to assess groups who had benefited from a program we ran from 2008-2010 called Agriculture As a Business (AAB), this program endeavored to build farmer group capacities, business skills within those farmer groups, and informally instruct Agricultural Extension Agents (AEAs) on best practices in extension work. On top of this we were also learning about new cultures and realities in a new place, like the standard village stays.

My village stay too place in Bawku West which is in the upper east region of Ghana, in a community called Wiiga  ten kilometers from the district capital of Zebilla. I was staying with a man named Dan who had been involved with the same group AAB had worked with in 2009, who was also the secretary (an executive position in a farmer group) of his newly formed group. Dan lived with two of his brothers in a fairly large and fairly nice compound, immediately informing me that his immediate family was doing comparatively well in there activities. This could also be due to the fact that Dan and his brothers all had fairly good paying jobs outside of their farming activities, Dan being a metalworker, one brother (Abel) being a mason, and the third brother (unfortunately whose name I've forgotten) was a junior high school teacher. But it could also be a sign of the groups success in there farming ventures, and related to their participation in AAB. Either way I got the feeling that I went from a village to do my village stay in something like the suburbs, I was even getting coffee and hot chocolate in the mornings which is not so common.

Beautiful view of a mountain through the coconut trees opposite of the Tanga market.
Bawku West was a very beautiful place, I almost couldn't believe I was in the same country when I arrived. I went from a flat, gradually sloping, and bare landscape in Chereponi to a hilly forested area with beautiful mountains on the horizon. The plant life and even wildlife changed there as well; coconut trees and shea nut trees everywhere and an abundance of pork! The population was very dense and the people themselves were extremely welcoming and hardworking, but I must say say here (taking the chance of being presumptuous) that this theme of kindness and energy is common throughout rural Ghana.

One of the nice parts of a village stay is it's also one week away from the office and everything involved with that environment. During the stays it's not exactly accurate to say that we're "on break" because there's alot of learning to be done on these stays, and a surprising amount of physical work to be done. We stay with the farmers doing what there doing, eating what there eating, and going where there going in order to understand a part of their lives. So during my stay I spent three of my five days on the farm doing some weeding with a hoe. This labor is extremely hard on your body especially if your not used to the heat, which became evident to me after having a small case of sunstroke in the field. But this did humble me even further; feeling the blisters on my hand, the pain in my back, and the dehydration. But all the while these people were chatting and laughing as they work together, and at the end of the day we would all sit together under a tree and eat lunch and drink coffee. It was quite a beautiful and touching experience.
Manually weeding is the only kind in Ghana!
Although the Upper East region of Ghana is described as the poorest region of Ghana I didn't see much of this, because the house I was staying in was quite nice. But I did see signs of potential for this to be the case: The first was how difficult it was to access land there (creating many landless), the second was the severity of droughts there (the rains come latest, or not at all, and last the shortest amount of time there), and the third but more specific case was the destruction of a local irrigation dam that was used for dry season vegetable farming (this meant women and men would have to leave their homes in the dry season to find work. But In spite of these challenges the group I met with seemed to be doing fairly well, they worked together very effectively and made action plans to resolve their problems. I was extremely impressed with their resilience in these hard times.

The family I was staying with, seated men are Dan and his brothers.
So all in all I learned quite a bit there about different forms of poverty in different areas of Ghana, and also something about resilience of particular families and farmer groups. When discussing with the farmer group how they think AAB had helped them, they told me "their eyes were now open to what they can do together", by working together and opening small shops their able to send all of their children to school and form strong relationships with their extension agents in order to learn as much as possible form them. I would like to believe that this is evidence that says we were able to help these people and increase their quality of living, and that though makes me smile!

Saturday, 16 July 2011

the Lyin’, the Witch, the Tech Probe: The finale

Hello there from Ghana!

So for all the readers who've hung on until now! Thank you very much I deeply appreciate your support and interest!

Some people may have read the first post called "the Lyin', the Witch, and the Tech Probe". If not basically it outlined the interesting discovery I made early on in my placement about the fact that parts of the community believed that my landlord is some sort of witch. Now it's important to mention that the belief of witchcraft is common in rural parts of Ghana, but it's not something that takes a large focus of the community from daily life. The belief in witchcraft is more of superstition among villagers, and in some cases used as a scapegoat to explain odd things or things that they can't explain. I just want to make sure that all the readers understand this is a very minute, all be it very intriguing, of the Ghanain culture.

Hopefully in this context people can take this story with a grain of salt and understand that there's infinitely more to know about these people before passing any kind of judgement on them from reading what I write down in these posts.

So with the context set I will finish off the story!

A while ago I heard alot of drum music quite a distance away late at night and I was having some serious trouble sleeping, but somehow I succeeded for a while. I was awoken by some loud noises outside of my room but I was pretty scared so I didn't get up to see what was actually happening, I just decided in the morning I would ask around about what the noises might have been. In the morning I stepped out of my room to see a large hole dug in the ground about 8 feet to the left of my door, I asked the only person in my house who speaks any english what the whole was and she told me that "something was buried there" but she seemed reluctant to say what.

Later that day after work I decided I would inquire with the University of Development studies students residing in the nearby primary school as to what all the commotion was the night before. They told me that one of the locals who believed my landlord to be a witch had called in some kind of specialists in the matter, which they called fetish priests. They told me that the night before they had performed some ritual upon there arrival to find the witches in the community and also to generally "wow" the crowd of onlookers, these things included supposedly eating glass and rubbing hot pepper juices on their eyes (I have a tendency to believe that these were actually illusions, especially since they were performed late at night when it was fairly dark). The told me they had come to my house and dug a wooden pot out from beneath the house where I was staying and that this pot contained some sort of power, power that can either protect the holder or give him the ability to hurt others as I understand.

That very night they were to hold another sort of ritual, and this ritual was to be more of a de-witching ceremony. I of course wanted to see it this time, and attended armed with my camera. During the ceremony (which was all done in Twi [a southern Ghanain language]) the fetish priests chanted somethings, killed some animals, shaved the accused witches heads, and forced them to drink some of the sacrificed animals blood. Of course for me this was incredibly difficult to watch, but at the same time hard to look away because it was so very interesting. When all was said and done my landlord's head was shaven and his supposed powers stripped, meaning no more trouble for him at least in form of unreasonable accusations of witchcraft. I couldn't be happier to report this, because this man is one of the kindest, hardest working, and intelligent individuals I've had the fortune of meeting and he never deserved any of this.

For some people it may be enough to know that all of this craziness is over, and thank God that we can put it behind us. But for me I was still inquisitive as to why all of this had to happen. What was it that caused these accusations and incidentally all of these events? 

Well before I move on to my understanding of how it all started I should mention that there was a small period of time even longer ago when my landlord disappeared, and I was told he had gone to visit some friends. Very recently I discovered that actually he had gone to a place called Kintempo, upon the request of a few community members, where a woman supposedly experienced in "witchcraft" would decide once and for all whether or not he had any real power. He rode there with a friend, and apparently even before entering this house if you have these powers or the intent to hurt others one should go mad. As to be expected he entered easily and sanely, and once inside was told that he in fact had no problem. To show this he was given some pieces of white cloth as evidence to here decision to show to his accusers.  

These events had all taken place before the arrival of the fetish priests, but apparently some community members weren't convinced, so they called in those men. I had gotten sick not long after this (completely unrelated but important to the story) and saw my landlord in the hospital. Because of the communication barrier I had thought that he was there to visit, but I found out this wasn't the case recently.

The origin of the noises outside of my room that night had been the fetish priests informing him he was accused then digging the pot out from beneath the house, but more than this because of the pot his accusers had beaten him that night. He was in the hospital that day because of the pain. I was furious to discover that even after "proving" to his accusers he wasn't guilty of any sort of witch craft they had to call in these "priests" and even go as far as physically harming him. And it's important to mention here that when I told my landlord that this wasn't right, and something needs to be done, he told me "if it means that they will leave me alone, I will quietly collect what they give me" (in this case he collected their punishment). I'll forever be deeply humbled by this man's strength and honor, and forever be touched by the smile he can keep on his face through all of this!

Finally I heard from his daughter why she thinks all of this happened. She told me the neighbor doesn't like her father much. When asked why she told me that an agricultural project that came to that community last year which provides ten sheep to a few people then takes the same number back two years later (the idea being that some would be born in those two years which would help the farmer). The accusations had come from a man who hadn't received the benefits of the project, and had started around the same time. To me this is incredibly interesting because MoFA's responsibility in these projects is to sensitize communities on how the project will work so misunderstandings like this can't happen, and negative social impacts don't come out of work like this. Extension services in this case had failed to perform this duty correctly, and in this case the effect of this failure was much more than what anyone could have expected.

I'm here to help extension services more effective and accountable, and this story has motivated me to work harder than ever before. Extension educates farmers on the how-to, but it also has the power to increase and sustain community capacity as a group, and to me this is something incredibly valuable in rural Ghana!
Thanks for reading everyone, and this will be the final post on this topic, so I promise the rest will be much more up beat!

Dolla Dolla Bill

Monday, 27 June 2011

Photoblog II

These kids love photo time, always ready to dance for the camera.

As I said above.

This boy's name is Yow and I was surprised to find out recently that he's actually about my age. I didn't even believe this for some time, but I forced the family to show me his ID card! Unfortunately because of some disorder he has alot of trouble learning and developing properly, but he's happy as a clam most of the time.

These are all the kids here: Yaaba (back left), Yow (back right), Ako (front left), Andala (front center), and Lie-e (front right)...Then some visitors Micheal and Isaac (sitting in back). Interesting note that Yaaba was given her name because of the day she was born, Yaaba means friday.

Nice group shot, getting tired of the photo shoots though lol.

Hot day during lunch, director (Charles Akongua) sleeping out front.

Large farmer group in Nyambandi, pretty well organized group. Half focusing on livestock and the other half focusing on crops.

This lady really wanted me to snap a photo of her child. Seriously funniest pose possible!

Stuck in the office building during some serious rain in Chereponi (I believe this is when I've gotten my cold, which started a whirlwind of other sicknesses including malaria and stomach parasites).

Chereponi thanks God for the rain, and my body crumbles in the weather!

Monday, 13 June 2011

The JF program and me

Hello everyone out there!!!

As it has come to my attention that the JF program is losing some support at my local chapter I've decided to dedicate this post to why I think the program is so important!

As a university student myself I find that the education-work system is very streamlined: you get some good high school marks, attend a nice university for 4-8 years (depending on your personal choice), and then you go and find some work with the education you achieved. For some people this is completely fine and acceptable and they are complacent with this level of experience of the world. But personally I feel at each step of this system you are confined to a bubble. Within this bubble you experience a certain number of cultures, people, and environments. A fundamental component of understanding the reality of the environments you live inside is being able to see the environments you do not experience and truly understanding what effects the decisions you make can have on those other environments that you may not have the chance to see. The JF program allows students, people armed with quality educations in their country, to realize the reality of another world and to realize their own value in this world and the implications of the everyday livelihoods of the western world.

The JF program has opened my eyes to the value of the innovation of mankind. People in Ghana use the smallest amount of resources to survive for a year, and work harder than everyone I've ever met. This work has given me an insatiable passion to use every skill that I can muster to understand lives that are nothing like mine, and push the envelope of these skills to try and see if maybe there is a solution that someone hasn't tried.

More than this the JF program has the ability to give a voice to the most often unseen and unheard rural poor of Ghana. To work within a broken system to help the people being exploited, to see this exploitation, and work to change or fix this system from the ground up.

Most importantly the JF program is an opportunity to change lives. An opportunity to open a persons eyes to reality of other environments than their own, to strive to understand these environments, and to drive ourselves to solve problems that our much bigger than ourselves. And maybe more important than that it is an opportunity to change maybe just one persons life for the better, to inspire even one  people to work with a broken system to improve their lives and to speak out in the favor of the people suffering around them.

These are some reasons why I think the JF program is important for me and has changed my life, but this is just one persons opinion :)

Saturday, 11 June 2011

F the system

Hello everyone out there!

As my last post was about culture, this one will be more about work:

The system is a butt, and here's why!

Just like in Canada level of education is directly linked to perceived level of prestige, but here in Ghana it's a concept that puts a bottleneck in development in the agriculture sector. As a result it puts a bottleneck on the advancement of rural livelihoods! I the Ministry of Food and Agriculture each worker receives some fuel allowance to perform their service, and the fuel allowances are as follows:

Director : 300ghc/month ($187.50 Can)
Agricultural Officer: 100ghc/month ($62.50 Can)
Agricultural Extension Staff: 50ghc/month ($31.25 Can)

Then the level of educations of these people are as follows:

Director : Masters + some experience or Phd.
Officer : Masters or Bachelors + quality experience + rarely afforded promotion
Extension : Bachelors or very high quality experience + connections + highschool

Now everyone should be able to see direct correlation between fuel allowances and level of education, but here's where things get funny! The required distances of travel to do there actual work is as follows:

Director : 0 miles/month or maybe 120 miles/month (for "important" meetings in Tamale, and other comfortable city centers)
Officer : 0 miles/month or very rarely [i.e. once or twice a year] 120 miles to Tamale & back.
Extension: Easily 400 miles/month or more depending on the operational area!!!!

So as you can see the people with more education receive a higher fuel allowance, and the people who actually need it receive less. Worse than this these people rarely receive all of their fuel allowances, and are considered to be insubordinate if they ask why. Then if this isn't enough if these people (extension staff) have all-star ideas or opinions to share during meetings, they will be immediately shot down by their superiors.

These kind of problems aren't only in my district, they are widespread systemic issues. This is an example of a barrier in the MoFA system that EWB sees, but is forced to work around to do work in collaboration with these people. Most people reading this might ask why we work with these people, and the reason is because MoFA's work has a direct and real impact on farmers. The extension agents treat the farmers like family and the farmers do likewise, so the dissemination of important information and technology through these bonds is essential for agricultural development in Ghana.

Private corporations who don't have many of these same barriers create new ones for themselves. These corporations generally don't like to collaborate with MoFA in their extension work, which results in the following problems: the farmers the include in their projects don't know or trust their extension workers so they either stray away from them or take advantage of them, the farmers don't take the extension of these people seriously, and the corporation fail to fully understand the rural realities of each district because they spend short amounts of time there and leave quickly.

So here's my thing! If we are all working towards a more developed Ghana three serious changes need to happen! The first is the reversal of flow of information, the information should travel from farmer to extension to district director to regional to national, as opposed to the current backwards fashion. Second we need to recognise the hard workers and reward them appropriately, and penalize the lax individuals for their greediness. Third (and this one should be obvious, but apparently not) private sector, public sector, and the farmers need to work together!!!

Funny stories:

Some farmers will join a private project (WIENCO cotton, in my district) to get the inputs like fertilizer, pesticides, and plows. Then do something really sly. They will plant the crop they actually want to grow, and maybe mingle in a little of what they were supposed to grow, then at the end they will harvest what they wanted. After this is done they will burn the entire field and say "I don't have to pay, there was a brush fire here, how can I pay you? Go away!". Generally this works, but it also ensures that future projects will be leary of the district altogether. So the real winner here isn't all that clear!

Thanks for reading! And if you didn't no thank yous for you!