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!


  1. Interesting journals.
    Keep up the good work in Ghana.
    This story reminds me of hoeing weeds, as a kid, on Grandpa Fuerth's farm.

    The Pinery Gang

  2. B.J I am very proud of the work you are accomplishing there and it is nice to read that even you believe that maybe there is hope that what you are doing is making a difference. I also would like to believe that. Keep smiling, I miss you and hope you are doing well. Nice to see that there are nicer parts of Ghana then where you are staying. However unfortunate you can't stay there more. lol Love you