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

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for that Bill! It was very nice to hear a clear articulation of your work. I'm pretty impressed that you could do this in a blog post, finding a good way to transfer what we've been working on is certainly something that I've been thinking about, but haven't done so concisely yet.

    See you soon my brother,