Friday, July 21, 2006


Akwaaba! Welcome to my blog! This first one is a loooooooong post, but I promise they will be shorter in the future. Hope you stick with it ;)

My first weeks here in Ghana have been a whirlwind of activity, so it has taken quite some time to get my first post online. Thanks for your patience! I will try to update it at least twice a month, maybe weekly if possible. I would LOVE to hear from you, so please feel free to respond to my posts from time to time. I am taking literally hundreds of photos and lots of interesting audio clips, so I will post some here and others at another site (to be determined). Just check the ‘links’ section on the right to find them.

So, what the heck am I doing in Ghana anyway?? For those of you who do not know, I have been volunteering with Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB) for about three years now, and have decided to take this opportunity to help reduce extreme poverty in the rural Northern Region of Ghana. I am currently working with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) in Tamale, Ghana, where EWB is a partner in building MoFA’s capacity. Our hope is that with some changes in organizational focus, MoFA will better serve the rural poor, and will play a key roll in eliminating extreme poverty in the Northern Region.

There are many challenges to rural life here; extreme poverty grips much of the country, and the long dry season in the North (from October until April) means that little can be grown for food. Most crops are grown from May to August with the hope that there will be enough food to last until the next rainy season. Irrigation is typically not used, and little is known about conserving precious water, nutrients, and soil through modern farming techniques. Many farmers stick to traditional methods of agriculture, which are often not robust enough to provide adequate yields for their families. Furthermore, grain storage is often unsatisfactory and stored grains spoil long before the next season’s crops are ready for consumption. As a result, food is scarce in the North, and people often go hungry.

Few opportunities exist for escaping poverty here. Countless farmers fall ill from malnutrition, malaria, and lack of safe water, leaving them too weak to tend to the crops they have, and further reducing already low yields. Any income they may have from farming is often spent on medication (if it is available). Women manage most of the physical labour in the household and in the fields, all the while tending to children, collecting water, preparing food, and bringing goods to market. They have little opportunity to pick up the slack of a sick family member should they fall ill. Moreover, children often must work on the farms to help the family, and have little opportunity to go to school or diversify their skills in areas other than agriculture. This cycle of poverty consequently persists from generation to generation, making the situation all the more desperate. Overall, food security is a huge challenge in the North, and MoFA’s objective is to work with farmers to increase food security, with the goal of reducing rural poverty.

So what is EWB’s role at MoFA?? Our objective is to build capacity within MoFA so they will be more able to assess the needs of farmers in the 18 districts of the Northern Region, and will be able to provide farmers with information, training, and support (fertilizer, pesticides, seeds, irrigation) to increase crop yields and to bolster food security. Our project currently consists of one long term volunteer (formerly Robin Farnworth, and now ‘yours truly’ for the next year), along with 12 short term summer ‘Junior Fellows’ who work in 12 of 18 districts in the region. Robin’s work involved assessing some challenges for MoFA in the regional office in Tamale and in several rural districts, where she discovered a need for Agricultural Extension Agents (AEAs) to shift their focus from ‘activities’ (eg. training) as their goal, to ‘results’ as their goal. By shifting their focus to ‘results’, AEAs would not be satisfied by simply carrying out consultations and training, rather they would focus on whether the needs of the farmers have been met through their actions. AEA’s are currently involved in EWB workshops designed to encourage thinking about the ‘impacts’ of their activities. By keying in on the outputs and outcomes of an activity, AEA’s can see if their current methods are actually having a positive impact in reducing rural poverty. Where they are not having the impact they desire, their activities can be changed to better serve those in need.

Through her work, Robin also discovered the need to re-establish District Food Security Networks (DFSNs), where governmental and non-governmental organizations meet regularly to find ways to collaborate in bolstering food security in their district. Our EWB Junior Fellows have re-established the DFSNs in their districts, and are currently working to ensure that these networks are sustainable.

My job in the coming year will be: 1) to further analyze ways in which EWB can help to increase MoFA’s capacity, and 2) to encourage MoFA extension agents to be more ‘participatory’ with farmers, so that the differing needs of farmers in each district can be addressed. My hope is to help MoFA shift their focus towards empowering those in extreme poverty to help themselves get on their feet and escape the grip of poverty. I will likely spend time in many rural villages where I will live with farming families and get to understand where they need help the most. I will also work closely with members of MoFA districts to see which areas of their work can be modified to enhance a ‘farmer focus’. This will not be easy, but I truly believe that MoFA has the ability to have a tremendous positive impact on the lives of farmers in this region. By shifting the focus a bit, I believe farmers lives can be improved here, and we can gradually chip away at extreme poverty in the North. I hope that our work will positively impact the livelihoods of the people of rural Ghana, and I am excited to meet these challenges in the months ahead.

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