Thoughts from an agricultural development gal in Ghana

What am I doing here? – Part 2

Hello beautiful readers! Last week I introduced you to my general work here in Ghana. This week, I want to share a bit more about the specific change I’m trying to create in MoFA.

As I mentioned before, I’m working at the Tamale MoFA office, otherwise known as the Metropolis Agricultural Development Unit (MADU). The office is made up of about 20 Agricultural Extension Agents (AEAs), about 8 Metropolis Agriculture Officers (MAOs) and 1 Metropolis Director of Agriculture (MDA) along with some support staff. All together, these people are in charge of serving all of the farmers in the greater Tamale area with information, advice and expertise on anything and everything related to agriculture!

This is a tough job, given the logistical constraints that districts often face such as lack of funding, means of transport and weather conditions. The job is made even more difficult by the high illiteracy rate among Ghanaian farmers and by the commonly held attitude that farming is a way of life, not a business. Together, EWB and MoFA are working to change this attitude and put more profits in farmers’ pockets.

Learning

The first job of any EWB volunteer is to learn. The first several months of a placement are a very steep learning curve, incorporating lessons about MoFA, farming, politics and life in Ghana. EWB volunteers spend more time at a district-level office than many other development workers, meaning we are often approached for our knowledge on how a district functions. Having an intimate knowledge of the strengths and challenges of a MoFA district is essential to our work, since we are trying to change the way MoFA interacts with farmers. In order to remain humble and constantly check our work against reality, we must be in a mindset of constant learning!

AAB

One focus of our team’s work for the past 3 years has been developing the Agriculture As a Business (AAB) program. AAB is a field tool for AEAs to help them to develop stronger, more business-minded FBOs (farmer-based organizations). The AEA takes the tool to the field and, over the course of 10 meetings with the FBO, builds the group’s capacity to run their farms as businesses. The tool consists of 10 laminated cards containing facilitation questions, tips, stories and photos to lead the AEA through the following topics:

  1. Group Strengths to build a vision for the group;
  2. Group Meetings for the group to hold regular meetings to discuss and solve issues;
  3. Group Finances so the group is regularly contributing dues and their group savings;
  4. Group Project so the group designs an agriculture project they will do together;
  5. Group Marketing so the group accesses markets together (e.g. buy or sell together);
  6. Market Planning for the group to analyze and decide on a profitable market;
  7. Business Plan for the group to plan the expenses and expected income of their project;
  8. Record-keeping so the group is recoding actual expenses and income to later analyze profit;
  9. Loan Preparedness to ensure the group can manage credit successfully to repay;
  10. Business Evaluation to calculate profit from the group project, and decide how to increase profit next year.

The AAB tool was developed over the course of about 2 years and over 500 field visits, during which our volunteers observed and experimented with facilitation techniques, approaches and content. The current version of the curriculum was finalized in Fall 2009 and in the past year was rolled out in over 10 districts, thanks to the amazing crew of Junior Fellows we had working with us last summer. We still have to do a ton of learning on what’s working and what’s not, but now we have a wealth of data and experience to pull from. Way to go team!

As for me, I’ve been helping the MADU to implement AAB since I arrived in March. I was the third volunteer to work on AAB at MADU, which meant I had some catching up to do. But since that time, I have trained the entire staff, accompanied them on field visits, and helped them through the first iteration of a MADU-led (as opposed to EWB-led) round of AAB groups. Way to go MADU staff! Now, my work is to set up a sustainability plan at the MADU so they can continue the program on their own, without my support. This is a tough task when so many projects are competing for the staff’s time and attention, but I am constantly reminding them not to let the “urgent” get in the way of the “important”!

I’ll write in more detail about AAB in a future blog post, including why it’s important to strengthen FBOs and why AAB is an effective tool to do so. Keep an eye out for this soon!

SLAM

This catchy acronym stands for Systems, Leadership and Management. It’s a new strategy we’ve been developing over the last few months on our team. After seeing some systemic barriers to AAB success in districts, we’ve decided to tackle some of the management challenges in MoFA. We’re still very much in the research phase of this strategy, but the whole thing is based on the belief that better-managed districts result in improved performance for farmers. There are a lot of smaller hypotheses that we’re testing, revolving around topics such as non-monetary incentives for performance, leadership development, improved supervision and learning from data. My job over the next several months will be to run “mini-experiments” to test some of these hypotheses. Basically, it’s a search for the biggest bang for our buck: what can we do with the fewest resources that will have the greatest improvement in MoFA performance?? It’s a loaded question, and one that I’m excited to explore with you over the next few months and years!

Alright, that’s the quick summary of my specific role in my district. As always, let me know if you have any questions or want me to write more on a specific topic. And keep an eye out for the next few posts where I’ll be diving into both the AAB and SLAM strategies. Thanks for reading!

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6 responses

  1. Hey Erin,
    Thanks for the info. Sounds like great work, and like you are making some measurable progress. Good for you! I was wondering about gender bias. Are you, as a young female, met with resistance in (what I believe is) a patriarchal society? I know female vets have trouble with farmers in Ontario, and have to prove their ‘toughness’ and expertise in a way a male vet would not.

    Just curious!

    Would ship you a box of salad, but, well, you know….

    Cheers,

    Connie

    September 28, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    • Hi Connie!
      Thanks for the great question. Yes, there is definitely a huge gender bias here, much more so than in Canada. I’m definitely at a disadvantage being a woman, and yes I have to prove I’m “tough” by going to the field and mucking around on the farm. Women are definitely treated as inferior in many ways here and it gets worse the more rural you go. Basically, it sucks! However, there is an upside – in Ghana, more than many other places, there are many examples of strong women leaders. They are ahead of many other countries in this regard. There is a woman Supreme Justice, headmistresses of major schools, and working on government and big NGOs. The “Ghana mama” is a strong and powerful woman who puts many a man in his place. So there are some role models for women here, which gives me hope. I’m also fighting sexism every day that I’m here, both by setting an example and by discussing the issues with as many people as possible. But I’m just a visitor here, so I can only take it so far. I do work with a few women in my office, who are setting a good example for females in Agric, but they are definitely the minority. But small small, I see change happening 🙂
      Too bad about that salad, sounds good! Maybe I’ll take you up on it around Christmas. Have a great fall!
      Erin

      September 30, 2010 at 10:27 am

  2. Sylvie Spraakman

    I want to hear more about your hypothesis testing work. So write that up. Better be some damn good scientific methods being employed Erin… I’ll be reading your future blog posts with a critical eye!

    ❤ ❤

    September 28, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    • Hey Sylv!
      Oooh yes, a challenge. I promise to put up some more detailed stuff about the hypotheses we’re testing in the next few posts. Hold me to it!
      How are you? How’s school? How’s almost graduating?? woohoo!
      Love you, miss you, call me sometime!
      Erin

      September 30, 2010 at 2:13 pm

  3. Alex

    Hey Erin,

    This had some really great info I can use to tell Western more about your work! Excited connect the chapter with you more!

    – alex

    September 29, 2010 at 7:43 pm

  4. Pingback: Agriculture As a Business « What am I doing here?

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