Thoughts from an agricultural development gal in Ghana

Archive for September, 2011

Development Digest – 30/09/11

Hi everyone,

Here we go again: another catch-up version of the Development Digest. This time we’re catching up on the international development blogosphere! Check out that section for lots of food for thought. Enjoy!

I would also like to highlight a prominent development blogger, Tom Murphy (A View From the Cave), who has started up a daily development news digest. Visit the site for more information and to subscribe:

If there’s anything you’d like to see added or removed from the Development Digest, please let me know!

If you only have time to read 5 articles, read the ones with the *star*!

Global news:

Gone but not forgotten: Anwar al-Awlaki dead –
Stocks collapse at end of worst quarter since the crisis, led by economically sensitive sectors –
Where do we go from here? Five things that Palestine could do to push forward the quest for statehood –
Dozens killed in Syria protests –

Canada news:

Fighting poverty pays off, report says –
‘Smart’ aid boosting African economies –
Ontario NDP’s shift to the middle could leave Liberals feeling squeezed –

Africa news:

*Small factories take root in Africa –
In Zambia, an election reveals skepticism of Chinese involvement –
Tough-talking Sata orders probe into deals –
Boko Haram top commander, five others arrested –
Ivory Coast gets truth and reconciliation commission –
Wangari Maathai: death of a visionary –

Ghana news:

Oh, Ghana… –
Efforts to reduce child labour on cocoa plantations beginning to pay off –
World Bank has okayed Chinese loan: President Mills –

Agriculture news:

On agricultural productivity and food security –
Gender differences in agricultural productivity –
New radio documentary shows how FrontlineSMS connects farmers in Kenya –
Thirty years after the original, a new study of organic agriculture –
*Got cheap milk? Why ditching your fancy, organic, locavore lifestyle is good for the world’s poor –
Cereal prices in 2020: how worried should we be? –

Eldis studies and papers:
The rural non-farm economy: prospects for growth and poverty reduction –
Rural Africa at the crossroads: livelihoods, practices and policies –
Smallholder farmers’ perceptions of climate change and conservation agriculture: evidence from Zambia –
Access to land, growth and poverty reduction in Malawi –

Events you can’t go to, but might be interested in browsing papers, blogs and articles about:
Sept. 25-Oct.6, e-Agriculture: Challenges and Opportunities for Capturing Impact in ICT Initiatives in Agriculture –
Sept. 26-2, IFAD AgriKnowledge Share Fair –

Development thinking:

*EWB ALERT: CEO George’s post about writing his TED talk – 6 Minutes for a Big Idea: disciplined communication courtesy of TED –
Time and Space –
A hypothetical proposition on governance reform –
Sharing is caring: why handing out money is a good practice –
Form a posse –
What should Oxfam be doing on water? –
Good news on aid: dependency is falling, and quality (slowly) improving –
*What happens when donors fail to meet their commitments? –
USAID FWD: Some promise and some transparency –
Working Paper: The impact of economics blogs –
Aid “Industry” vs. Humanitarian “Relief” –
Learning about Famine –
*Have you tested your strategy lately? –
Of Penn, pigs and cod (really about humility) –
If randomized evaluations are so great, why don’t businesses use them? –
Managing better for results, not just measuring them better: lessons on complexity for the results agenda –
Appropriate Technology: could donkey ambulances save lives in poor countries? –
Private cities coming to Africa –
Blog survey findings: who reads development blogs? –
A new kind of overseas charity is born –
Making the most of mobiles (not internet) –

EWB blog posts:

Anthony: The Anchor Leg –
Duncan: The death of a camera –
Janine: Getting comfortable –
MC: Et si la pluie ne venait pas? –
Janine: Rasta drugs –
Lyndsey: What I “chop” in Ghana (chop = eat) –
Colleen: Where in the World is Colleen? –
Lisa: Crossing the Shire –
Tessa: Days like Month 5, days like today –
Franck: Un marathon à Accra –
Robin: The need to look again –
Janine: Jamz –

Amusing and interesting things:

Machine Gun Menace –
New neighbours: The African photographer and the camera –
Presidential candidates: listen to your alma maters on climate change –


Development Digest – 23/09/11

Hi everyone,

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve done this. Just when I got really excited about putting together this Digest every week, I also got a new job – and got about 10 times busier than I was before. Yikes! Bad timing, right? Things got a bit crazy over the summer and this task fell off my plate week after week. So sorry for the radio silence!

But since this is something I really enjoy, and I think it’s a great investment in my personal learning, I want to continue to make it happen. So we’re back! After much delay, heeeeeeeeeeeere is your Development Digest!

There are a lot of interesting posts to catch up on, but I don’t want to overload you all in one week. Instead, I’m going to “catch up” in different categories over the coming weeks. To start off, this is the catch-up post for EWBer blogs, along with a smattering of other interesting news and posts. We’ll catch up on the development blogs and agriculture categories soon!

For those of you who are new to the Development Digest, this is a weekly summary of interesting links (news, blog posts, etc.) that I started sending out at the beginning of 2011. Feel free to read as much or as little of it as you’d like – it’s for your personal interest and learning only. Enjoy!

If you only have time to read 5 articles, read the ones with the *star*!


Global news:

Speed-of-light experiments give baffling result at Cern –
Troy Davis execution goes ahead despite serious doubts about his guilt –
President Saleh returns to Yemen –
Taking a stand, and shedding Arafat’s shadow –
*Europe failing Libya’s refugees: Amnesty –

Canada news:

Inscrutable Stephen Harper baffles the pundits –
Cost of Ontario university education adversely affecting families and economy –
TransCanada pipeline lobbyist works all the angles with former colleagues –
*Inequality: A problem for everyone –

Africa news:

*Opposition leader wins Zambia election –
Somalia famine: UN warns of 750,000 deaths –
How have things changed (in Kenya)? –
Burkina Faso: Justice campaigners welcome police convictions for fatal beating –
Malawi: Markets torched ahead of cancelled protests –
Pipeline fire kills dozens in Nairobi slum –
Malaria vaccine trial raises hope –

Ghana news:

Ghana rights group warns of anti-gay hate campaign ––ghana-rights-groups-warn-of-anti-gay-hate-campaign
Workers to demonstrate against fake textiles in Ghana –
Kwame Nkrumah the Socialist –
Ghanaian EPA with EU would put integration process in danger –
Assemblies to take over street lighting –
The abandoned offspring of oil –
Nankanis fight for own district –
AGRA – helping to solve food insecurity in the country –
Biotech centre to spearhead root, tuber research –
Ghana’s new mental health bill aims to address stigma –

Agriculture news:

*The farms are not all right –
Farming: thoughts on an intense debate –
Oxfam warns about effects of ‘land rush’ –
Ugandan farmer: ‘My land gave me everything, now I’m one of the poorest’ –
Small seed packets could play a big role in Africa’s battle against drought –

Development thinking:

A world without borders makes economic sense –
Steve’s Seven Insights for 21st Century Capitalists –
*Acumen: Ten Things We’ve Learned To Be True –
Guardian “Key First-Year Reads” for Dev’t students –
A fresh narrative on aid dependence –
What impact have the global crises had on development thinking? –
Chinese factories in Africa: not so fast –
Food is the ultimate security need, new map shows –

EWB blog posts:

I’m going to list posts starting back in August, which is quite a while ago. These are in chronological order, from oldest to newest, so skip to the bottom for new posts.

Mina: Transient Relationships –
Kristina: Why I’m moving –
Kristina: Sugar cane –
Tessa: How to bereka mwana (carry a baby) in Malawi –
Lisa: The intricacies and oddities of village life –
Mina: Dignity before Development? –
MC: Le sésame burkinabé: une culture de rente en pleine croissance –
Kristina: Different systems –
Erin: Sacrifice –
Mina: Inequality –
Kristina: Why pay more? –
Kristina: Doubt –
Duncan: After the storm –
Kristina: Side excursions and radio silence –
Lisa: Moments of clarity amidst a fog of uncertainty –
Geneviève: Tension –
Kristina: This isn’t quite a poem –
Franck: Vallée de la Volta – 2e partie –
Franck: Nouvelles diverses –
Geneviève: Global engineers or global friends? –
Jordan: Of Life and Death, but mostly death: Part 1- The magic of a newborn baby –
Jordan: Of Life and Death, but mostly death: Part 2- The fate of Jimmy the goat –
Jordan: Of Life and Death, but mostly death: Part 3- The last part –
Tessa: It’s in the hands –
Lauren: Human resources and barriers to development –
Mina: Motorcycle Diaries! –
Don: And, we’re back –
Duncan: Fitting innovation in –
Lauren: The need for open, shared data –
Geneviève: All those little things –
Tessa: The story of home in Sakhome –
Mina: New Beginnings –
Anthony: Commit –
Siera: Agricultural Extension and development –
Robin: 2 Years Down –
Geneviève: Playing your house on the stock market –
Duncan: Reminders –
Kristina: A week at the office –
Kristina: Ndipita ku gomo –
Geneviève: When life tips over and flips –
Erin: Update –
Don: It’s all about the implementation –
Erin: Days Like These –
Mina: Days Like Today –
Ben: Nasara’s Smile –
Geneviève: Suit Up and Go Play –

Amusing and interesting things:

Caring for your Introvert –
An African Chief in cabby’s clothing –

Days Like These

There are some days when it’s obvious that you’re working in a developing country. Today was one of them.

It rained again today. It started in the morning, when I was still in bed. Despite the soothing rain-drumming-on-the-roof sound tempting me to stay there, I forced myself to get up, work out, shower and get ready to go to the office. During a brief lull in the rain, Ben and I headed off to the egg-and-bread stand for breakfast. We found several of our colleagues there, hiding out in a veranda to escape the drizzle-turned-downpour. And then, it REALLY started to rain. It rained and poured for over an hour, creating massive floods of water overflowing the storm gutters and running through yards and along the road. Once the downpour subsided, we still had to wait almost another hour to escape the aforementioned veranda, which had become an island in the middle of a river. Mina and Romy’s motos were our water-mark measures, showing that at least 8 inches of water were flowing along the dirt road to join the deluge of the overflowed gutters. We finally escaped and tip-toed home through puddles full of dirt, worms, garbage and, invariably, shit. Gross.

Drowning motos on the road (yep, that's a road)

We arrived back at our house to find something out of a disaster scene on a news broadcast. Our place was fine, as our veranda and door are raised up, but our landlord’s house next door had flooded for the first time in almost 20 years. Water had entered every room, and we went in to find books stacked on tables stacked on chairs in an effort to get everything up off the floor that could be damaged. The dirty water was everywhere, including the maize storage room, where it had ruined several bags of maize before someone remembered to look in there. That is part of this 15-member household’s food supply for the year, gone in a few short minutes. We spent the next couple hours helping them to scoop, sweep and propel water out of the house, pulling up carpets and emptying the furniture along the way. We emptied the house of its contents in order to bring them out in the sun to dry. There was a mattress on the roof, clothes hanging in the tree and chairs scattered around the lawn. It looked like a tornado had hit. One boy had 2 netbooks on the floor of his room that had both been soaked, so we put them in rice to try to save them.

Working together to push water out of the hall

At one point during the effort, one of the women asked me, “Does this happen in Canada?” I replied that yes, floods often happen, and in fact there had been some serious flooding in the US this summer where people’s houses were even washed away. She was surprised to hear this, and accepted that these freak natural disasters can happen even in profitable places.

But the problem is that this wasn’t a freak natural disaster; it’s the result of poor planning. Tamale is a huge and ever-growing city, made mostly of concrete, with insufficient storm gutters to take all of the water safely out of the city limits without dropping it on people’s homes. Apparently the extra water came today because one of the dams in town overflowed, sending a wave of water our way. But this wouldn’t happen if the engineers who designed the roads, gutters and storm drains did their work properly! The fact is, a flood of this nature would make the news in Canada. Here in Tamale, it’s just an everyday occurrence during the rainy season.

My landlord, Alhassan Mousah, in his ruined living room after we cleared most of the water out

I never did make it to the office today. In fact, this is the first time I’m turning on my computer today. I had big plans for the work I was going to get done, but none of it happened. And that’s the reality of life in a country like Ghana. You can make big plans, but you just have to take things as they come.

Sure, today the rain spoiled my plans and some of my neighbours’ stuff. But it also gave me a chance to connect with people – first with my EWB colleagues, as we huddled out for 2 hours on a 4’x8′ square of covered concrete, then with my neighbours as we worked together. I was impressed, as I so often am, by their cheerful and resilient spirit, laughing and joking together even in the face of this disaster. Ghana has taught me so much about what is important in life – not your expensive carpet, but family, friends, togetherness, your ability to survive and to enjoy life!

Here are a few videos to show you the extent of the rain and how we feel about it:


Hi everyone,

Again, it’s been quite a while since I posted. Sorry about that! Life has been crazy busy lately, so I just wanted to post a short update about what life has been like lately.

August was an INSANELY busy month, with 6 summer students leaving (we miss you!), 5 new volunteers arriving, 2 weeks of meetings for EWB’s African Programs Leaders and… my 2-week Canadian vacation!

Lake Bosumtwe

The 2 weeks of Team Leader meetings were held at the beautiful Lake Point Guesthouse on Lake Bosumtwe, near Kumasi, Ghana with ~10 super-inspiring leaders from EWB. The beautiful lakeside location provided an ideal place to step back from the day-to-day business of running an EWB team to think about our long-term strategy as an organization. Here are a few of the questions we discussed during the meetings:

  • What are our theories of change within each team? How can we learn from each others’ experience?
  • What are the investment criteria for EWB as an organization to invest in new or ongoing initiatives? What combination of results, potential and leadership needs to be in place?
  • How can we invest more in EWB’s leadership pipeline, so great people continue to flow into our African Programs?
  • How can we hire and use local staff effectively?
  • What are various pathways to scale our change, either theoretical or from experience?
  • What are the teams’ strategies for influencing the “big players” in their sectors?
  • What is EWB’s overall vision? (We are currently undergoing a visioning process as an organization, pretty exciting to participate in!)

Team Leaders... meeting!

It was amazing to discuss these questions and to get/give feedback on our strategies. My brain was hurting! It was pretty intense – we even had a random woman buy us a round of drinks when she saw us working until 7pm on a Sunday, haha. Here are a few of my main take-aways from the meetings:

  • Our team has come a long way! We were in a pretty rough spot last February, but we have really turned around and come back strong. I’m excited about the things we’re currently working on and can’t wait to see where another 6 months takes us!
  • That said, I feel we have a long way to go in developing and articulating our strategy. These meetings were an AMAZING opportunity to push my strategic thinking and articulation further, so it’s something I’m passionate about pushing forward over the next 4 months. More to come on this blog!
  • I think we need to invest a LOT more in understanding influence pathways for the agric sector (specifically public sector) in Accra. We’ve been trying to find out how to leverage our relationships, but there’s actually a lot of ground work that still needs to be done before we can do that.
  • I’m also excited to build on more of the strong synergies between the 3 agric teams in Ghana – our public sector team, the Agric Value Chains team and Business Development Services. We’re all doing similar exciting things, and I hope we can find systematic ways of sharing and learning from each other.
  • We really need to plan ahead, but it’s really HARD to plan ahead. Yeah, big learning, right? I’m being asked to project how many African Programs Staff we’re going to need in the next year, but it’s so hard to tell – will we still be searching? prototyping? scaling something up? doing a pilot in 2 districts, or 20 districts? At least I’m really happy to work for an organization that is so flexible and will allow us to adapt (to a certain degree) as things change. Pretty cool!
  • EWB is exciting! We are developing a really inspiring model and I feel the African Programs vision is pretty inspiring as well. It makes me proud to work for such an organization and to be invested in the leadership of EWB 🙂

    Kids fishing in Lake Bosumtwe

After the last day of meetings, I headed to Accra to fly to Canada. I arrived on a Saturday morning, was greeted by my lovely family, and whisked away to the cottage. It was spectacular!

Flying over Niagara Falls

After an exhausting month, 10 days at the cottage of eating, sleeping, drinking and dock-sitting was just what I needed. It was super-relaxing and we had beautiful weather (most of the time!).

I convinced the whole family to try P90X Ab Ripper - on the deck at the cottage!

After that, I returned home for a few days of errands, catching up with friends and visiting with my Gramma. It wasn’t long, and before I knew it (2 weeks to the day) I was back on a plane to Ghana! But I’ve arrived back feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, ready to dive into the “fall semester” – our busiest time of the year!

Enjoying the cottage - near Parry Sound, Ontario

Of course this first week back in Ghana has been a bit nuts, trying to get caught up with everyone and everything. I’m working on the budget and “strategic plan” for our team for next year, which is difficult to say the least. But it’s been amazing to get home, unwind and unpack. Ben and I just moved to a new place right before I left for Kumasi. We’re still settling in, but so far it’s wonderful – both the house and the family we’re living beside. All in all, I’m getting ready for a great few months until Christmas!

It’s rainy season here in the north, and we were hit with a monster rainstorm yesterday afternoon. Don and I had a fun bike ride home from the office to discover that not only were all the dirt roads flooded, but the paved ones too! A few pics to tell the tale:

Old Gumani Road under water

Our front yard under water

That’s all for now. Just a quick update! I hope I’ll be back to some more regular blogging soon – I’ve got a few in the pipeline that I’m looking forward to writing, so stick around!