Thoughts from an agricultural development gal in Ghana

A Tale of Two Projects

This is the story of two projects, one MoFA office and a case of bad coordination.

In early 2010, a prominent project came to my office, the Tamale Metropolitan office of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture. One of the project’s aims was to provide training and inputs to farmers in a bid to increase production (this is a VERY common project design in northern Ghana). They wanted to enlist the help of our Agricultural Extension Agents (AEAs) to carry out the implementation, in exchange for a small sum (also very common). The first step was to form groups of 50 farmers, each with one acre of land to contribute toward the project.

But it was not enough to just identify the farmers and their land. Like every project, this one was required to communicate their progress back to their funders in the West. As part of their monitoring, they had to send back a GPS map showing the location of every piece of land that was part of the project. That is 50 one-acre farms per farmer group, with anywhere from 1-3 groups per AEA, for 20 AEAs. That’s about 2000 individual one-acre farms, all shown on a GPS map.

And who do you think had to do that mapping, to go out into the field and walk around the perimeter of each farm with a GPS unit in hand? That’s right, the MoFA AEAs.

With only two GPS units in the office, this mapping procedure dragged on for months. Some AEAs only took half the data, while some managed to avoid doing it altogether. But eventually, the project kicked some butt and all the AEAs finished the mapping. Hours and hours of fieldwork, all to send a progress report to a donor in the West who probably won’t even look at the map.

Tahiru, an AEA in Tamale

Later in 2010, another project came to visit my MoFA office. This project was focused more on market linkages than training farmers. They were aiming to develop a database containing  information for marketers – farmers’ names, contact info, location, main commodities, volumes, etc. They were looking for some sample data to populate their database and they had selected the 50-person farmer groups set up by the first project to use as the sample data.

One of the pieces of data required for the database was the GPS coordinates of the farms. The project brought one GPS unit and asked the AEAs to go around to each farm and mark it on the GPS. Of course they would provide a small sum for this work to be done.

No one protested. They took the money and did the EXACT SAME WORK ALL OVER AGAIN.

A farmer's field outside Tamale

During the time taken to collect GPS data, whether for donors or marketers, the AEAs were not fulfilling their core role as extension agents. Their time was taken up by projects, away from solving farmers’ problems, away from responding to farmers’ needs and away from delivering agricultural information. The AEAs were used as information-gathering tools, rather than a means to actually reach out to farmers. And this was not just one day – this was weeks and weeks of work. You can imagine my frustration at finding out that this was done not once, but twice in the same year.

Mustapha, an AEA in Tamale

The development industry is a funny thing. Here in Tamale, several NGOs exist solely for the purpose of bidding on and implementing donor projects. They don’t have one specific mission, they don’t do their own project design, and they aren’t particularly discerning in the types of projects they bid on. They’re in it for the money.

So what’s the kicker in this story? These two projects were implemented by the EXACT SAME NGO. The project staff sat next to each other in the same office, but never talked enough to know that they were collecting the same GPS data.

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10 responses

  1. Kristina

    Wow.

    October 20, 2011 at 6:24 pm

  2. Siera Vercillo

    OMG seriouos-o

    October 20, 2011 at 6:45 pm

  3. I can still remember the extreme frustration on the face of this MoFA office’s Director when he told me this story. He was angry and loudly decrying the NGO, but at the same time has his hands tied because he: 1) needs their funds to keep the office going 2) needs them to like his office because that NGO is influential and he’ll need support from outside/funding groups in the future.

    This is a terrible, distorting disfunction in how Ministries of Food and Agriculture are “supported” by outside groups throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

    October 20, 2011 at 8:38 pm

  4. alex

    Hey, Erin,
    I saw something very similar happen in Malawi when I was working with Health Surveillance Assistants. A program run by an NGO wanted to deliver bednets to all households in two districts. The HSAs spent a total of 3 weeks on the project, first registering all household in their villages (they already had this info but had to go out to the feild and collect it anyway), then copy the forms three times, then the AEHOs had to go and validate the information then they were supposed to spend a week delivering the nets. Everyday the Maganga Health Center (where I was working) was told they were going to deliver nets the next day and every day the nets ever came. In the end the HSAs wasted 3 weeks worth of time and other activities suffered (especially Community Led Total Sanitation, CLTS). Whats worse is that i found out the SAME thing happened last year to Maganga, run by the SAME NGO. In the aftermath the villages were distrustful of the HSAs and wouldn’t listen or gather when they went to visit their villages. This didn’t happen at just one Health Center either, I know of atleast two others that didn’t receive their nets. So frustrating!!!

    October 21, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    • Yikes, same story, different country! Thanks for sharing Alex.

      October 26, 2011 at 11:04 am

  5. “These two projects were implemented by the EXACT SAME NGO. The project staff sat next to each other in the same office, but never talked enough to know that they were collecting the same GPS data.”

    Did they really not know, or know but did it anyway…? Either way: bring on geo-coded, project level aid transparency.

    October 26, 2011 at 8:45 am

    • My inside scoop tells me they really didn’t know, unbelievable though it sounds. But does it really matter? I guess a different problem to solve… assuming they’d be incentivized to NOT waste people’s time… Anyway, thanks for reading!

      October 26, 2011 at 11:05 am

  6. Pingback: Development Digest – 28/10/11 « What am I doing here?

  7. This is rather disheartening….

    November 19, 2011 at 2:25 am

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