Hey everyone! Here in Ghana I’m at the mid-placement retreat of Engineers Without Borders, to reconnect with all the Junior Fellows and some African Program Staff and plan the second half of my placement. It seemed appropriate to post this piece that I had in my drafts for a while, to talk about work and have an excuse to wish you Happy Canada Day and that I saw an elephant at Mole National Park yesterday (pictures to come!)! Thanks for reading!
The wind is loud in my ears and is further amplified by my big, black helmet. I’m hanging on to the back of a motto speeding on a red, rocky dirt road and it’s early in the morning. The scenery is beautiful and I see a few early rising farmers already working in their fields.
“That’s my farmer!” proudly yells the Agricultural Extension Officer (AEA), Mr Emmanuel, for the hundredth time. I barely hear him, but I’ve figured out what he’s been saying. I like this guy.
I spent every morning of last week doing interviews with different AEAs to better understand the process which leads to farmers adopting new technologies. I stayed in Karaga and lived in officer quarters, kneeled and greeted chiefs, walked around hand in hand with grown men, asked many questions, and received my fair share of guinea fowl eggs as presents from the various communities. I learned a lot about behaviour changes of farmers, the topic I was researching and even more about the work and challenges of the extension staff, simply by immersing myself in their daily lives.
The office where I work is full of inefficiencies. This is supposedly common of many offices of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, at least in Northern Ghana. Computers, provided by NGOs, are few and people trained to use them competently are even fewer. Information flow from the national level, where most decisions are made, is not clear. AEAs are understaffed, under-resourced, and undervalued. This leads to sub-par performance in certain cases.
The office where I work is full of passionate people. This also appears to be a common thread across offices. Agricultural Extension Agents spend some of their own money to buy fuel to do field visits, live far from their families and only see them on weekends, and always talk about how to improve the Ministry, farming, and the livelihood of their beloved farmers. They do great work and when you visit the communities under their responsibilities, often farther than an hour motto ride from their living quarters, you see the impact that they are having directly on the ground. They contribute directly to real development. They are currently distributing seeds on a Sunday, here at the office. These people are changing rural Ghana. Fo’ real.
Millions and millions of dollars are spent every year in agriculture in Northern Ghana. Foreign and local staff is trained to give workshops on chemical application, post-harvest technologies, bookkeeping (practiced often taught to illiterate farmers… weird and in most cases ineffective), or any other topic that is the current trendy in the donor country. AEAs are sometimes enlisted to help, further diverting their resources from their own work, and other times not even informed of the interventions, making it nearly impossible for them to keep track of the future needs of their communities.
The money exists and trained, passionate Ghanaian government workers are also already present in the field. I don’t have millions of dollars, a position as a distinguished policy analyst in a rich Western country, or years of field experience. I don’t have a C.V. full of development experience, and heck I’m studying engineering not even development. I can clearly see a possible solution to at least part of this problem though. Why not invest in long-term change-agents who made a life-long commitment to changing farmers’ lives for the better?
In Canada, we have a state-funded, free education system up to the secondary level and government subsidies for post-secondary institutions. This is a great accomplishment, and even though some improvements could always be made, this is directly contributing to the knowledge economy of our country. Do we have private foreign projects, passing as government approved curriculum, teaching our children basket-weaving, witchcraft, or hen raising during school hours or do we have a well-funded, independent education system? That’s what I thought.