J’ai entrevu en entrevues…

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.

Greeting some swell farmers, before an interview!

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.

Documenting farmer visit, on the way back from interviews!

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?

These are my people, my passionate people!

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.

4 thoughts on “J’ai entrevu en entrevues…

  1. Salut Marc!
    Eastern Retreat Magic also just happened this Canada Day long weekend!! I think everyone is feeling super empowered and motivated, I’d love to share stories! I’m curious, do you know if the AEAs similarly motivated in other districts? Where do they draw their motivation from? It sounds epic🙂 Also, what do you think are some of the obstacles preventing them from receiving proper funding? I.e. Lack of political will, measurable results, funds

    Keep up your great work!
    Leah

    • Salut, salut Leah!

      I’m super happy that Eastern Retreat was great, it’s always fun to connect with a bunch of EWBers, agreed! Personally I think that at least in rural regions, AEAs must be motivated by their impact on farmers, because the environment is not super conducive to them getting outside recognition for their hard work. Of course, some of the AEAs probably only work for the government to have excellent job security (since it’s pretty much impossible to sack a bad government worker… another problem), but most of the AEAs I’ve interacted with genuinely seem to be moved by a real desire to improve farmers’ lives. I think that increasing the recognition they get for their work could potentially be a good way to increase overall performance of district offices but that’s another story…

      Hum, I think that there are many factors preventing appropriate funding. In part, institutions like the World Bank seem to be pushing the Ghanaian government to stop spending in government services and rather try to foster private enterprises. This translates to a hiring freeze across MoFA – it’s currently only possible to replace retired or dead employees. I also think that a certain lack of political will and even knowledge of the realities in some of the most rural district is a major obstacle to appropriate funding. The government in Ghana is still very centralised and most decisions are made in Accra at the National level or Tamale in the Northern Region. These places tend to have much better facilities and the decision-makers don’t generally see the realities in the district very often. Finally the capacity of the District Director of Agriculture commitment to getting money for his district also seems to be a big variable in different funding levels.

      Thanks for your questions, it definitely makes me think! Also I think that it’s important to keep in mind that I’m by no means an expert on this stuff, these are basically just naïve observations based on a few months of experience working in the environment.

      Thanks again for your comments Leah,

      Marc-André

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