À travers des yeux d’enfants (des choses, on en apprend!)… [session #4]

If somebody ever tells you that there is something better than little feet running after your bicycle so that little hands can pull the hair from your legs, you are talking to a liar my friend.

I love the children from my compound.  I love how they shriek my name when they see me, I love how fist-pounding still hasn’t gotten old after three months and a half, and I love how genuinely excited they become for seemingly mundane things.   Laundry by hand?  An occasion to have soap all over their little faces!  A plate on the ground?  An incredible rolling toy that can be amusing for hours!  A visit to the farm?  A parade through the village and a game of bug catching!  Everyday life?  An incredible adventure…

The small ones, shelling shea nuts with me!

Population boom is an issue in rural Ghana.  Last year, only ten people died in my village but more than sixty were born.  According to the Assembly Man, if you would visit each compound in the community, you would find at least one pregnant woman.  People seem to be aware of contraceptive measures, but it is believed that labour is needed on the farm and polygamous relationships lead to many children.  Many, many little feet to run after bicycles but also many, many little mouths to feed, little minds to educate, and little hands to fist-pound.

A few nights ago, I was sitting on my favourite wooden bench with the straw roof close to my house with a few of my fellow Dagban men.  I was proudly told that about thirty years ago, my landlord could come home with three antelopes after a day of hunting.  I listened and learnt about the days when the forest surrounded the village and the neighbouring farms.  The days when lions and wild game roamed were painted beautifully for me with the few shared words we hold dear.

One of my host mothers, looking over some of the many, many little ones!

When I went to the farm this weekend, a small boy caught a flying bird with his skills and slingshot.  This is the extent of the hunting possible today.  Many, many small mouths had eaten all of the wild animals.

In my three months and a half here, I’ve noticed some of the little hands grow bigger and bigger.  Soon, these hands will start looking for seeds and land to start feeding their own families.  Soon, they’ll be having their own little ones.   Soon, the days when land was available to farm might be told sitting on the bench at night at the same time as the story about the antelopes.

Salamanu and his siblings, always growing...!

The world is changing.  Farming is turning chemical, yields and pollution are both increasing.  The youth is slowly getting educated and there is a mass exodus to the cities.  Land might not be the issue, but without proper planning, unforeseen consequences, like the disappearance of the antelope could certainly happen.

The world is changing, but laundry should always be a game and it should always be possible to transform a plate into the most wonderful toy.  Soon, I’ll be changing the way I live drastically, and moving halfway across the world. I’ve spent three months and a half, to have more questions than I had before starting.  Hopefully I’ll remember the answer to one key question though, as answered without uttering a word from the wisest of them all.

Everyday life?  An incredible adventure…

Living the adventure.

The spray was of a bittersweet fragrance…

“We have been trained on the usage of weedicide for our maize fields by an NGO called Teach-Tech who came to our community.  Teach-Tech provided us with training on when to use the chemicals and how to do it safely.  We were also given a knapsack, boots, and a mask.”  – Mr. Abdulai, the chairman of a farmer group in the Northern Region

Many Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) come to communities in Ghana to teach farmers about different technologies and have been doing so for many years.  Sometimes these NGOs directly ask staff from the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) to help in the implementation of projects and other times they conduct their programs without even informing the district MoFA office.  In most cases, these projects only last for the duration of the funding from a foreign donor country and the long-term impact of the intervention is not evaluated.  Neglecting the bigger picture can sometimes have disastrous consequences.

Mechanization, one of many changes in agriculture.

Teach-Tech ran a program a few years ago without informing MoFA in randomly selected districts in the Northern Region.  The focus was to increase the usage of different chemicals by farmers to increase their yields.  Selected farmer groups went through a series of sessions and were then provided with safety gear to do the spraying on their own.  The training had a theoretical component, where farmers would learn about concepts like the quantity of weedicide needed and the appropriate time of application for various crops.  The trainers also went to the farmers’ fields to demonstrate how to apply each product.   Most of the farmers that have been trained by Teach-Tech are spraying their fields while following best practices and use the provided safety equipment.  They also dispose of used cans correctly and hence reduce long-term negative health effect.  The usage of appropriate chemicals has also increased their yields and the neighbouring farmers, who have not been trained by Teach-Tech, have started asking questions and adopting spraying on their own farms.  On the surface, this seems like an incredible tech adoption success story.

Sarosate, a popular weedicide here in Ghana.

Upon deeper investigation though, it is apparent that farmers who have not been trained by Teach-Tech are only learning about the timing and the type of chemicals to use on their fields.  Safety procedures are not transferred to farmers outside of the initial group, since this knowledge is not directly necessary to have increased yields.  These other farmers also do not have the necessary safety equipment including boots and masks.  Farmers that were not part of the initial training borrow knapsacks from farmers who do have them or buy them in town to be able to spray, since this is driven by necessity, but in general do not seem to bother to get the safety equipment.  Since contact from the chemicals does not cause immediate health issues, farmers do not necessarily associate the increased number of respiratory problems and other illnesses in the community to the inappropriate usage of chemicals.

In the long-term though, inappropriate application of chemicals can have serious negative consequences on the health of farmers, leaving them unable to farm and hence threaten the food security of their families.  The impact has started to show itself in the community already and is measurable by the increase of visits by men to the local clinic.  MoFA was not aware of the program to make sure that technology diffusion was being done inappropriately.  Signs of necessary intervention were only apparent after people started getting seriously ill.

These funky and awesome kids are the reason why we need to think long-term...

Teach-Tech is not a real organization but the problem it represents is real and pressing.  Currently many different players try to influence farmers without having a common strategy.  This is one of the many reasons that it’s important to demand transparent foreign aid in Canada and collaboration with established governmental structures in recipient countries.  We need to be aware, and critical, of the impact our country and other developed countries are having in the world.  The longer I work in development, the more I see examples of short-sighted interventions…