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…

2 thoughts on “The spray was of a bittersweet fragrance…

  1. This was really informative Marc – thanks! I always want to know as much as possible about the realities of development work and having that long-term impact picture is so useful. Not everyone realizes that NGOs have the ability to do more harm than good.

    Leah

    • Thanks Leah, I’m glad that you enjoyed the post!

      I agree that when designing projects, it would be important to think about broader impact, or at least thoroughly analyze the shortcomings of past interventions that have happened in a similar region. Currently, there doesn’t seem to be anybody thoroughly documenting these issues and sharing them at a wide-scale…. Mistakes happen, but when it concerns people’s health, they shouldn’t happen twice!

      On the topic of unforeseen (or foreseen…) impact of NGOs: many projects use the Ministry of Food and Agriculture’s (MoFA) staff to implement their vision, get their desired outcome, and secure their funding from the foreign donor. Often the contract is signed between the National or Regional level of MoFA and the NGO. Small financial contributions are also sometimes given to distrcit staff for implementing these projects. The result? Not being able to deliver district-driven projects that farmers here actually need and which should be the actual job of the extension staff.

      Last Tuesday one of my Agricultural Extension Agent had planned his whole day, which consisted of monitoring demonstration plots to teach farmers about the usage of inoculants with soybeans. Instead he learnt that morning that he was going to jump in an NGO truck and translate for the program implementers, hired Ghanaians from the south who do not know the local language. These people did not even give him a correct time estimate, what was supposed to take an hour ended up taking six. Needless to say, the farmers didn’t learn about inoculants…

      Anyways, have a great day Leah and see you soon!

      Marc-André

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