Or – What I’m trying to do at the moment
It’s been a busy few weeks since my last post. I went to Navrongo and Bolga in the Upper East Region of Ghana, first to shadow another volunteer on my team, Brian, then to go to the West African Retreat (or WAR) where all the EWBers from Ghana and Burkina Faso get together for a weekend of sharing, learning and bonding. Lots of great times, but that isn’t really the focus of this post, so I’ll have to push it off until another time.
I wanted to write briefly about what I’m actually doing at the moment, since a lot of people have been asking of late. Right now, I’m in Kpandai, which is a small town in the south-east part of the Northern Region. I’ll be here for most of the month, visiting farmers and talking to Agricultural Extension Agents (AEAs), trying to better understand why certain agricultural technologies are not being adopted in the region. These technologies seem fairly basic, such as using improved inputs (seeds, fertilizers) or techniques (row planting, irrigation) and were important in driving the Green Revolutions in both Asia and South America, but for some reason aren’t taking off to the extent they should be in Africa.
It’s a pretty complex problem that bright minds around the world have been studying for the last few decades. Luckily, I’ve got two months, some sunscreen and a motorcycle, so I’m fairly confident I’ll have everything solved in short order.
From reviewing current research, it’s evident that there are a lot of different factors at play when it comes to farmers not adopting these technologies. Many of them are external constraints (ie. lack of finances, lack of information, lack of appropriate technology) while there are also some social constraints that come into play (ie. lack of interest, lack of will, etc.). At this point, I’m sceptical that the social constraints are the dominating ones, even though the majority of district staff that I’ve talked to seem to believe this to be the case. Basically, I’m not sold on the idea that this all boils down to farmers being either too lazy or too stupid to want to better their own livelihoods.
Having said that, I’m not ruling out social factors as being important when it comes to farmers not adopting certain technologies. Last week, during my first few days here in Kpandai, I went to visit two spot irrigation projects in villages that were about 50 km apart. It’s the dry season right now in Ghana, and MoFA is trying to help farmers with vegetable farming to diversify their crops and income sources throughout the year.
Both project groups were provided with the same inputs (irrigation reservoirs, improved seeds, watering cans, etc.) and had similar plots of land and training from MoFA staff. When I went to interview one of the groups, the majority of the discussion was centered around how difficult the farming was – how they needed to constantly water the plots and how they weren’t seeing the results they wanted. It seemed like the majority of the farmers had actually given up on watering their plots. They said they were interested in continuing the project next year, but wanted pumping machines and hoses to make the work easier.
When I went to talk to the second group, although there was some discussion about the difficulties surrounding the watering, most people weren’t concerned, saying that previously nothing was able to grow in the area and so even if the work was hard, it was still worth it to be able to grow things during the dry season. They were seeing better results and were interested in expanding the program next year. They were even talking about working together to farm larger plots in the years to come.
All other things being equal, the apparent success of one group over the other seemed to come down to social dynamics. One group was willing to put in the time and effort required to realize the benefits of the project, while the other was not. The district staff that I talked to after the fact all thought this to be the case, and I’ve been hard pressed to come up with another answer.
My instinct is telling me this case will be more of an exception than the rule, but it’s going to be an interesting few weeks seeing if this ends up being true.