I went on some job-shadowing visits recently to see how a large baseline survey was being conducted on behalf of USAID’s ‘Feed the Future’ initiative in Ghana. The inner cynic in me thought this would be a great opportunity to trail a project from the very beginning to document problems with implementation from the outset. Instead, I was humbled by the people we visited and reminded once again of the persevering nature of Ghanaian farmers.
I started the day around 6AM with Stephen, one of the MoFA district staff from Kpandai. We headed out on a two hour motorcycle ride far into the neighbouring district of Nunumba South to a village called Monchani, well off the beaten path and at least an hour of hard riding from the district capital. After an intense journey through countless streams, over boulders and gravel, and dodging herds of goats and cows, we finally arrived.
Due to the distance from the district capital, Monchani rarely gets any type of agricultural developmental assistance – it’s just too difficult to get there by the road for most projects. In fact, they don’t even have a regular MoFA extension agent who comes to their community.
After initially greeting the village chief and elders, we were taken to their fields to do field plotting by GPS and to establish yield plots. These will later be used to determine average agricultural yields in the community and help in assessing which types of projects or interventions would be most useful to them.
While walking to their farms on winding rocky dirt paths too dangerous to take our motorcycles down, Jonathon, a recent high school grad, explained the local farming situation to me. Low soil fertility coupled with grazing animals had made farming nearby impractical, and the community members had to move farther away from their houses to farm to find suitable land. As a result, the community was farming almost 2 kilometres away, both on the side of, and in the valley below a small mountain cliff.
I was shocked due to the distances the farmers would have to travel every day. With each step we took down the steep hill, I couldn’t help but think of the women in the community who would have to travel that same way back during harvest season, carrying heavy loads of maize, yam and rice on their heads. This idea hit home when we reached the bottom of the hill and met a women starting to make the journey back the way we came. Her friendly nature shone through, smiling for a picture and trying to answer some questions I had. She explained that they needed to farm where the land would provide for them, and that meant having to travel further away every year.
I couldn’t help but be humbled by the attitudes of the farmers I met that day. Without receiving any outside help to tackle the problem of soil fertility near to their homes, they did what they had to do to provide for their families. Even though this entailed daily treks to the farms before hours of manual labour and backbreaking walks back with heavy loads, this was accepted with minimal complaints. These farmers would easily benefit from good agricultural practices that MoFA tries to promote, but they weren’t being provided with the extension due to poor planning and even poorer infrastructure. Although I was frustrated with the situation, the farmers of Monchani were accepting. Of course they would like help if it was provided, but they were determined to persevere despite it.
After we returned to the village at the end of a long day, this idea was displayed again by some of the children playing nearby. Like all Ghanaian children, they were obsessed with football (soccer) but didn’t have an actual soccer ball to play with. This didn’t slow them down at all – they used what they had and were having a friendly match using a previously eaten orange.