Time seems to fly by in Ghana.
It’s been more than a month since my last update – time I’ve spent travelling around different districts in the Northern Region. I left Kpandai, went back to Tamale for a meeting with the rest of the team, then went up to Gushegu for a week before finally getting to Saboba yesterday. I’ll be here for a week at least before heading down south to Kumasi and Cape Coast.
My goal for these visits is to try and contrast some of the findings I saw in Kpandai with other districts – finding commonalities with approaches to extension work, what works well in different contexts, that sort of thing. Beyond that, I’m hoping to gain better insights into how the Ministry of Food and Agriculture actually works, and what the reality is like for district level field staff – the front line workers who are tasked with working with smallholder farmers on a daily basis and on whose shoulders’ MoFA’s success ultimately lies.
What I’ve been finding is a series of constraints common to all districts that seem to be keeping the extension agents from effectively doing their jobs. These constraints are all well-understood and accepted by everyone at the district level and are apparently also well known at higher levels of MoFA, but not taken into account when new projects get rolled out, and are seemingly never addressed with an attempt to mitigate them.
The three main issues that keep coming up wherever I am are lack of motorcycles for staff, lack of fuel allowances, and lack of adequate accommodation.
MoFA has a motorcycle policy right now stating that AEAs are supposed to get a motorcycle every three years, which they pay back through a percentage deduction in their salary. I’ve been meeting AEAs that have been with the Ministry for over 20 years that have yet to receive one, which is telling. AEAs usually need to have their own personal motorcycle to use to do their work, or will rent/borrow one if they need to travel to distant villages, which happens frequently.
Currently, MoFA staff are granted a fuel allowance to cover their extension work – a good practice to help them visit farmers more often and to monitor on-going projects. The problem comes with the implementation of the allowance. Historically, the fuel allowance was paid on a monthly basis, which has changed to a quarterly basis. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem in itself, but the allowances are consistently late. The fuel allowance for the fourth quarter of 2010 was only paid out in the first months of 2011, which forced AEAs to cut into their own salaries to do the work required of them. There are other issues with the fuel allowance, namely that it was calculated when fuel costs were almost half of what they are now and that they don’t take actual travel distance into account – AEAs from metro areas that might have 5km round trips get the same allowance as someone from a rural district with a 20km round trip. These costs can obviously add up over the months and years.
The last constraint is tangentially related to the first two. Agricultural extension agents are supposed to be living in their operational areas, closer to the farmers they to work with to be a presence in the area to highlight good farming practices. This rarely happens, especially in the newer districts in the north, as they aren’t provided with accommodation in these areas. This causes AEAs to live farther away, usually in the district capital area, which leads to less face time with farmers to develop relationships and promote new technologies. Also, being farther away, AEAs need to travel greater distances and use more fuel to do their work.
The MoFA staff I’ve been visiting have all been dedicated to their jobs – they’re passionate about working with farmers, hoping to improve food security and reduce poverty in the region by teaching farmers about new technologies and techniques to farming. It’s unfortunate that they aren’t given all the opportunities that they’re supposed to be given in order to do this.
I should say that these constraints are easy to identify, but much harder to solve. No one person, or even a select group can be held responsible for these shortcomings. There are funding issues, political issues and general bureaucratic issues that seemingly combine to create this perfect storm of ineffectiveness. At the end of the day, however, it’s the smallholder farmers that are ultimately losing out on the work that MoFA can, and should be, doing.