Good Things Growing in Ghana
It’s planting season in one of the harshest environments in Africa: Northern Ghana. Farmers here face a challenging climate with just one rainy season per year, and soils that have suffered from years of erosion. But Ghanaian farmers and CFTC’s community-based partners who support them are digging deep and using their ingenuity to increase crop yields. Some have even been able to put a little money aside for a better tomorrow.
As farming families prepare the land, they face not just climactic challenges but also some simple, logistical ones. For example, there’s an extreme shortage of farming tools and machinery, making it difficult for farmers to maximize their land’s potential.
The cascade effect of poor rainy seasons from one to the next means that it is very difficult for farmers to store enough food to feed their own families, never mind sell to earn a small profit.
All disposable income needs to go to buy food at markets, and at escalating prices. This leaves little for the basics: healthcare, or education for children.
Crop failure for farmers (many of whom are women) in a country like Ghana means more than just loss of plentiful harvest. Without a reliable source of income farming families cannot meet the nutritional needs of their children. They cannot pay the school fees to enroll their children in school – or cover the costs of medical support when needed.
But there is creative and innovative work taking place in the Northern Region of Ghana, the country`s poorest, led by RAINS, the Regional Advisory Information and Network Systems. RAINS is based out of Tamale, and works in the impoverished rural communities Zoosali, Kpachelo, Bidima and Sang.
Here, they offer small business and agronomic training to help farmers reach their maximum potential. One of the major issues confronting farmers in Northern Ghana is a lack of access to ploughs to prepare land for planting. Without ploughs, farmers must rely on hand tools to break the uneven and rocky terrain: a slow, backbreaking process that results in late sowing and poor harvests. RAINS has overseen cooperative plough-sharing services and is providing increased access to animal traction services so more farmers in rural communities can prepare and plant their crops in time to reap the maximum benefit from their land.
RAINS is also supporting 170 farmers to produce at least one high-value crop of rice, sorghum or soybean in addition to their traditional crops. RAINS provides micro-credit to these organic farmers, all women, in Sang. Collateral-free micro-loans allow members to purchase high-quality seeds, fertilizers, tools and hire labour for planting and harvesting. These women have now developed a two-year track record of saving and re-investing the income they are earning through increased crop yields. On a recent monitoring trip to Ghana, Mueni Udeozor – CFTC’s Program Manager for Ghana and Uganda – reported the excitement and sense of empowerment these women shared with her: “It was incredible to see how some of these women are now involved in [programs] that encourage them to save and use their savings to make their dreams a reality. Their excitement and ability to manage their own funds was inspiring.”
Even in 2010, a year of delayed rain, the training and equipment that these farmers have received has led to increased yields from these high-value crops and allowed these farmers to set some money and importantly, seed, aside for next season. Moving from subsistence farming – in which just enough to last a family for the season is produced – to the ability to raise and sell cash crops, with additional support to market and network with other farmers – is creating a burgeoning farming community, benefiting the region directly and indirectly. As farmers become more prosperous, funds then become available for other community development programs, including schools, health, hygiene and sanitation endeavours.
Although early, these gains will translate into long-term impact on the health of children and the quality and sustainability of livelihoods within the community as a whole. CFTC can already see that RAINS’ integrated approach is benefiting children, with school construction, teacher training, savings and loans associations and other community capacity-building initiatives all contributing to an overall rise in household income and quality of life.