Monday, November 29, 2010

Agricultural Innovation in Ghana

The Worldwatch Institute, an environmental research organization based in Washington D.C., recently toured Ghana in search of innovations as part of a two year evaluation of sustainable agriculture across sub-Saharan Africa. While conducting research for the project, Worldwatch’s Nourishing the Planet team found that a new generation of agricultural innovators has emerged from farmers’ groups, private voluntary organizations, NGOs and universities.

While these organizations span a large variety of industries and disciplines, they all share the common goal of equipping Ghanaian farmers with the tools to alleviate hunger and poverty. Nourishing the Planet researchers met with a variety of organizations that are working to revive sustainable development in Ghana, such as the Ecumenical Association for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (ECASARD), based in Accra. Since its establishment in 1991, ECASARD has connected with over 32,000 farmers in 7 regions of southern and central Ghana in order to help them organize into business associations and cooperatives. By working with individual villages and especially encouraging women and youth to get involved, ECASARD “works with the root” and builds upwards. ECASARD’s dedication to small farmers, for example, is seen in the Abooman Women’s Group, who received funding to form a cooperative of women interested in learning how to raise and care for dairy cows.

Danielle Nierenberg, a senior researcher with the Worldwatch Institute and co-director of Nourishing the Planet, traveled across Ghana to learn firsthand from the leaders of these organizations and the communities that have benefitted from the innovations. Nierenberg reported that, “Throughout Ghana and everywhere I’ve traveled in Africa, I’ve seen examples of Africa-led innovations working in sustainable ways to alleviate hunger and poverty.” In Anamaase, Nierenberg met with the New Frontier Farmers and Processor Group led by Osbararima Mana Tibi II, the village chief. Chief Mana Tibi told Nierenberg that he had wanted “to help revive farmland and improve the lives of the farmers” in his village, so he began thinking of ways to help farmers become more business-oriented. According to Chief Mana Tibi, one of the Group’s biggest accomplishments has been organizing palm oil processing groups within the village. Rather than collecting palm oil fruits and selling them to a processor, farmers can now boil, ferment, and press the fruits themselves, allowing them to make a better profit. In Cape Coast, Nierenberg also learned from fishermen and women who have long struggled with the fluctuations of the fish supply. While there is frequently too much seafood available on the market to make a profit during the summer months, later in the year there isn’t enough to sell in the community or even to feed their families.

Ghana’s Central and Western Fishmongers Improvement Association (CEWEFIA), however, brought together a group of 58 women who are now smoking and processing fish, which gives them extra income in the off-season. Not only are the members completely self-taught, they have also stabilized their income by sharing the cost of the materials as well as the profit. Only through the initiative to organize and collaborate with one another were these women able to provide food security for their community. Because many individual programs like these have the potential to be scaled up or replicated, it is important that donors and foundations can connect with the communities that could benefit from their funding.

“One of the goals of the project is to create a roadmap for the funding and donor community to ensure that the increasing amount of agricultural funding in Africa goes to projects that really work,” says Brian Halweil, co-director for Nourishing the Planet. “In addition, a local innovation working in rural Ghana might be something that could be scaled up or replicated in Kenya. We hope to connect projects together and help improve knowledge sharing.” Worldwatch and Nourishing the Planet project have constructed this roadmap for moving forward in their upcoming publication, State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet. The comprehensive report, to be released in January, focuses on the current state of food production and environmentally sustainable projects in Ghana and over 25 other sub-Saharan African countries. The project’s findings will be disseminated globally in 26 languages to a wide range of influential agricultural stakeholders, including government ministries, agricultural policymakers, farmer and community networks, and the increasingly significant non-governmental environmental and development communities.

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