Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The Beginning of the End

Well, it has suddenly dawned on me that my time in Ghana is very short.  In three short weeks I will be beginning my journey back home to Canada - and this is met with mixed emotions.  I am really enjoying my time in Ghana, I like the work - I love the people, but I do miss people back home terribly.  My family is eagerly awaiting my return, and I am really excited to see them all again.

I think the worst thing about leaving is the fact that I just don't know the answer to the most asked question I am getting right now.  Every time I see someone from work or that I have met throughout my adventures I get asked, "So, when you finish your schooling will you return to Ghana?"  I can't say for sure yes or no, because it all depends on what opportunities I have.  The answer I usually give is that it would all depend on if I can really engage in a project or job that brings me back!

Yesterday my host uncle (the head of the house) asked my how he would get in contact with me when I go back to Canada.  I have left my email with a couple people who are around, but I gave him my address in Weyburn.  He then told me that he is going to really miss having talks while the sun goes down, and I could see the truth of the works in his eyes.  It was probably the most touching moment I have had this summer - and I know I am really going to miss him too.

I think the biggest thing that is on my mind for when I get back to Canada is the changes that have happened and are going to happen.  A lot has gone on in my life and others lives this summer - and it is going to have a pretty big impact!  Every time I pull into Weyburn I will no longer be driving by the Carpet One to drop off paint and grout or stopping by, 'For just 15 minutes' to do some deliveries because my dad decided to sell the shop this summer.  This will be the first time in 20 years that I will no longer be a full time student during the year.  I only have one course during the fall so that is going to be different.  It will be te first time in my University career that I will not be calling Luther home - I lived there for five years and worked for Luther for the last three - that is going to be one of the big ones.  I think over the summer some relationships of mine have suffered, and others have grown - learning about who I was and who I am now is going to be the hardest thing of all.

The most comforting thought to me right now is the idea that every end is a new beginning.

 Travel to Kumasi for KK meetings : Wed      Aug 1
 KK meetings in Kumasi                  : Thurs    Aug 2
 AgEx team meetings in Kumasi      : Fri        Aug 3
 Travel to Suhum (Yayra Glover)     : Mon      Aug 6
 Return to Kukuom, say goodbye     : Fri        Aug 10
 Travel to Kumasi for final pres.       : Mon     Aug 13
 AgEx Meetings in Kumasi               : Fri        Aug 17
 JF Wrap up at Cape Coast                : Tues     Aug 21
 Fly to Canada via Amsterdam          : Fri        Aug 24
 JF debrief in Toronto                        : Sun       Aug 26
 Fly to Regina                                    : Tues     Aug 28

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Anything You Can Do...

For the next edition of my lists blogs, I am going to talk about the 5 things that I think Ghanians do better than Canadians, and the 5 things that Canadians do better than Ghanians.  I am trying to keep this one from pointing out differences that would be 'solved' through development, more societal and cultural differences.

Warning: These are just my viewpoints, in no way am I saying that these are things that should be changed in Ghana or Canada.  The list is just based off of my personal views of what I enjoy - I am not trying to say that anything is bad in comparison, both ways have their merits!

I will start with the things that Canadians do better than the Ghanians

Cultural Museum in Ottawa
Museums - In Canada, a museum is a well designed facility featuring thought provoking and informative artifacts and exhibits with well written descriptions of the history and purpose of the items on display.  I have visited one museum in Ghana, and talked to a few people to confirm that the experience was similar elsewhere.  It was the Ghanian Military Museum in Kumasi, and it featured various items - but no descriptions whatsoever.  I realize that this is probably because of the various languages used, and that not everyone can read - but their was also a distinct lac of any sort of tour guide.

Something tells me I won't get my BigMac
Restaurants - Well, there are some really nice restaurants that I have seen in Ghana, and even been to a few - but the majority of take out / food on the go that you can get is at the street 'chop' bars.  These are the people who sell various food from stalls on the road.  Selection can vary, but the standards are fish, rice, spaghetti, stew and cow meat.  I have eaten from these places, but sometimes the sanitation and food quality has me a little nervous.  I may just be a little sore because I haven't had a fast food meal in three months.  I want a McNugget.

Bathroom Necessities - This one has everything to do with toilet paper.  It is not a precious resource and I think that it would be nice to be able to go to a guesthouse or public washroom without having to double check that my roll is in my backpack. I like the fact that in Canada I don't have to carry around a roll.

Kumasi is fun!
City Design and Planning - The main difference between the bigger cities in Ghana and the large cities in Canada I have seen is that when a city in Canada is expanded and grows there is a clear design that keeps traffic moving.  From what I can tell from looking at maps, In Ghana this does not happen.  It is more of a 'this looks like a good spot! Lets build!'  Lots of the streets are winding and maze together at seemingly random intersection points.  This problem is compounded when you get to a major intersection and the traffic signals are pretty much ignored, causing huge delays in even well designed intersections.

Shopping - Going to a shopping mall or a grocery store and finding everything I really need for a weeks worth of meals, and not really being concerned that someone is ripping me off is a nice thing.  One nice little thing that I have taken for granted is walking to a store and (for the most part) not having to worry about weather something is in season or not dictating weather it is affordable - see the blog on 'Westernization' for the info on price swings.

Now for the things that Ghanians rock out on

Workshops in Tamale!
Transportation - Mass transit in Ghana is an interesting system.  It involves shared taxis, tro busses, and larger 'greyhound' style buses but when you learn the system it is actually really efficient.  The benefit of shared taxis and tros is that there is pretty much a fixed price to get from Point A to Point B, and even though it isn't scheduled you can usually find a car and be on the way in a fairly timely manner.  The same goes for tros, but they are mostly reserved for longer distances, or more heavily traveled routes.  The buses can go either way, I haven't traveled via the private bus companies - but the STC (yes, the government bus company here is called STC - and no it doesn't stand for the Saskatchewan Transport Company).  The buses are really nice, and the price isn't too outrageous and they leave on a 'schedule' - I haven;t been delayed more than an hour or so, but apparently that means I am lucky.

Portable Water - The pure water sachets.  These things are available in most of the places I have been, excluding some of the more remote villages.  The biggest difference between them and Canadian purified water is the cost - 500ml is about 7 cents in Ghana, where in Canada a 500ml is around $1.50.  The bottles are more travel friendly - but the bags also produce less waste and consume less materials. 

Drinking good beer must have been a second year course
Bad Habits - These are the little pleasures that people enjoy on occasion, that everyone knows is bad for us in some way or another.  Booze is cheep.  I tell people the cost for a drink in Canada at a bar, or even to buy from a shop and they are blown away - a 'tot' (shot) of most of the hard stuff is around 25 cents, or you can just buy a bag shot (booze in something like a soy sauce packet) for the same cost.  Beer is mostly served in 1L bottles and is around $1.60 a bottle, and for the most part there are some pretty decent brews.  I haven't bought a bottle because I like to be able to see - but there is local moonshine on sale for 6GhC for a liter bottle.  Also, smokes are something like $10 a carton. 

Mobile Phones - The cost to call people in Ghana is soooooo much better than in Canada.  The network coverage is a little bit more spotty (almost like Rogers coverage in SK... but not that bad), but the cost is just so good.  It is around 3cents / min to call network to network and 5cents / min to call off network.  It is 9cents /min for me to call Canada.  That is 1/3 of the cost of making international calls from Ghana over skype!  The phones are pretty much all based off of prepaid cards, which are available from many people who sell them on the streets - easy to spot because they all have big umbrellas over their spot.

Now drive through this.  I dare you.
Shopping - No I am not going crazy.  I know that this is one of the things I put on the Canadians list - but this is one of those situational things.  I really enjoy the market atmosphere - the noises, the smells, the people!  It is really amazing when you are walking through and you see the cloth vender and stop and chat as you are eyeing up that nice bolt of fabric, then go over and spy some really good looking pineapple, then dodge the guy with the wheelbarrow who wouldn't stop if he could.  It is a real push pull between convenience and atmosphere.  I wish the farmer markets were more like this!

OK! Thanks for sticking around till the end - You may have noticed a small poll on the left hand side of the blog.  If you would be so kind in directing me to what you would like to hear about, give it a little click.

Till next time,

Monday, 23 July 2012

The 10 Common Bits

Well, by the means of a very helpful 'If You Need Blog Ideas, Read This' letter (thanks Jeanniene!) I am going to start a series of blogs focusing on lists!

First edition - 10 Items I use every day in Ghana!

The Scrubberdoodle - I don't really know what this is actually called, but I use it on a daily basis.  It is kind of like the Ghanaian equivalent of a  loofah.  It is made of plastic and about feels kind of like rubbing yourself down with a pot scrubber - but once you get used to it, it is amazing.  These things are a godsend for keeping you squeaky clean and your skin all nice and exfoliated.  Whatever that means.

I keep the knife for the real tough ones
T-Roll - Call it what you want. T-roll, Toilet paper, poo tickets - it is something that you need to use on a fairly regular basis.  In Canada this isn't really a problem - you find a bathroom, you do your business, you clean up with the TP in the bathroom.  In Ghana this is not the case.  You carry your own around - not just for when you have to go in the bush, but for when you use any sort of public washroom or anything like that.  Some of the public places are nice enough to sell you t-roll, but even in some of the guesthouses I have stayed at it is a bring-your-own system. 

Flippy-Floppies - I have worn these things more in the last 3 months than I ever have in my life.  The basic rule of thumb is don't be barefoot, this helps avoid any creepy crawlies invading your body, any nasty cuts, and that really annoying thing where dirt gets stuck to the bottom of your foot and gets really uncomfortable and no mater what you do you can't get rid of it all. 

A Hanky - Another item that I never really saw the use for.  Until I started living in a place that when it is 27 degrees I am shivering.  This thing has been useful for keeping me from drowning in my own drippings, and it works really great for keeping all of the change in your pockets from falling out or getting lost!

This camera takes pictures of itself.  Narcisnap.
The 'Snap' Machine - This one isn't really a necessity, but for the amount of use this beauty has seen I had to include it on the list.  I have taken just under 1000 pictures so far, so that would be an average of around 5 a day.  Some of these have been good, some not so good - but I am definately glad I brought a compact point and shoot rather than a nice DSLR.  This thing has been in the lake, dropped in fufu, fallen off of a moto and sat on a few times and it is still truckin.  Good job Sony.

The Bucket - These buckets are used for everything.  Cleaning clothes, flushing toilets, getting water for food, ext. ext.  Almost anything that requires more than 500ml of water involves one of the numerous buckets around the compound. 
This would be the black one
Side Note:  The bucket hierarchy - There are quite a few buckets in the compound, knowing which one to use for which purpose is vital for smooth living and not having another person living in the compound run over and correct you.  
  • Purple Bucket - This is the bathing bucket.  Fill with the small blue bucket or the black bucket that has a grip on the handle
  • Little Blue Bucket - This is the filling bucket.  It is designated for transferring water from the rainbarrels to the other buckets.
  • Black Bucket (with grip) - This is another filling bucket (I think).  It gets used very rarely, I think it is specifically designated for transferring water from the rainbarrel that they fill with water from the bore hole.  I don't use this bucket out of fear.
  • Black Bucket (no gip) - This would be the toilet bucket.  Fill with the small blue bucket.  Do not attempt to use for any other purpose or risk the wrath of everyone around.
  • The Metal Bucket - This bucket is used washing clothes and sometimes water transfer.  The only person who uses it for transfer is the head of the house.  I do not.
  • The Basin - A large metal bowl used for washing clothes.  Fill with water from the purple bucket after you fill the purple bucket with the small blue bucket

Mirror: 2GhC Not Carving My Face: Priceless
The Mirror - This is used for obvious purposes.  Mainly shaving and assisting in contact lens removal and insertion.  Mirrors aren't really common, and I haven't gotten the hang of shaving by feel without ending up looking like I shaved with a chunk of rusty iron. 

The Plug Converter - Well, none of the plugs for anything I own work in Ghana - so a converter is a neccesity.  Bonus points go to the wicked power bar I found that has a volt meter (I have seen some places that are running around 260... I didn't plug anything in) and built in converters.  It is nice to be able to charge my phone and camera at the same time as well. 

I need to stop trying to take artsy pictures
Pure Watah - These little bags are very useful.  They are around 7 cents a piece, 500ml of good drinking water.  I have been warned against some brands as they may be less pure than the name implies.  You can find them fairly regularly and seeing a camping cooler with cold water is a very good feeling while sitting in a hot tro after a long day.

I REALLY need to stop...
The Magic Head Lamp Ft. Rechargeable Batteries - This baby is worth it's weight in gold.  Besides being able to take weird washed out pictures it is very useful for when the power is out and I would like to read, or do anything for that matter.  There is no better feeling when you wake up in the middle of the night and have to use the bathroom and can actually find your way without waking up everyone within hearing distance the buckets you will hit.

Stay tuned for the next blog, The 5 Things Ghanians Do Better Than Canadians and Visa Versa

Keep your stick on the ice,


Monday, 9 July 2012

The Westernization of Development

Welcome to my thought zone, and in this weeks edition I am going start talking about the the effect of western culture and values on development. 

Warning - these opinions are based off of my own observations and assumptions and may not hold true, but this is how I see it!

So, this week I am going to be talking about the differences between western and traditional agriculture and the way that markets operate. 

The biggest difference is in the marketing and sale of products.  In Western nations farmers and producers sell to large scale buyer corporations who then either process the goods themselves into something for mass scale sales, or act as middle men in order to facilitate the scale to large processing companies.  Due to the large number of purchasers available this has caused a relatively level market for crops, and no wide variance in crop prices.  The 30 year average price for wheat is 208.9USD / ton with a 5 year average at 366.58USD / ton.  The rate of change is at +0.40%, and +1.16% per year respectively.  This price change showed a weak correlation to the changes in Canada's CPI, but a correlation none the less.
This is a very small area of the larger Goaso market

Now, lets look at some Ghanaian crop markets.  The cocoa prices show many similarities to Canada's markets - this is because cocoa is an import crop, and the sale is controlled by a government body - the Cocoa Board (think wheat board).  The cocoa board sets the price per bag of cocoa based on the projected market price per ton, and that is what the PCs buy the cocoa for.  This is where the similarities start to grow.

In traditional market situations farmers grow crops, and then transport and sell the crops in an open market - just see the picture.  There are stalls selling the exact same goods all around - and from experience the prices for the products do not vary too much from stall to stall (bartering is a must in most cases - but the 'last' price is pretty much the same plus or minus half a cedei).  The issues in this system come in when you take into account the amount of time required for these activities! You cannot go to work on the farm, or do other things because you are stuck in the market all day trying to sell your goods, and if you do not sell the goods some of them may spoil soon before you may sell them.  The market style can also result in a large surplus of goods in agricultural areas with no way to transport the goods to larger markets.

Another word for plantain is 'future fufu'
To combat the need to take your own crops to market and crop transport a group of middlemen may form, and they take the roll of buying in bulk from farmers, and then transporting the goods to a larger market.  This system is broken.  Some farmers see no other options for selling their goods, to the point where they will have few choices other than to sell to the middlemen for a very low price.  Take the price of plantains for example.  This bunch of plantain currently sold for 13 GhC in the village because it is not the main harvest season and supply is down.  During harvest the price drops down to 3-5 GhC for the same bunch.  People have no choice than to sell to the middlemen who take the crop to larger markets, and they can only sell for around 2GhC per bunch.

Tractor farming in forests... not a good idea
Another big difference is in the way that the crops are produced.  Farming in Ghana and farming in Canada are two completely different ball games - it is hardly even the same sport!  In my area the farm is usually around 2 acres, with some farmers having more or less.  Tractors are used somewhat in the north but is impractical in the south because of the amount of trees.  This results in large amounts of manual labor on farms, and a huge time commitment. 

Now, what is the solution to this process.  Is it to create a western market where the buying companies can keep prices regulated?  Is it to create large scale industrial farms with more automation? 

The first problem with creating a new farming standard would be the shift in the amount of labor required for a farm.  If you think of a Canadian farm - lets say it is two sections.  That is 1280 acres.  If we say that a family of five laborers each have 2 acres of land to produce.  This 1280 acres would represent 640 workers, or 128 families.  If farmers were able to use large machinery like in Canada and farm more an equivalent amount of land that would mean that 127 families would need to find new sources of income.  For every four sections.  With estimates of Ghana's farm land sitting at around 155000 sq. km - or 38,301,334 acres.  In Western farming, assuming two sections per family, this would accommodate 29,923 farming families.  Assuming 10 acres per family this would mean that 3,800,210 families would need to find new sources of income.  I think that it is pretty clear that 'western' farming is not the answer to this problem.

So much choice! I look for the one with the biggest smile

Now, looking towards the markets.  If a western buying scheme were in place you would have to set up a new infrastructure for transportation, as well as new selling system in order to accommodate the sale and purchase of goods on a large scale.  In order to keep the farmers from being abused by the system and left with low prices you would either need a governing body to control the sale (like the cocoa board) or a system to empower the farmers towards having more control over the bulk price of goods.

This is where a I think the market can be built upon.  A good mix which builds on the traditional markets that people are familiar with, and being able to connect the farmers directly to purchasers, where purchasers can give a buying price right to the farmers - hopefully cutting out the middlemen's control of the pricing, and resulting in a fair price for farmers.  How could this be done?  Through mobile phones, through purchasing clerks (just like cocoa), or through increased transportation infrastructure. 

So, now what are your thoughts on western impacts on development?  How can you see the markets being developed in a way that builds on the current culture, instead of replacing it?  Any other answers to questions I can't think of right now?

Bonus picture!!! This is something I think would be kind of cool and a good idea to get comments!
The first person (back in Canada - sorry JFs) to guess what kind of animal is in this picture wins some sort of prize I will buy in Ghana.
I will give you one hint - I saw it in Mole

Anyways, thanks for reading!

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Mole! Mole! Mole!

I shall call him Tantor, and he will be mine
What is big and grey and wet all over?

The awesome elephants I saw cooling off and playing around in the river at Mole National Park in Ghana.

Mole is the biggest national park in Ghana, covering 4840 square km and is in the Northern region of Ghana.  It was established in 1958 and is the home of animals like savanna elephants, baboons, various monkeys, warthogs and various antelope species.  I got to see all of those mentioned, and it was really amazing to see these animals in their natural habitat - not in a pen at the zoo.

A couple hour old goat I met
I was in Mole to meet with the rest of the Ghanian JFs and some of the APS as a mid-placement retreat.  Given that later this week marks the half way point of the in-Africa contributions to the JF program it was a great chance to reconnect with the group and work out plans for the next seven weeks and beyond.

One of the big talks we did in Mole is about the EWB Vision.  For those of you unfamiliar with the vision - here is a quick overview http://blogs.ewb.ca/vision/139-2/

The main focus of our talk was outlining the importance of systemic thinking in the development sector.  What does this mean? Systemic thinking is the process of looking at the whole system and studying how the different entities in that system interact.  Once you have a view of the whole system you can try to find a place to make some small changes to that will have a big effect on the rest of the system.  

Why systemic thinking? Well, the idea is that there are problems in development.  There are barriers holding back people's work - unproductive relationships, short term projects with expiring gains, and realistically it is hard to scale innovations!  By looking at the whole system, you can keep everything in mind when you try to find what you want to change.  

Now that we know what the system is made up of we can start thinking of systemic innovation  and disruptive innovation.  Systemic innovation is pin pointing the leverage points in the system and picking areas to make the change in order to achieve the desired change.  Disruptive innovation is creating a whole new market in the system - a market with new values that overtakes the old one.

A rough systems diagram I made of KK - not finalized yet!
Now that we have this whole systemic thinking idea in our heads - we can use it to identify areas of change in the system I am working in.  At Kuapa Kokoo the farmers have access to inputs like fertilizer and chemicals on credit.  The fertilizer has been delivered late since the start of the program and it is only getting delivered more and more late as the years pass.  Now, what causes this? KK is having problems with repayment of the credit - the repayment rate for last year was around 67%.  I have been told that they are now having to delay getting fertilizer this year until they can get payment.  After looking through the system it is easy to see that this is a pretty big 'negative feedback loop'.  By not getting the fertilizer the farmers don't see the increase in profit and don't see the increased production, and therefore don't get the increased profit needed to pay for the fertilizer!

What other factors are in the system?  One thing that I learned is that the culture here is to spend money when you have it.  The idea of saving money is not very prevalent throughout the people in the village.  You can see this all around - there are half completed buildings everywhere - this doesn't mean that it is a project that failed!  People invest money when they have it, and not in the bank - so if you want to build a building, you buy some bricks and build it 'small small' over a long period of time, buying supplies and putting them down when you can.  

Now, a problem I have noticed with this is that the farmers don't have savings to rely on when the credit union officer comes to collect the payment for inputs.  Now, this could be helped by using record keeping and a visual contract for the input farmers.  Show the farmers how many bags of cocoa they will need to pay for their chemicals, and use the same idea of symbols to keep track of spending and income on the farm.  Another potential solution to this problem is to create a link between the Purchasing Clerks for Kuapa Kokoo and the Credit Union.  If farmers are using the input package they can pay off the debt gradually by having a percentage of their cocoa sold go to paying off the debt!  This is something I would be really excited about.  By ensuring that the amount the farmer receives is still enough to live off of - but enough to be able to repay the debt to ensure that the inputs are available to the farmers for years to come - and without delay.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Fun with Farming

Hello Internet,

Well, this blog is going to be a mixture of business and experience sharing.  Lets start with the business.

The whole overlying goal of my placement is to understand how Kuapa Kokoo operates, and also to find a some place in the process where I can insert something to make positive change for the people who matter.  The farmers! Now I have a pretty good idea of how the KK system works, and where that system could use a few small tweaks to really improve a farmer's ability to thrive.

Market Access for Alternative Crops
 During my visits with farmers a constant issue has been what the farmers do with any of their crops besides cocoa.  The system to enable a farmer to sell cocoa through the purchasing clerks is a very developed system, and ensures that if the farmers have crop to sell they will be able to get a fair price on a reasonable time frame.  Most cocoa farmers have other crops that are used to provide shade for young cocoa plants, as well as small portions of land with crops for their own food needs.  When the farmers have excess they sell it.  The current system usually involves the farmers taking the crop into town and selling the crop to middlemen who take it to the larger centers to sell - but they buy from the farmers for very cheep.  If the farmer doesn't want to sell for so cheep they don't have many other options as the shelf life for the crops is not ideal.

Now trying to combat this has proven to be a bit of an issue.  I have had a couple ideas - all hinging around grouping farmers together in order to increase their power in the market.  I think the best way to combat this would be to get farmers who have similar diversified crops to form farming groups.  Within these groups the farmers would have more options to sell their crops, such as renting a car or truck to take the load of crops into larger centers.  I have had mixed responses from farmers when I talk about this program.  Some think it is a great idea, but are unsure that their would be enough farmers harvesting at the same time to get a good enough load to bring into the bigger markets.  Another concern that I have is if the farmers do get a load together, and are able to go to the bigger markets what would they do with the crop when they are there?  Some say that they 'think' they could find a place to sell, but I have doubts.

Record Keeping of Farm Transactions and Activities
 Another big issue that I have noticed is the lack of any form of record keeping.  In every farmer group I have talked to a small selection of the farmers attended an Agriculture as a Business training course where they learned to keep records of their farming transactions and activities.  Everything from purchasing inputs (chemicals, seeds, ext)to keeping track of farm output.  Each farmer who has done this has said they benefit from keeping records.  They said it is a good way to keep track of what they did from season to season, and how that effected the output of the farm. 

Cocoa trees - the yellow pods are ready for harvest
The big issue here is that the majority of the farmers cannot read or write.  This poses a very interesting question: How can someone who can't read or write keep records?  Now the immediate thought I had is to use the purchasing clerks as facilitators.  When the farmers take their cocoa to sell the PC can work with the farmer to fill out the form.  Now - this has it's own issues - one being that the PC already have a job to do and additional work is pretty unappealing because they have their own farms to work on as well.  The biggest issue is this:  How valuable is a piece of paper that someone cannot read?  How will a farmer benefit from record keeping if they cannot reference it themselves? 

This leads to an interesting potential solution - Visual record keeping.  Using things such as small stones, or beans in cans to keep track of things - this could be a great idea for knowing how much is owing for certain things (1 bean for every 10GhC owing for your fertilizer in the 'Ideal' milk container). 

So, those are the things I am working on - and if you know of any resources to look at, or can think of some different avenues to start looking down for solutions just email or leave a comment - help is always appreciated!

Now, onto the personal experience section!

Earlier this week I got back from my village stay.  I stayed with a local purchasing clerk and got to experience the life of a rural farmer for a short while.  I also took I think the creepiest picture will ever take in my life.

 This is a group of local children who have never seen a white man before.  I had taken a small nap because for some reason I was just exhausted. I woke up to this, and had to take a picture.

The main activities involved working in the farm, clearing some weeds in a developing cocoa patch, eating some very interesting food and meeting great people.

The most surprising thing I learned during the village stay was the different ways that farmers in Ghana acquire land.  The family that I stayed with got their land through a variation of crop sharing - kind of like a rent to own program.  If a farmer cannot work their land anymore for some reason they can find people who are willing to develop the land (Clear it, plant new cocoa trees, weed it and take care of it) The new person will work the land for eight years and get it to the point where it is producing cocoa.  At this point the land is divided into two equal sections, one belonging to the original owner and one belonging to the person who worked the land.

Now, the mysterious 'Hole of Doom'

 The HoD is known as a pit latrine.  This is one of the more interesting things I have seen in Ghana.  It utilizes the 'pop a squat' method - It isn't really the squating that got to me, it is the whole ecosystem that seams to live in the 'pit' portion of the latrine.  I have seen a variety of creature crawl out of this hole - from bats to cockroaches to mosquitoes.  It doesn't smell like roses either.  This room really made me appreciate the small luxuries I have grown accustom to - even things as 'small' as a place to sit while taking care of a daily human need.

Until next time,

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Pa Pa Paa!

Oh! Hello there, by the recent glorious lack of blog posts - you may have thought that something terrible has happened.  If you had thought that you would be wrong.  I have just been so busy that every night when I get home and think, "Hey, blog time!!!" I usually eat some food and then think, "Sleep time would be equally good!" and by that time all hope of a blog has flown out the window.  I apologize for my lack of communication, and reward your patience with a blog!

Now,  a quick update on what I have been up to:

I am now living in my relatively permanent home for the rest of the summer in the village of Kukuom, which is about 5km outside of Goaso.  I have settled in and am living with a family in their compound, Victoria is the name of my (awesome) host mother.  She makes sure that I will never go hungry, and with the size of the portions she serves I may never go hungry again.  Ever.  I work with a CocoaBod extension officer and have been accompanying him on his visits to the surrounding communities.  During these visits he has mainly been focusing on passing on information regarding general farm care for cocoa, as well as fielding any questions that farmers have.  After he is done I get to ask the farmers any questions I have on my mind, and then I give them a turn. 

  • If any of my readers have any questions they care to ask rural farmers in Ghana, post a comment or email me!  The majority of their land is devoted to cocoa trees, but most also have plantain, maize, yams or other sustenance crops - so it doesn't just have to be about cocoa.

The Kuapa Kokoo System

I know people have been wondering how Kuapa Kokoo operates, I think I mentioned some of this in previous blogs - if I repeat myself be kind!

When I describe this system, I like to start at the farmers - they are the base of the system, and without them we wouldn't have that sugary brown drug we all know and love!

When a farmer has cocoa that is ready for harvest they cut the pods from the trees and then gather all of the pods and 'crack' them to get at the beans.  They cut into the pods with a machete and scoop out the beans along with the sugar rich pulp and pile all of the beans together on a bed of plantain leaves.  When that is all said and done they have around 100kg to 400kg of cocoa bean / pulp-y goodness that they cover with more plantain leaves and they leave it for around five days while the beans ferment.  Once the beans are all fermented (but not germinated!) they gather the beans and haul them to drying mats, spread the beans out and turn them two times a day until they are dry (from 5-8 days). 

sidenote: Drying cocoa beans is about the best smell ever.  EVER.  It is a mixture of rich-cocoa smell and a slightly perfume-y smell like that of fresh flowers. 

Once the cooca is dried the farmer takes the cocoa to a local purchasing clerk (PC) where it is loaded into 64kg bags (205GhC / bag to the farmer).  The PCs all meet every Wednesday in Goaso where they report their numbers to the district manager who will then send a truck to the PCs office to pick the cocoa and take it to warehouses.  The Cocoa Board (think wheat board) then picks the cocoa from warehouses to bring it to the port for international sale.

So, where does FairTrade come into this whole process? 

For those of you that do not know FT sets it's price for certain goods according to a 'minimum' price, where the difference between the minimum price and the market price is returned to the farmers in the form of FT premiums to be spent on social welfare projects, farmer support, or straight cash bonuses (in the case of Kuapa).  For the last number of years the market price has been above the FT price, in this case they simply attach a $150USD/tonne which is where the FT premium will come out of.  This goes to help farmers in three ways for Kuapa:
  1. A cutlas in the hand of every farmer!
Every year every Kuapa farmer receives a new machete which is used to do weeding, tree maintenance, harvesting, processing and food preparation.  I initially questioned this, but after talking to farmers it is very, very popular because they have a shelf life of about 1 year with the amount of use they see - and it is also a moral booster to see such a direct result of your work.

     2.  Money, money, money!

At the end of every year each farmer is given a bonus in the form of 2GhC / bag of cocoa they sold to Kuapa Kokoo

     3.  Schools, and clinics and wells - Oh My!

Kuapa Kokoo has a variety of social welfare projects throughout the cocoa regions of Ghana.  These are things like construction and facilitation of schools, wells and mobile medical clinics.  I have talked to a few people about these programs and have been assured that it is more than 'I see a problem, lets build something!'  solutions.  They are long term projects where support networks are set up to ensure lasting effects.

My last comment on the Kuapa Kokoo system (for now!) has to do with the strong pride and involvement the farmers have in the system.  These people are very proud to be supplying the world with the best cocoa to make the best chocolate.  If any of my friends in Ghana would like to see this in action do this, please:

  • Find a KK farmer / staffer.  Walk up to the person and proudly proclaim, "Kuapa!" in a bold voice.  The person will instantly respond, "Pa Pa Papa!" enthusiastically
SO, what just happened?  In Twi (the main language in the southern region) 'Kuapa' means 'Good Farmer' and 'Pa Pa Papa' means 'The Best'.  I have not met a Kuapa farmer that does not take great pride in their craft, and in turn is very interested in being able to increase their ability to do this.  It is a constant reminder that agency is key to my (our work).  If a person doesn't think that what they do matters - how can we improve?

Well, I have written enough for now I think - Stay tuned for another blog post later this week concerning a village and the Pit of Doom.