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,
Nathan

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