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.

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