Monday, July 17, 2006

What am I supposed to be DOING?

**Just a note before I begin; in EWB's 'impact model' overseas and in Canada, we have set our ultimate stakeholder - that is, our boss and who we are accountable to the most - as "Dorothy". Who is 'Dorothy'? Dorothy is the hardworking African woman farmer; that enterprising yet humble, struggling yet hopeful, indescribably beautiful quality we see quite often reflected in the struggle of a continent, all the way from the country level to the village level. Dorothy just wants to get ahead, she has her own objectives and dreams for her future; educating her children, building her community. Everything we do - and I mean EVERYTHING - we ask ourselves, how would this affect Dorothy? What would she think? I find that true development is far removed from egos of both people and 'donor' countries, but more connected what the beneficiaries, the 'Dorothies' as you will, dream of being able to accomplish in their futures. **
I work for the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA), East Gonja District Office, as a “EWB consultant”.
My project is very structured and was ‘piloted’ by Robin, a long term volunteer with EWB (and my boss) a few months ago in the District office in Yendi, a small-ish town close to Tamale. There are three main aspects of my project: establishing a District Food Security Network for my district (East Gonja), enhancing agricultural ‘extension’ service delivery, and lastly “general office capacity building”.
My district (or DADU – District Agricultural Development Unit) is the largest district (land area wise) in Ghana but heavily underfunded and the main industry/activity is small scale agriculture. The DADU office is in the district capital Salaga, and is headed by Dr. Abakeh, a Ukrainian trained veterinarian, and Mr. Issa Losine, who has gone to agricultural college.

1) MoFA’s activities are very varied and plentiful, but one main area we are focusing on – is ‘extension work’. This is where trained agricultural staff go out to the field, to work with farmers one on one, or in “farmer field schools” and trainings to teach them new and improved agricultural techniques. (Examples include “building better storage barns for maize”, or “how to plant legumes and cassava at the same time”, or “making yam mini-seedlings”) The extension staff are very well trained and enthusiastic in their knowledge, and as usual, very underpaid. One of their main constraints is that they pay for fuel (transportation to the villages) up front, and get “reimbursed” later. They never get fully reimbursed because fuel is expensive (yes, more expensive than Canada..) and yeah, pretty much they pay out of their pockets. Anyway, an area for growth was noted by both Robin, previous EWB volunteers and MoFA was the “delivery” of the extension materials. What that means is that the ‘teaching’ of the actual knowledge could use some improvement. What I am doing is running a series of workshops on participatory learning, different learning styles, creative facilitation of knowledge and results based management. Most of those things we learned in training (both in Toronto and in Tamale), had some previous idea of, and are learning on the fly. Results based management is something fairly new to me that is a different approach to development. MoFA has recently adopted it as its official ‘structure’ and is trying to train all of its staff on this idea. Pretty much the gist is that currently the extension staff are focused on ‘activities’ instead of results/impact: “I trained 30 farmers on yam mini-seedlings. I have achieved my objective” vs. “Out of 30 farmers trained, 10 were able to plant yam mini-seedlings and 5 actually planted them in the field. I may need to change my approach. Of the 5 who planted, all had better yields, made more capital, and re-invested it into their families…”. So pretty much, ‘how is what we are doing impacting poor farmers?’. I would have to say that this is my favourite aspect of my placement as it involves a lot of fieldwork and meeting a lot of farmers and families. As well, I will hopefully be able to view the results of my workshops when I see the extension workers interact with the farmers after the fact..!

2) Food Security – what is it? There are 1000s of formal definitions, but I’ll paraphrase – it’s the year-round availability of quality food, nutritious, affordably priced, and in decent quantities. A sustained lack of food security results in a famine, but in the northern regions of Ghana its more of a seasonal thing – in the ‘dry season’ (roughly November to April), there is no ‘food’. Anyway, food security is a goal of many NGOs, governmental organizations and groups in Northern Ghana, but they often have a severe lack of communication and networking. If MoFA just did a demonstration on the importance of soybean to nutrition, a day later, World Vision, or Adventists’ Relief or somebody will do the same presentation in the same community. A ‘food security network’ for each district was proposed but it was not properly implemented and due to “lack of funding” fell apart. My job is to reinstate this network, sustainably, and bring together all the groups so they can collaborate their ideas and take action against big issues that food security faces in this area. The first meeting is proposed to be June 29th, and I’ve just got the list of NGOs to survey and interview. This is a step above directly working with poor farmers, on a more indirect level, but its definitely something that I see, EWB sees, and MoFA sees as very useful in making an impact against poverty and hunger issues in this region. A main focus is on sustainability, as the previous networks (facilitated by CARE international) fell through when the “funder” left. Well, we aren’t ‘funding’ (from the start we are organizing it so that funding required is minimum and provided in a pool from all the members..a sort of membership fee), and making sure that people belonging to the network take ownership of it.

3) Lastly, my most ‘flexible’ area – building capacity in the office. In my briefing on my project, they told me this meant teaching MS Word, MS Access, MS Powerpoint to my office staff, but in the context of my particular district it means different things. I guess a good way to sum it up is see what their challenges in operation are, which ones I can address that will be sustainable and make an impact on reducing poverty in the region (how can I help them to help people better?). In truth, we have one computer in our office and ONE person who can type. He knows word, powerpoint (sort of), and that’s it. MS Access is not even an option considering the level my district is at. One of our challenges is that every single report is written by hand (30, or 40 pages), a soft copy is typed up, edited, re-typed up, and then submitted. THEN, the report is RE-TYPED UP ONTO POWERPOINT. No jokes people… So, I’m seeing if I can teach my director and some other people to type. As well, basic computer things like how to organize the files so that you can find things easily.. Another thing my district struggles with is making effective presentations. Powerpoint is simply an exact copy of word document reports, read out loud. I’m giving them a mini-workshop on this. Lastly, a main area I can make an impact on is proposal writing. A challenge they cited for their district is obtaining funds and proposal writing. By helping them write better proposals, I can help them secure funds more effectively, for organizing small/special groups (Ostrich farming, bee keeping, women’s groups, shea butter processing etc.), which directly help Dorothy.

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