The small holder farmers of northern Ghana are not known for their diligent dedication to recording their farm incomes, expenses and related activities. But it is easy to see how keeping records could really help farmers plan their farming activities to maximize their profits, especially with regards to calculating profits from costs and incomes and using this information to make decisions on investments which continuously improve profits.
To address this gap in record keeping, one project created a workbook to be distributed to farmers throughout northern Ghana that would act as a template for documenting this important information.
I have no doubt that this book will be put to some kind of use. Indeed, even my empty floss container was picked out of my garbage and put to use by the neighbour’s children. But let’s take a moment to consider the core issues affecting farmer record keeping and I think it will become obvious that the efforts behind the farmer workbook treat the symptom but not the cause.
From my field experience, literacy and education level are the biggest hindrances to farmer record keeping. The majority of farmers didn’t regularly attend school so the instinct to record things is completely foreign and takes time to build. But the farmers also need to know how to keep such records and see the benefits of doing it. Once all that is in place, then there will be a need and a use for a workbook and perhaps a pen. But if all that was in place, the farmer would already know the value of keeping records and simply go to a stationary store and buy the pen and paper.
To its credit, the development industry does invest heavily in education and huge improvements in literacy can be seen across northern Ghana. However, there’s still room for projects to encourage record keeping by taking the time needed (i.e. multiple meetings throughout the year) with farmer groups to demonstrate practical tracking of expenses and incomes for profitability analyses and why such records are useful for decision making.
But I don’t just mean explaining how to draw tables and subtract expenses from income; I’m talking about using beans in a jar, marks on a wall, knots in a rope, or any number of other creative ways the farmers I have worked with envisioned to overcome their illiteracy and keep business records for their farms.
We can’t just distribute a workbook, hope the farmers see its function and have a literate neighbour nice enough to fill it out for them. After all, the point of keeping records is for farmers to refer to the records they took in the past and use them to make decisions to improve their farming business. Indecipherable script will not help a farmer remember her past farming activities.
Instead we need to think about the root causes behind the challenges faced by rural farmers that development is trying to address. The example above shows how the inappropriateness of paper and pen documentation, and especially the need to understand the benefits, prevents farmers from keeping records more so than the lack of paper. If we dig below the surface and try to understand and define the core issues, then development projects can begin to address real challenges and make development sector interventions as useful as possible to the farmers.
Project documentation has a funny habit of over-estimating the number of households the project will be able to reach. When questioned on the achievability of the 372 000 households one project was expected to reach, an employee of the donor agency responded “Oh, that’s just a number that was estimated as the project was being designed. Don’t worry about that.”
But I do worry.
To give you an idea of how outrageous this number is, here’s a little math:
One Agricultural Extension Agent (AEA) using EWB’s Agriculture as a Business program can do a good job of effectively strengthening about one farmer group every two months while still carrying out their regular work. If we estimate that there are 250 active AEAs in Ghana’s northern region, and 10 households represented in each group on average, it would take 24.8 years to reach 372 000 households assuming every AEA worked constantly until the job was done.
Obviously, taking the EWB approach is not going to fit the requirements of most projects. Instead, to reach all these households, I’ve seen most projects adopt the Training-of-Trainer approach to outreach.
What this looks like on the ground is that the project hires an agency, who recruits multiple local NGOs in all the project’s operational areas. Then the agency trains the local NGO employees to train MoFA staff to train farmer groups.
After this training of trainers, the local NGOs go into the districts and train the MoFA staff to strengthen farmer groups. Then the MoFA staff head to the field to meet with and train the farmers.
Each step in that long chain takes a chunk of the project’s budget thus diverting donor funds away from the intended beneficiaries. In the end, the result is:
- Very little money is left to pay MoFA and the AEAs to get to go the field and actually train the farmer groups;
- Training techniques and topics that are mandated by the project are diluted at each level as the skill and understanding of the facilitator decreases; and
- The training farmer groups receive is time-limited due to the emphasis on quantity over quality.
So what’s the answer to all this? Simply put, projects need to do a better job of setting goals that are in line with the time, people and resources available to them instead of trying to make the project sound better than is realistically possible.
For example, this could mean limiting the geographical area covered by the project to maximize field time and make sure it’s spent with intended beneficiaries instead of on the road.
Additionally, projects need to have stronger ties to the ground to ensure quality. One way is to hire enough field staff to work directly with the intended beneficiaries and/or management could make it their core responsibility to understand what’s happening on the ground and push for constant improvements and changes in implementation based on what is learned in the field. To impact a household, field staff need to have a connection and understand the beneficiaries. Their strengths and weaknesses should be well known and accounted for and the overall strength of this connection needs to be valued by management.
Related to the above, there needs to be more emphasis on knowledge management and upward feedback. No, this doesn’t mean more forms and reports for field staff to fill out but rather management needs to push their staff to share what they are learning and ensure they fully understand what is working and what isn’t, make informed decisions based on this information, and remain flexible to changes as implementation realities at the field level are better understood.
“If a job is worth doing, it is worth doing well.” – This is the attitude we need to adopt. So let’s forget about trying to impact hundreds of thousands of people and doing it poorly and instead focus on doing a great job of supporting a few.
Quality farmer group capacity building is a corner stone to development project sustainability and efficacy. But why then, are the time and resources required to effectively strengthen and develop groups routinely underestimated?
A typical approach for a project is to ask the Ministry of Food and Agriculture to find them groups to work with. The sentence “I need 20 groups who are willing to farm cashew with 25-30 members each and there should be a gender balance” is one example and “We want to work with only extremely hard working poorest-of-the-poor farmers” somehow, is not seen as an unreasonable request.
These requests neglect the needs and circumstances of the actual farmers, and instead put the needs of the donor and the project first under their mandate to execute a particular task.
But with the promise of a bonus from the project, the Extension Agents go out and often have to throw together farmer groups for the project because none of their existing groups fit the project’s specifications. Then project staff show up and expect the groups to be fully functional and ready to receive both complex technical training and a huge loan.
From what I can tell there are two basic reasons why projects insist on working with groups and not individuals. In the eyes of the project staff, if they give a loan to a group, repayment will be better; if one farmer defaults, the other group members can be forced to pick up the slack. In a newly formed group, this means each member is liable for the mistakes of the others whom she may or may not trust.
In addition to the “better” loan repayment rates, development projects are always going to want to work with groups because it is simply too time-intensive to work with each person individually. If we accept this, then we must look at how we can make groups more functional.
First we must recognize that groups are always in flux: They are constantly being formed in response to donor project demand; members are added or drop out for countless reasons; and they often change crops, processing activities, and other farming activities based on fluctuations in the markets (which is a good thing!).
To make the best use of development projects and to be prepared for them when they come, the best thing an Extension Agent can do is consistently work at strengthening the groups she/he has. And the best thing a project can do is allocate enough time and resources in their planning and budget to allow the Extension Agents to do this job effectively.
Proactively working with the members of farmer groups ensures the groups have high trust, good decision-making processes, business skills, and a solid relationship with the Extension Agent who will inevitably be implementing many of the project activities.
Project success (i.e. improvements to farmer livelihoods) relies on initial group strengthening and skills building that can help the group decide if they even want what the project has to offer and make the most of the project support when it comes.
As a general rule, the development industry has figured out how to prepare exceptional project planning documentation. It is detailed, compelling and after a critical read through, the reader is convinced success is inevitable.
However, after working closely with one such project for four months I see the reality of paper-based development: these documents can create inflexible and impractical structures and expectations that prevent projects from identifying and adapting to emerging opportunities or necessary changes to field implementation.
We know – everyone knows – that development is complex and entails a lot of failure and iteration. It is impossible to predict what these failures will be and what will be learned until projects are implemented. Yet project plans rarely allow for recognition of, and adaptation to, failures or new knowledge. The result is that project interventions are confined to activities and expectations that frequently prove to be impractical or unconstructive, regardless of what might be learned along the way. Allow me to provide a couple of examples:
Like almost every other project, the one I’m working with wants to engage and strengthen the capacity of farmer groups. The project plan calls for a needs assessment of a sample of farmer groups. This looks great on paper and gets approved with the thought that the project will use the results of this needs assessment to base the training on what farmers really need.
But, in reality, the needs assessment is resource and time-intensive. When it is finally performed it is surface-level and unrepresentative of real farmer challenges, which should come as no surprise. After all, how can an outsider come in to one village for half a day and determine precisely what knowledge, skills and attitudes all the farmers in the entire district need to succeed?
As an anecdote to prove my point, a JICA-sponsored yam project came to visit one of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) district offices. It was the start of the rainy season so the MoFA staff were very busy but, unwilling to disappoint the visitors, they took them around the district to perform a needs assessments of rural yam farmers. The JICA staff categorised all the different yam farming activities, found who did them, how they did them and made suggestions on what was needed to improve that specific task, promising that more thorough training was to come.
At the end of the day, when the JICA trainers had gone home, the disgruntled MoFA employees complained about what a waste of time the needs assessment and training had been. The farmers (and MoFA staff) already knew everything that had been taught and, for various reasons of their own, had made the choice not to perform the task in the prescribed way.
It was very evident, to both MoFA and the farmers, that the visitors only scratched the surface of what was actually needed by the yam farmers. The needs assessment wasn’t able to determine what was needed in this complex situation faced by people they had never met and whose livelihoods they didn’t fully understand.
The fact is that it’s virtually impossible to know what the real issues are when you plan a needs assessment or plan the resulting training; they simply can’t be figured out from an afternoon sitting with a group of farmers. The issues are complex and reveal themselves slowly through trusting relationships and genuine desire to understand rural livelihoods. It follows that project activities should be open to changing as understanding of the issues evolves throughout implementation.
As another example, the project I’m working for calls for the establishment of Inter-Professional Bodies (IPBs) which is a fancy term for associations comprised of different stakeholders affiliated with the same commodity (e.g. input dealers, farmers, traders, processors, exporters, etc.). The project supports these IPBs by funding the meetings and workshops that bring all the actors together.
Again, as the plans are written, this seems like a winning approach. An efficient and functioning commodity chain depends on long-standing and trusting trade relationships. It seems an IPB would give all the actors a forum to build these relationships and work out common challenges.
But long-standing and trusting trade relationships are built from a history of mutually beneficial transactions not by sitting in the same room at a meeting. You can’t force actors in a commodity chain to collaborate and talk about their challenges openly. And you certainly can’t expect competitors to give up whatever advantages they have in the market to make it more fair and equal for all.
So how does the development sector go about sculpting a more efficient and functioning commodity chain for the benefit of all? Well, because constraints and opportunities differ for each commodity in each location the answer is case-specific but here I’ve listed just a few (extremely simplified) examples of interventions that have been tried and tested. While not perfect, they can at least illustrate what is possible:
- Help the producers improve the quality and/or packaging of their product to appeal to higher end consumers thus attracting more up-scale buyers and expanding the market
- Support an input supplier to manage their inventory better so that they can profitably operate stores in more rural locations (improves farmer access to inputs)
- Link farmer groups to a buying company that needs a specific quality of product and is willing to provide the training and the market for it
- Initially buy-down the risk to rural banks (with cash or, better yet, with activities such as building trusting relationships with the farmers and/or supporting extension staff to provide quality collection services) so they become more willing to lend to farmers at reasonable interest rates
- Provide tools or methods to help farmers practice good money management and investment of their own funds where applicable to reduce the interest payments from loans which cut into their profits
- Expand the market for locally grown produce or products by helping a company develop an informative radio advertisement campaign
- Expand the market and promote proper use of fertilizers and pesticides by cost-sharing an educational promotional event for an input supplier
- Support a private company to supply reasonably-priced veterinary services where government support is inadequate or unreliable
The point is, you can’t know that these opportunities exist when the project is being planned. These are market opportunities that appear during project implementation and require projects to be adaptable to take advantage of them.
So, if any of the well-intentioned folks who make their living writing project planning documents happen to be reading this, I would love to know if it’s possible to hold a project accountable to it’s flexibility and responsiveness to market opportunities instead of basing the evaluation of project success on how many needs-based trainings and IPB meetings it holds.
In conclusion, let’s avoid implementing the ‘Paper Tigers’ that get approved solely on the merits of their written participatory and sustainable approaches. Practicality and flexibility, especially with regards to recognizing and responding to failures, learning and opportunities, are just as vital to a good project plan.
Despite the rhetoric and philanthropic characterization of international development, the development industry is just like any other. While they may never admit it, every NGO, donor and government program is a business in the business of staying in business.
And like every other business, development organizations need a steady inflow of money to remain operational. Competition for this income amongst development ‘businesses’ is just as fierce as the battle for customers between warring fast food giants. However, for development, this money doesn’t come from customers but rather is supplied by donors – those good people, companies and agencies dedicated to distributing the world’s foreign aid.
But here is where we find a problem. You see, in a normal business, companies will do whatever it takes to better serve their customers because it will improve their profits. But in development, the customers (i.e. intended beneficiaries) don’t supply the organization’s income so there are no pecuniary incentives to serve them better.
Projects habitually do a better job of serving donors than their intended beneficiaries. I don’t suggest that development is bad because it has capitalist values but I do think it is important to recognize when those profit-driven values are hindering the industry’s ability to help its intended beneficiaries.
As a means of illustrating my point, let me describe a meeting I had just a few weeks ago with another NGO (which I still like and respect and so have omitted their name) who was hired by the same agricultural project (the Project) as Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB).
The NGO had already been working for the Project for two years before EWB came on the scene. However, EWB had done some cutting-edge work on value-chains and farmer group development and could bring innovation and fresh ideas.
Seeing a perfect opportunity for collaboration I set up a meeting to talk about the work the NGO had already done, what they were hoping to achieve, and the potential for us to work together to make sure our organizations were learning as much as possible from each other’s strengths and past mistakes.
During the otherwise amicable meeting, the NGO politely and diplomatically declined the request for information because:
- They had been involved in the Project for many years so they didn’t need anyone else’s ideas;
- They were competitors with EWB because EWB was awarded responsibility for a large portion of the project that should have been theirs; and
- If they were going to collaborate with EWB, they would need a very clear Terms of Reference formulated to spell out the responsibilities of each organization in the collaboration.
I was a bit confused and told them, honestly, I just wanted to learn more about the NGO’s work to see where I should start from; I really had no interest in competing with them. I believed by sharing our respective strengths we could make sure both organizations did the best possible job at improving the livelihood of the small-holder farmers the Project was targeting to support.
The NGO employees were quick to point out they were not against collaboration, they just required formality around their contributions and this is when it became clear what the problem was. You see, the NGO wanted to make the collaboration with EWB formal and documented so that it could obtain funding from the Project for the “support” it would give to EWB.
Really, it was doomed from the start. A formal Terms of Reference for collaboration would take months to finalize and I wasn’t prepared to sit idle and wait that long to start my work. Besides, how could I concede to such a time-intensive process that would take away from the honest efforts of both our organizations to actually help the small-holder farmers we were targeting?
Overall, the situation was incredibly disappointing. Not specifically because of the NGO’s reaction but with the system of development that makes something easy and sensible, such as teamwork and friendly cooperation, logistically impossible.
Ultimately, what this experience has shown me is the majority of development workers genuinely want to help improve peoples’ livelihoods but they also work within this industry and so face the two conflicting motivations of wanting to help people while, at the same time, wanting to keep money coming into their organization to keep themselves in a job. So now it’s up to us to switch the trend of giving precedence to the latter over the former. Let’s take a lesson from the private sector and put our customers first!
“Why?… Why?… Why?…”
It is a simple yet captivating question that District Directors of Agriculture (DDAs) were asking as they dug deep to explore the issues and difficulties in creating, forming, managing, and strengthening farmer groups in northern Ghana during the second session of the DDA Leadership and Management Fellowship with Engineers Without Borders (EWB) Canada.
Often, people at higher levels of organizations working in developing countries are good at recognizing the main issues and contributing to ideas and projects that can address them on the ground, but it often remains challenging to really understand and get to the root of an issue and actually address it effectively. It takes different types of leaders with different experiences to put something together that will have a positive impact.
In the Northern Region and Upper East Region, agriculture extension agents (AEAs) have been encouraged to form groups of farmers by higher levels of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) so that, for instance, they can more efficiently disseminate technical agricultural information, link farmers to financial institutions and access credit on the basis that one or another would act as collateral, or benefit from donor projects and handouts based on a common interest or perceived need; however, the process of forming and managing strong reliable farmer groups has been incredibly challenging for AEAs, which is why DDAs came together to analyze the problem, dig deep, and come out with some practical solutions to the challenges.
This part of the fellowship was extra visual – projector, flip charts, handouts, diagrams… the whole works, and they loved it! We started exploring the issue of farmers only joining farmer groups to get loans, as well as the implications, and the DDAs were encouraged to dig deeper by asking “why” and “why” again in order to get to a point where they could identify the root causes that could be addressed. As the discussion progressed, other issues linked in.
One of the biggest issues that MoFA staff observe within farmer groups is that of low cohesiveness, it’s central to why they don’t function well, which is linked to the fact that farmers often only come together to form a group with the hope of getting a loan (which in the rare cases are allocated, are not repaid), and this could likely be due to the fact that farmer groups are not well sensitized or informed about why it’s a good idea to come together because farmer groups are created in a rush due to project pressures, or because extension agents should in theory be forming and registering groups on an ongoing basis but are too constrained by other demands to do this work effectively, or because farmer groups should be formed around a specific market so that they work well on a common interest and link to profitable buyers but commodity chains aren’t well developed, and so on…It’s complicated!
It seems DDAs and staff don’t ask enough “why” type of questions and aren’t pushed to be critical of the activities they’re assigned to accomplish. The hierarchal culture, which was mentioned in Providing feedback: small small culture change in MoFA, can also contribute in a way to the poor formation and management of farmer groups and disappointing payback of loans. EWB staff have worked determinedly at the field level but we notice that management is an issue – it’s the lynch pin of district performance. The DDAs and the District Agricultural Officers (DAOs) work on supervising and monitoring AEAs primarily from their offices, but they recognize that they could be doing this more creatively and in the field which would motivate the AEAs to work through the challenges they’re facing with the farmer groups – this was among other ideas that DDAs came up with as they narrowed their analyses down to some root causes that they were most interested in addressing, some key recommendations, and some activities they were going to try in their districts. Other noteworthy ideas involved being more creative to get loans repaid, and orienting farmer group development more towards market opportunities (i.e. less project/loan oriented).
We’ll be following up with DDAs to see how their ability to understand the issues with farmer groups has changed as well as how they work with their staff to test out some of their ideas and adjust them appropriately. EWB is also playing a role in the way we support and provide on-the-job training for AEAs to use the Agriculture as a Business curriculum which helps them develop strong farmer groups and prepare farmers to successfully manage credit and access improved markets. But with more and more projects being implemented through MoFA that require strong farmer groups, we also need to influence and convince donors and MoFA National that for projects to succeed, they need to give more time to farmer group development, they need to track development, and they need to incentivize banks and MoFA staff to work together and select districts based not only on geographical factors or random selection but on district capacity and farmer group strength.
This post is about FRUSTRATION, but it’s also about OPPORTUNITY! (And you may even find out a little about my work.)
MoFA (the Ministry of Food and Agriculture in Ghana) is built from the bottom up on a network of Agricultural Extension Agents (AEAs). These are the people who actually carry out the Ministry’s work by traveling around to visit farmers and disseminate all kinds of information, such as weather forecasts, market opportunities, NGO projects and technical advice. They are at the bottom of the hierarchical pyramid, but they are the crucial link to farmers that MoFA needs if they want to have any success in improving farmer livelihoods in Ghana.
Ghana is divided into 10 regions, each of which is subdivided into several districts. Each district has a MoFA office, with several AEAs working out of each office. Each AEA is assigned an Operational Area within the district and is responsible for knowing and working with all the farmers in that area. According to their job description, AEAs are supposed to move around for 4 days each week, doing “home visits” (visiting farmers at home), “field visits” (visiting farmers in their fields), and “group visits” (visiting farmer groups). The remaining 1 day each week is reserved for reporting and any office work. Each AEA should also be provided with the means to move to their Operational Area, usually in the form of a motorbike, but sometimes a sturdy bicycle. In addition to their salary, each AEA is supposed to receive a quarterly fuel allowance to pay for the fuel required for all this travel.
So what’s the frustration? There has been no fuel money disbursed to any AEA in Ghana since Oct-Dec 2009. They missed the 1st quarter, Jan-Mar, and we’re now well into the Apr-Jun 2nd quarter. This seriously limits an AEAs ability to do his or her job. An AEA’s salary, which is meagre to begin with, doesn’t stretch far enough to cover 5 months of fuel. Furthermore, AEAs shouldn’t be expected to sacrifice any of their small salary for something that’s supposed to be covered by their employer (and in fact, many of them can’t afford to sacrifice any of their salary).
The impact of this lack of funds is huge. Here are a few of the major problems that have come as a result:
1) AEAs can’t do their jobs.
This is serious! Like I said above, AEAs are the ones who provide the link between MoFA and farmers. So if AEAs aren’t going to farmers, then MoFA isn’t fulfilling its mandate to improve farmer livelihoods. An AEA’s knowledge is particularly crucial for farmers at the beginning of the farming season – like right now. Farmers are just figuring out which crops to plant this year, which types of seeds they’ll use, whether or not they should use fertilizer and which kind. The AEA is the advisor for all these decisions, helping a farmer to make the most of his farm and bringing new information about what’s out there in the agric world. Furthermore, when an AEA just disappears for months at a time, there can be a huge loss of trust between the AEA and his or her farmers. And trust is one of the core underlying factors to being a successful AEA! These people spend years developing relationships with their farmers. Each farmer has different strengths and challenges, and it takes time to develop a trusting relationship that will allow the farmer to benefit fully from what the AEA has to offer. Finally, there is also a detrimental effect on farmer group development. Imagine you are taking a course on starting up a new business, with a project that is integrated into each class. Then all of a sudden the teacher stops coming and classes are suspended for 3 months. Do you think you’ll be on track when the teacher suddenly decides to return? Probably not – you’ll need a few refresher classes to remember all the things you’ve already learned, and some of the momentum for your project has probably disappeared. This is what happens to farmer groups when AEAs are unable to keep investing in their development – concepts are lost, momentum wanes and the group loses interest.
2) Supervisors can’t hold AEAs accountable to doing their jobs.
The bottom line: when AEAs aren’t given the resources to do their jobs, they really can’t be expected to do them. There are a few exceptional AEAs (mostly the single ones who don’t have families to support) who are stepping up and using their own money in order to continue serving their farmers. However, not every AEA can be expected to do this. As a result, no one can be held accountable. So right now an AEA can receive their salary by doing absolutely no extension work!
3) Work for donor projects that come with fuel money are prioritized over core extension work.
The Tamale Metro office (where I’m working) is both lucky and unlucky that we are an easy target for NGOs and other implementing agencies. Tamale is the capital of northern Ghana and one of the only easily-accessible districts in the area. So when an NGO wants to pilot a project, they come to us! This is good because it means that some really innovative projects are reaching our farmers first. It also exposes AEAs to a range of ideas and approaches. Most of all, it brings in extra resources – if an NGO is asking AEAs to carry out field-work on their behalf, AEAs are often given fuel money as well as an honorarium for their time. However, on the other side of things, many of these projects are NOT innovative and really just add a whole lot of work to an AEA’s schedule. (For example, 2 separate projects currently have AEAs walking around the same farmers’ fields to map them with GPS. Seriously?? The AEAs are doing the exact same thing twice, once with each organization’s GPS unit! And they’re doing this for over 100 fields each!) Smart AEAs use this money to carry out both the project work and their core work at the same time by strategically planning their routes to and from the field. But since the money is intended for the project work, that work is prioritized over all core extension work. And when it’s as time-consuming as walking around hundreds of farmers’ fields, there’s often no time for anything else! Unfortunately, this effect also extends to EWB’s work with the Agriculture As a Business (AAB) program. We don’t give out fuel money as an incentive for AEAs to participate in the program (there is a long and heated debate about this decision), which means that there has been virtually no activity in the AAB program in Tamale since January. And like the supervisors, since I’m not offering AEAs any fuel money to do the work, I can’t hold them accountable!
4) Directors can complain but are powerless to affect change.
This one is tough. I wrote earlier on this blog about the (lack of) culture of upward feedback in MoFA. It is fairly rare for a District Director to outwardly complain about programs or policies in MoFA. In this case, the money has been delayed long enough that many Directors are raising a stink about it at the national level. But what difference does it make? There are piles of excuses being made by MoFA at a national level about why the money hasn’t come. As for the Directors, they don’t have access to any discretionary funding that they could allocate temporarily as fuel money (so much for the concept of decentralization). They could dig into their private stashes, but wouldn’t that set an interesting precedent… yikes!
5) Everyone is demotivated and frustrated (including me!).
Yeah, it’s really just a bummer. Nothing is happening (except lots of NGO project work) and no one can do anything about it.
So who holds the purse-strings to the fuel money? I have no idea… someone at “the top”. MoFA National blamed Parliament for a while for not passing the budget in time, then passed the blame to some development partners who are funding agricultural work. There are even rumours of a Canadian connection to the hold-up – the horror! Even then, much of development funding is contingent on the beneficiaries demonstrating some level of capacity or “readiness” to receive the funding, which places the blame squarely back on MoFA (or on the donor policies, depending on how you look at it). The bottom line is that while “the top” argue amongst themselves, it’s poor farmers who are paying the price.
The main frustration is in seeing all these AEAs missing out on serving their farmers; the opportunity is what they are capable of if resources are provided on time. AEAs care about farmers, and they want to be interacting with them out in the field. Supervisors also care about farmers (most used to be AEAs themselves), and want to hold their AEAs accountable to serving farmers. And farmers value MoFA’s assistance! There is a huge opportunity for MoFA to do good work, but they need the resources to carry it out.
This week, Sarah Grant, the Director of Agribusiness for EWB in Ghana, will be traveling to Accra to meet with MoFA National and their development partners on the topic of farmer group development. There is a huge opportunity to influence these players and bring field realities, such as the effects of the late arrival of funds, to those making the decisions. EWB is uniquely placed to offer these insights and it is our responsibility to make the most of these influence opportunities. We want to see the development world flipped on its head, with implementing actors like MoFA being held accountable to farmers rather than donors. It’s a complex system, but somebody’s gotta change it!