The Gardeners surrounded by a healthy onion crop.
The first farmers I met in Ghana were a group of 9 men gardening about 2 acres of land during the dry season. In the shadow of a half completed dam, they produced two crops of onion. It was March 2007, during my first weeks in Bolgatanga. We have continued working together, and it is in their gardens that the results of the Agriculture As A Business program that we have been developing with the ministry will be seen.
Lawrence, a technical officer pictured here in the green uniform of MoFA’s Field Agents, was my guide as I toured the gardens last March. I had a million questions – he and the farmers were very patient in answering them. At the end of our brief meeting, Tindoog stood and said that I was welcome to return. The group told me that they had decided that they would listen to what we had to say.
As at Dec 2008 I have long accepted the groups invitation. However is certainly they who have always been my teachers. The Agriculture As A Business Program provided the group an initial loan of 300 GHC that allowed them to hire labour and buy insecticide and fertilizer for the first crop of the dry season.
Lawrence and I have designed a record book for them together and measured the size of the onion beds. We will sit with each member and calculate their profit, followed by a group discussion of the techniques that led some group members to excel. The group is curious and engaged in the process – before our next meeting they will be estimating their production level and costs… something that is not normally a habit for the group members.
Our aim is that the exercise of measuring profitability will continue next year and lead to more decisions being made based on record keeping among group members. Plus we have a few other ideas for activities in the bag that may also contribute to their success. Like a visit from a local NGO’s technical expert on growing a new crop.
The group has also agreed to take a loan from MoFA for 15 bags of fertilizer and a small diesel water pump for their second crop. The loans allow them to maximize the return on the money they invest in their plots because they know they have the fertilizer that makes the difference for big bulbs that the market women prefer. As a result, they have taken small risks like expanding the area cropped in the gardens over last year.
Our concern is that this credit opportunity is limited to when the Ministry offers it, and that it is not offered in a way that will substantially increase the group’s production in the long term.
Onion a small time away from harvest
Onion is a labour intensive crop that requires 24 hour attention . Each farmer may only have 4 beds, but they can bring revenue of up to 1.4 million (140GHC). It pays as long as farmers are smart about the timing of the planting and are technically competant enough to grow their own seed. In one other farmer group that we are working with, the women seeded but lost the young plants due to poor germination and lack of care of the young plants.
I was surprised that when the Zanliergu group was offered financing for seed they refused. They said that they don’t know where the seed comes from, and poor quality onion seed is abundant on the market. Even when we told them the source Lawrence had identified, they still refused because they know their seed is of better quality.
In Bawku, where the women’s group struggled to nurse healthy plants, we passed on the recommendations from Zanliergu.
Each visit to the group begins with a walk around the gardens with the farmers. They show Lawrence any problems they have with insects or fungus and he makes recommendations.
We also check the progress of past problems.The onion we are inspecting here is recovering from a fungus.
The Zanliergu community was chosen for a small scale dam in the recent LACOSREP II project. Unfortunately, the contractor did not finish their work and the irrigation canals were not completed. This limits the group to the use of hand dug wells and hand irrigation.
The contractor also left a large hill of dirt in the resevoir. The responsibility for the completion of the work was handed over to district assembly, or local government. The Water Users Association, which is an umbrella organization that includes the Zanliergu Farmers, has formally requested for the dam to be completed, but no action has been taken to date.
IFAD, the main donor for LACOSREP, is planning a new project in the three northern regions. The group is hopeful that work on their dam will be completed, whether by the District Assembly or the new project, or the Irrigation Development Authority, so that their entire community will be better able to make use of the water for gardening.
The struggle to complete small dams completed is a common challenge that bring up challenges of long term accountability for infrastructure. In other nearby communities, there are similar dams, built by NGO’s, that are either incomplete or in poor condition. On the other hand, I have also seen dams built more than 20 years ago, that have been well maintained and are being used every year for gardening in the lean season.
It’s very difficult to understand the reasons why such projects have fallen through the cracks. Communities have complex internal systems that govern land and resources . Often the construction of a dam by a well-intentioned outsider can ‘step on’ the toes of influential groups, or give power to groups that may not have the freedom to wield it effectively and in the best interests of the community.
The Zanliergu group is working with their extension agent to improve their farming, and doing what they can to try and complete the dam. We will continue to try and see how to support their work.
A big thanks to Sarah Grant, fellow EWB OVS – left below – who took many of these pics during recent visit.