Wednesday, July 05, 2006

An Asylum of Cashews, Part I

Disclaimer: This entry is a bit long…well, truthfully it’s ridiculously long due to my newfound tendency to ramble. It’s about the work I’ve been doing and challenges faced. So if you are only interested in the thrills of Ghanaian culture and lifestyle, READ NO FURTHER!!

Working with a government organization has both its advantages and disadvantages - compared to working with an NGO, that is. The two types of organizations can be contrasted on a number of levels, pertaining to: the availability of funds, sources of funds (and therefore responsibility of the organization to that source), bureaucracy, flexibility of policies, etc. Not to mention, of course, the motivation of the employees!

Let's start with funding. Because realistically, as much as I hate to admit it, so much boils down to MONEY. Money allows activities to happen, people to be paid, progress to occur. One of the phrases I've become most accustomed to hearing is "if we had the money...", or "we would do..., but we cannot due to insufficient funds." The favorite excuse: insufficient funds. Granted, one must objectively distinguish between a situation where funds are available but simply allocated elsewhere, and a situation where genuine efforts would be made if the money was present.

But I diverge. I was speaking of GOs vs. NGOs, and specifically about my preconceptions regarding the two, as opposed to the reality of what I've experienced working at a GO in a developing country.

So concerning funds, not being a keen economist myself (most definitely not my forté), I've somewhat limited myself in understanding how organizations work before departing for Ghana. In my naiveté I'd assumed that similar to Canada (where the government runs off taxpayer's dollars, there is theoretically enough for public services and government workers are considered to be fairly well paid), government organizations are not severely short of funds and their actions are therefore not donor driven. My subconscious logic went as follows: if an organizations has no donors (i.e. uses tax dollars), then the activities undertaken are done in the best interest of the citizens who are providing the funding. Granted, I'm excluding any situations where there is no policy transparency and corruption occurs. Point being: no donors = projects are beneficiary driven. But alas, if the basic premise is faulty...

For instance, MoFA holds monthly AEA meetings where the entire office ~ District Agricultural Officers (DAOs), Agricultural Extension Agents (AEAs) and the Director all come together to plan activities, decide where to focus energies (i.e. proposal writing), etc. Besides these regular meetings, when an "emergency" arises, they hold impromptu meetings. It was at one of these that the AEAs were discussing projects proposed by he higher up officials. Particularly, they were complaining about projects in which promises were made to the farmers and then not carried out. The topic was brought up by the DAO Crops, Mr. Isahaku, who reminded the AEAs to promote the "package": this package was a conditional provision of inputs for maize productions (seeds, fertilizer, etc.). However, the condition was that the farmers must first purchase a certain amount of cashew seeds to be intercropped with the maize. The whole point of the project was to promote this particular type of intercropping. Anyway, I don't know the project specifics like the logistics involving repaying the loans after harvesting (the inputs about being given as loans).

Apparently, what Mr. Isahaku was now saying, is that while the maize was originally promised, now the package is that if the farmers buy the cashew seeds, there is a chance of receiving the maize inputs...nothing is assured! So here the AEAs are in a position where many of them have already promoted the project to the farmers, many of whom have purchased the cashew seeds, planted, and are waiting on the maize inputs! These farmers are waiting for promised seeds that may never arrive! And by setting aside that land to grow maize (I believe it was a full acre), they may be forfeiting use of that land for this year. This meeting was held when it was reaching a point that it was already too late to grow a number of crop varieties with longer growing periods. At least, there were only a few varieties left that could be planted now and expect a good yield! And to add insult to injury, the AEAs all agreed that in the Tolon Kumbungu district, there is no market for cashews! They themselves wouldn't invest in them. So now we have farmers with cashews planted to intercrop with maize seeds that might not be available, and then cannot sell the cashews once harvested!

Problem #1: the AEAs have just entirely lost the trust of all the farmers who chose to invest in this project and don't receive the maize. Which farmers would listen to an AEA and take a gamble to go into co-ops, accept projects or adopt new technology after being so brutally let down? Without a solid trust basis, the AEAs can become virtually ineffective for some farmers and even communities.

Problem #2: the role of MoFA is primarily to work towards Food Security in the district/region/country...etc. Those few tens of thousands of cedis (just a few Canadian dollars) is a substantial loss to impoverished subsistence farmers, and greater still is the loss from idle land that was meant to be used (or land used too late to produce a good yield). While letting the land fallow for a year will improve soil fertility in the future, what if the farmer's family does not have enough to eat this year?? To use EWB/Russ' wonderful term, isn't it "grossly negligent" of a GO, or any organization for that matter, to go back on a promise like this which could have possible significant repercussions for the individual involved?

Problem #3: my largest issue with the whole affair (and you think, larger than #2??). Yes, my biggest problem is that even after a general concern was raised by the AEAs, the DAO Crops (supported by the other district officers), said to continue to promote the project. However, instead of promising maize, only mention that it is a possibility that if the farmer buys the cashew seeds, they might receive maize inputs. Continue to promote a project that may cause a loss for the farmer? (i.e. no cashew demand in district). When a project is so inapplicable to the district and those implementing it realize that fact, why do you ask would they continue to promote it?!

So thus my whole intro above GOs vs. NGOs: I learned at this meeting that MoFA is apparently 55% donor funded. That's right! 55%!! I couldn't believe that initially - of course, being a developing country with few taxes in place, it makes sense that the funding has to come from somewhere. But due to my lack of economic interest, I hadn't really stopped to think about where the funds came from. While I knew there were some donor projects, I'd thought it would be less than 55%. Consequently, MoFA is somewhat donor driven. An organization whose aim is to benefit the people, to be working for the people, are using some projects designed to please the donors!



At 7:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Hope your tummy bug has left you for pastures greener. Love you writing and must tell you that my boss, Prof. Fleming, thinks you have a great ability and flair for writing. Keep up the good work!!!

Love reading your blog. Keep up the good work. I guess red tape is red tape where ever one goes.

Love and miss you.

At 7:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Hope your tummy bug has left you for pastures greener. Love you writing and must tell you that my boss, Prof. Fleming, thinks you have a great ability and flair for writing. Keep up the good work!!!

Love reading your blog. I guess red tape is red tape where ever one goes.

Love and miss you.

At 9:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi there 

What does everyone think of what is going on in Iraq?

Wow, I've found the same to be true too!  How did you find that?  

See you soon! Girly Girl 

[color=#9db][url=]how I make money with paid surveys[/url][/color]


Post a Comment

<< Home