Working with the Root

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Working with the Root

The following is an eight-part series about Danielle Nierenberg's visit to the Ecumenical Association for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development's (ECASARD) work in Ghana. Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

Part I: Working with the Root

The Ecumenical Association for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (ECASARD), based in Accra, Ghana, is a unique organization. Not only has it brought together members of the Christian and Muslim faith-based communities to help improve the lives of farmers, it also collaborates with farmers groups, NGOs, policy-makers, and research institutions. "We can't do it on our own," says King David Amoah, which is why ECASARD works with these different stakeholders.

Established in 1991, ECASARD works with some 32,000 farmers in 7 regions of southern and central Ghana.

Their goal, says King David, is to both increase food production and reduce rural poverty. They do this by promoting innovations that are affordable, environmentally sustainable, socially just and culturally acceptable.

One of the most important things they do, according to King David, is the promotion of pilot projects. "Farmers can't afford to experiment {with different technologies}," he says, "but ECASARD can fund pilot projects," allowing farmers the freedom to try new things without taking on all the risk.

Their greatest success, says King David, has been "bringing farmers together to organize themselves" into associations and cooperatives, particularly for women. ECASARD "works with the root. We don't go to big-time farmers," according to King David, "we go to the villages."

In addition, ECASARD helps farmers understand the business of farming by helping them connect to markets. Having a market, says King David, gives farmers the incentive to produce more. ECASARD is also making farming a more attractive option, particularly for youth. "If you take farming seriously," according to King David, "it can be your livelihood and make you a rich man {or woman}.

Part II: Something that Can't be Quantified

Check out this video of Nancy Ayesua Outu, ECASARD financial director, explaining why her work to promote agricultural innovations that are affordable, environmentally sustainable, socially just, and culturally acceptable in Ghana is so valuable. "When you have built capacity for farmers and you can see their lives improving, it's something that you can't quantify or measure," she says.

Part III: With ECASARD You Can See A Real Impact

Check out this video of Stephen Amoah, ECASARD programs officer explaining why he enjoys working with ECASARD. Amoah started out as a volunteer but is now a full time employee. He says, "it's a joy to hear someone say that because of our training they've increased their yield." Amoah knows that by helping farmers form cooperatives and access agriculture training, he is "really helping the family and community to reduce hunger and poverty" for themselves.

Part IV: The Abooman Women's Group: Working Together to Improve Livelihoods

The Abooman Women's Group in southern Ghana, "started off as a mixed group," of women and men, says Fatima Addy, the Group's leader. But today the group consists mainly of women working together to help one another. And says Fatima, "the women's group performs better than the men's group" by getting higher incomes from their products, especially in the off season.

The Abooman women have worked with the Ecumenical Association for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (ECASARD) and Heifer International to learn how to raise and care for dairy cows, make yoghurt, and pasteurize for milk for sale to the local community and for sale to schools. Some of the women also raise bees.

"Change is coming gradually," says Fatima, "and it takes time to build up where you can safely say you can earn an income." And while the market for milk products in the community is growing, the women still have some challenges. They talked about the need for a better storage and processing facility and a freezer, as well better storage for the feed for their cows.

Fatima says that they're "putting all our effort into making the groups sustainable" to not only find ways to improve their production and incomes, but also help them face the "challenges they face from men trying to prove us wrong." Credit, for example, has been for men, not to women. As the women become better organize, however, they're becoming more successful farmers and business women.

Part V: The Abooman Women's Group: We Started Our Own Thing

With support from the Ecumenical Association for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (ECASARD) and Heifer International, members of the Abooman Women's Group are raising and caring for dairy cows to make yogurt and pasteurized milk for sale to the local community and schools. Some of the women are also raising bees. Check out this video of the group and hear its leader, Fatima Addy, explain why it was important to have a group that consists mainly of women working together to help one another.

Part VI: Making a Living Out of Conservation

The farmers of the Neleshi Grasscutter and Farmers Association (NAGRAFA) consider themselves not only farmers and businesswomen and men, but also conservationists. Grasscutters, or cane rats, are found throughout Western Africa and, as their name suggests, they live in grasslands. But many poor farmers in Ghana use slash and burn methods on grasslands to provide short term nutrients to the soil, as well as to drive out grasscutters and sell their meat, which is considered a delicacy. To help preserve the grasslands and help other farmers increase their incomes, NAGRAFA offers free trainings to farmers and youth about how to raise, slaughter, and process grasscuttter and rabbit meat.

The group is made up of about 40 active members--both men and women--who have been working together to find better ways to raise grasscutters and rabbits on a small-scale. Their biggest challenges, says Farmer Brown (which is the only name he gave us), the leader of the group is finding inexpensive ways of housing and feeding their animals, finding better packaging for their products, and publicizing the health and nutritional qualities of their products.

NAGRAFA is also reaching out to youth to engage them in farming. Because the rabbits and grasscutters are cute, it's easy to get children and teenagers interested in them, according to Ekow Martin, one of the members of NAGRAFA. He's training 5 to 6 youth in his community about how to raise the animals--and earn money from the sale of the meat. And, Mary Edjah, another NASGRAFA farmer says that "we need more hands" to help raise rabbits and grasscutters. She and other members of the group are helping train 6 orphans about how to raise and care for the animals.

Ms. Edjah also says that raising grasscutters and rabbits helps "bring the family together" and "keeps the children at home." Raising these animals, says Mr. Martin, "changes everything." The family is happy, he says, because they're able to supplement their income, as well as improve the family's nutrition.

And like other livestock such as cattle and goats, grasscutters and rabbits are like walking credit cards, giving families the opportunity to sell them to pay for school fees or medicine, or eat them. Ms. Edjah says "that in times of need, women know they can slaughter the rabbits."

For more about NAGRAFA, check out the videos below.

Part VII: New Frontier Farmers and Processor Group: Reviving Farmland and Improving Livelihoods

In Anamaase, Ghana, the New Frontier Farmers and Processor group is led by the village's chief. Osbararima Mana Tibi II is a self described "young leader (he's 50 years old) with a love for the environment." He took it upon himself when he became chief, he says, to help revive farmland and improve the lives of the farmers in his village of about 5,000 people. And the chief is also helping farmers become more business-oriented. "We're always thinking about how to process the crops we're growing," he says. According to him, farmers don't have a lot of bargaining power in most villages in Ghana, but "processing gives them more leverage."

One of the groups' biggest accomplishments since it began in 1992, according to Chief Mana Tibi, is organizing palm oil processing groups. Typically, farmers collect palm oil fruits and sell them to a processor, instead of processing and extracting the oil--and having the opportunity to make additional income-- themselves.

But by "coming together," says the Chief, and building three palm oil processing centers, farmers are able to boil, ferment, and press the palm fruits themselves, allowing them to make a better profit. The processing plants, or "service centers," which are run mainly by women, also help save time and labor because the community is working together to process and then package the oil. And because the three facilities aren't enough to "fill the need" they're working on building three or four additional processing plants.

The group is also involved in helping restore watersheds and barren land through agroforestry. They've started growing nitrogen-fixing trees, including Lucina to help restore soils, as well other trees, such as the so-called "green gold of Ghana," moringa. When they're processed into powder, the leaves of the moringa tree are very high in protein and can be manufactured into formula for malnourished children. And because the processing of moringa into powder "generates a lot of trash," says Chief Tibi, the stalks and other leftover parts of the plant can be used as fodder for animals. New Frontier is also providing moringa seedlings to a group of 40 people living with HIV/AIDS, who not only use moringa as a nutritional supplement, but are also growing moringa to earn income.

The group is doing some of its own community-based research by testing the effect moringa has on livestock. According to their research, feeding sheep moringa leaves has reduced fat in the meat dramatically, "making it taste more like bushmeat," and it lasts longer when it is preserved than regular mutton. They've also found that goats who eat moringa are healthier.

In addition, the Chief is hoping that the business opportunities provided by moringa and other crops, will help make agriculture and agribusiness more attractive to youth and prevent their "drift" to the cities. He's created a Amanmae Fe, or home of tradition, a place in the community that uses dancing and music "to bait the youth," says the Chief. By bringing them together, he hopes the youth will learn more about their traditions and the ways of growing food that were in Ghana before Western interventions, as well as more modern practices that can help increase production and improve their livelihoods.

Part VIII: Tapping Local Ingenuity to Raise Fish and Livestock

Fishers and livestock keepers in Ghana face numerous challenges. For fishers, a good harvest can mean abundant fish but low prices. And the country's small-scale chicken farmers often lose their flocks to disease. But in Cape Coast, the capital of the Central Region, two farmers' groups are helping members find innovative ways to add value to their products and improve the health of both their animals and their communities.

The 58 women who make up Ghana's Central and Western Fishmongers Improvement Association (CEWEFIA) had a problem of supply and demand. When the hare and red fish came into season during the summer months, there was too much of the seafood available on the market to make a profit. Then, later in the year, when the fish weren't as abundant, the women didn't have anything to sell in the community. To solve this dilemma, the group came together to learn how to smoke and process fish, as well as process palm oil. The women are "self-taught," making their own drying racks and much of the other equipment, according to Paulina Eshun, one of CEWEFIA's leaders. The members share the cost of the materials--including special firewood used for smoking and the packaging for their products--as well as the profit they get from selling dried fish, fish powder, and palm oil.

For another local farmer, Emmanuel Ankai-Taylor, keeping his chickens healthy was the main motivation to take action. According to him, most of the people in his community no longer keep native chickens, but instead raise introduced breeds that are supposed to gain weight more quickly. Unfortunately, these exotic breeds tend to get sick easily and need expensive medicines to help keep them healthy. Mr. Ankai-Taylor found that adding popopoo, an indigenous herb, to the chickens' feed helped keep the birds healthy. He also found that sick chickens that were treated with the herb would get better more quickly. To help spread this knowledge about using medicinal plants for livestock management and other sustainable agricultural practices, Mr. Ankai-Taylor founded the Center for Indigenous Agriculture and Rural Development so farmers could learn from one other.

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