Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Day 10: A Not-So Merry Christmas
As usual, the roosters and the sheep were the first to rise this morning. But Foster was not too far behind. At the crack of dawn, he came banging on the door yelling “Wake up, it’s Christmas!” After Adam and I slowly dragged ourselves out of bed, we were handed our first Christmas present of the day. Dan delivered a document from the farmers. They had met and written a constitution, outlining their rules of operations, potential loan repayment schemes, and even giving their group a name (Kano Egye Man – meaning Group Strength and Togetherness). Needless to say, this Christmas was off to a great start!
As we dressed and prepared ourselves to meet with the group of farmers, Foster returned with more news. “I must go,” he said. “Someone has passed.” Startled, Adam and I also left and headed towards the big Mango tree where all of the town meetings occur. Instead of hearing Christmas carols and seeing children scurry from house to house collecting gifts of yams and cassava, we only heard sobs of agony and saw devastated friends and family clawing at the Earth, pleading for the morning news to be untrue. Along the way, we learned that a 17 year old boy had died early in the morning. He died of Hepatitis B, a gruesomely easy illness to prevent. Today gave too real of a meaning to the phrase we hear day in and day out during our interviews: “I will use the dry-season money to pay for my children to go to the hospital.” So instead of dancing and drinking pito, we sat under the mango tree as the church choir sang songs of mourning. In the background, men scrambled to the cemetery to dig a grave. In Ekumdipe, the time one has to say goodbye to loved ones is cut short by a lack of embalming fluid.
Towards the end of the funeral, everyone dropped donations into a bucket for the family of the deceased. Nana, a young lady around our age, then told us, “Christmas is over. Today we mourn.” We put Project RISE aside for the day and focused our hearts and prayers on the young man and his family.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
I can feel us getting close to the end now! Darryl and I visited the market today. It was quite a sight! Christmas is tomorrow, so the people of Ekumdipe all gathered in this central location to buy and sell a variety of items just in time for the holiday. Of course, this represented a perfect opportunity to get the rest of the needed inputs for our financial model. After talking to the Bawku farmer, we decided to have the new farming group grow onion farms this year (relatively easy to grow and maintain). However, we still had plenty of questions about this type of crop. How do you sell onions? How much do they cost individually? How much do they cost in a bag? How much do they cost now, in March, and then in September? All of these were questions we needed to have answered. We recruited Nana, a local woman our age, to come help us determine the prices and then we went to work.
("Nana, how much does one bag of onions cost?")
Once in the market, we jumped from vegetable shop to vegetable shop in order to obtain all of our information. This was important, because we wanted to make sure our numbers were not skewed because of any particular shop. Not to mention, the Sale Ladies got annoyed and told us to move once they realized we only wanted to ask questions and not buy anything! In about 2 hours, we had the information we needed.A bag of onions could sell for about 60 Ghana Cedis (about 40 USD) in March, at the end of the dry-season harvest. The Bawku farmer told us that one could expect to grow 30 bags of onions on one acre. We planned on starting a new 4-acre farm. Clearly it didn’t take rocket science or even financial modeling to see what kinds revenue the group of farmers could be looking at by the end of the next season. We are onto something here…
Tomorrow is Christmas! Darryl and I have hopes for getting some work done, but who are we kidding. This should be a great chance to hang out and enjoy the company of the people in the community.
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Nonetheless, we figured out ways to get around these issues. We found ways to reword our questions whenever the answers did not match up. Also, we tried to focus on the duration and order of events rather then where they fell on last year’s calendar. Using these techniques, we were able to get around the communication issues and elicit some great information. One woman we spoke to offered a completely different perspective to everything we have heard thus far. She mentioned how the farmers last year split into different work groups based gender. She also highlighted that the women had more time to tend to the dry-season farms because they did not have to harvest the rainy season yams like the men. Finally, she informed us on how the deaths of the Chief and a young boy seriously disrupted productivity last year. It’s anecdotes like these that are able to give us the valuable types of information we can’t find in textbooks! Tomorrow we’re off to the market. I’m very happy with the progress we’re making with Phase 2.
Friday, December 24, 2010
Darryl and I arranged a meeting with 6 of the 10 farmers today. We already met with the Bawku expert and the first local farmer, but given time constraints, we needed a group meeting in order to get to the rest of the participants in time. The group included 4 of the farmers from the previous farm as well as 2 new individuals. We started with some basic questions. We asked the farmers why they originally joined the system and what they hoped to gain. The general consensus was that they knew they could make more money (needed to pay for food, medical expenses, and school fees for their children) from farming in the dry-season. They also emphasized that they knew people in America had given us the funds for the pumps and pipes, so they did not want to disappoint them.
Next , we moved to more specific questions. We asked the farmers to give us the step-by-step details on the dry-season process last year. They explained to us how they went from initially clearing the land all the way to transplanting and watering the seeds and gave us the respective durations for each step. Then we started prying into what they felt went wrong. Various reasons were given but we tried to identify the main issues (too late of a start, shortage of seeds, distractions like the death of the Chief, etc). However, they clearly stated that they understood that most new and worthwhile things in life take time, so they felt that they could surely create a better yield this year. We also promised to make sure we’d do our part to help them with whatever improvements they needed.
From there, we started discussing the loan structure. We explained that the pumps and the pipe system were not free and to use them, they would eventually have to pay back so we could buy supplies for more community members and other communities. The farmers all agreed. From there, Darryl and I told the group that we would be taking steps to determine the cost inputs for the total system and the cost of the loan. We then encouraged the farmers to discuss amongst themselves to create a constitution on how they would pay back the loan, save money for reinvesting in the farm, and split the remaining profits. After the plan was laid out, we agreed to meet again later in the week to finalize the agreement. This was another huge step for Phase 2.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Today we were able go explore the potential site of the first local farmer’s dry-season plot. This man, like Dan, is also a teacher. However, he said that that he saw the Bawku man’s farm and instantly became interested in the extra opportunity to make money. We went to his area (which was currently covered with yam mounds – the staple crop in the area that grows in the rainy season) to discuss his involvement in the dry-season system. As with the Bawku farmer, we asked him about every step that he would need to take and how much money he thought the inputs would cost. This was important in order to determine how large the gap of expertise is between the outside demonstrator and the local participants. We also aimed to push back on individuals’ mentality on profitability. When we asked the man if he could make enough money to pay back for the system in one dry season, he replied, “Certainly.”
(From left to right: The farmer, myself, Dan, and Darryl discussing the particulars of the future dry-season farm)
However, when we told him that he would have to potentially pay for the costs in the form of a loan, he became much more hesitant and started asking more questions. This was an important discovery because Darryl and I have a hypothesis that perhaps the system yield was not as high as expected due to the lack of proper incentivization in Phase 1. In the first phase, people knew that by joining our system they could make more money, but they had nothing to lose if they fell short. By actively notifying the members of the community that they will have to pay-back for their opportunity to use our pumps and pipes this time around, we not only weed out the less serious participants, but we also make sure that those who do attempt it will try harder. If the rest of the farmers we talk to exhibit similar behaviors as the one we spoke to today then we may be onto something! Tomorrow, we’ll have a group meeting with the rest of the 10 farmers. I’m really looking forward to this.
(Discussing the profitability of course)
Today was a great step for Phase 2. Darryl and I were able to link up with Dan, a local teacher, and prominent figure in the community, and one of our major sets of eyes and ears on the ground here. We went to the Bawku (a region 2 hours north of Ekumdipe that farms during the dry-season regularly) man’s farm in order to see his progress thus far, talk to him about dry-season particulars, and assess the profitability of the next season. By the time we started viewing the field, it was apparent that this man was an expert. He already had a substantial cluster onion seedlings sprouting from the ground. His farm beds were much wider and squarer than the type of ridges the people of Ekumdipe used last year (he mentioned that this was to retain more water during the arid conditions). The farmer even utilized different technology! He used hoes with narrower blades than the people in the area were accustomed to because he said it made weeding easier. If all of these differences are indeed important to the success of a dry-season yield, then it was no surprise that the people of the community did not do as well as we hoped last year. Seeing that we now had an expert that could help teach the others in the area was definitely a reassuring feeling for us.
After he showed us around his 2 acres, we started actively prying him with questions about profitability. This different type of approach is a key aspect of Phase 2. Last year, we took the word of agricultural experts and from literature about the potential profitability of the area. However, now, we are challenging what everyone says and everything we see. We asked him how many bags of onions his two acres could provide him. We then asked how much money he expected to receive per bag. We then we asked for a detailed schedule of the steps he expected to take from now until the harvest and then asked for the estimated price of every respective step. All of this information would later become inputs of a financial model we were creating to determine profitability of the dry-season. As someone who’s worked in finance for three summers, I am not a stranger to financial modeling. However, it was refreshing to see how some of the skills I was learning in the business world could be directly applicable to helping out those in need in this rural community in Ghana. Tomorrow we’re off to talk with a local farmer in order to contrast what he tells us against the Bawku farmer’s information. Thanks for all the support everyone!
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Tomorrow we head out to the farms for the first time, but I feel that it’s important to first clarify for everyone what exactly what Project RISE Phase 2 entails before we begin. As I mentioned before, I came to Ekumdipe a year and a half ago to start an irrigation system. This included transporting 4 pumps (approximately 500 dollars a piece – thanks to all who are donating!) and an extensive pipe system from the capital city of Accra to the rural town. After meeting with the farmers and demonstrating the system, I returned to the U.S. The people of Ekumdipe were able to grow crops during the following dry-season, something they’ve never experienced before!
Although, the people were able to witness dry-season farming for the first time ever, the yield of first harvest was still not as high as our original goal. This is an extremely important metric, as the system can only become self-sustainable if the people able to substantially increase their incomes with the new crops. We went back to our research and surveyed the farmers to identify issues. All of the participants voiced some form of concern over the lack of knowledge and experience with this type of system, as it’s the first time they have ever used it.
In order to further counteract this problem, we have recruited an outside farmer from the northern Bawku region (who is very proficient at this type of farming) to come to Ekumdipe for this dry-season. Our hypothesis is that by working side-by-side with an expert, the farmers of the community will be able to learn needed techniques more efficiently, see the true economic potential of dry-season farming with their own eyes, and further buy into the system and experience higher yields themselves. We’re going with the Bawku farmer out to the field tomorrow to get more information on how to further utilize the system to raise incomes. Stay tuned!
Friday, December 17, 2010
And today we began our journey to Ekumdipe. I flew into Accra, Ghana early at 5 am in the morning. The plan was to meet with Adam at the airport and get right onto the road to Ekumdipe, about a 12-hour drive (would be 3-4 hours with a paved road…). After standing for about an hour at baggage claim, Africa welcomed me back by losing my one and only bag. So, off I headed to Ekumdipe with nothing but my passport and a book. Hopefully the airline will find it in their hearts to send the bags to Tamale airport. We made the long journey safely (getting lost only for about an hour and with no flat tires!). Tomorrow is the funeral ceremony for the Chief who passed away a year and a half ago (this is his second and last funeral). Tonight, everyone will stay up through the night playing drums, dancing, singing, and socializing. Feels good to be back….
Thursday, December 16, 2010
90 degrees - That’s how hot it was when I stepped off of the plane today. Naturally, I felt a little awkward because I was holding a long-sleeve thermal, a sweater, and a hoody in my hands. I tried to remind myself that I was braving below-freezing weather back in Cambridge, Massachusetts less than 12 hours beforehand, but I was bewildered nonetheless. After all, this is the dry-season, the very reason I came to Ghana one and a half years ago to start Project RISE in the first place. From October to March, Ghana gets hot and dry and farmers become idle as a result. An irrigation system can fix this problem.
As I stepped off the plane, my mind started drifting to back to August 2009, when I first came here to implement Phase 1 of the project. I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel a sense of deja vu, however this time a plethora of factors were different. I remember in 2009 how I was completely shocked (check the 2009 - Day 2 blog post for proof) about the disparities and inequalities that existed in Accra, Ghana. I remember being very nervous as I had not met the people of Ekumdipe in person yet and I did not know how they would respond to my plan. I remember being extremely anxious, because although Phase 1 was preceded by months of irrigation research, I wanted to be able to put our pumps and pipes through a real-life test.
However this time, none of that was the same. The inequalities in Ghana did not faze me this time around. In fact, they merely served to reinforce my determination to try and do something about it. Also, at this point I know for a fact that the RISE irrigation system works because I had the opportunity to see it work with my own two eyes(check out the 2009 –Day 6 part 2 post if you want to see too!). Finally, rather than nervousness, I am excited to get to Ekumdipe again because at this point the people know me and the project and they know what we are aiming for. I am very pleased with the steps we took in Phase 1, but that is not enough. One and a half years ago, I knew that it would be naïve for me to think bringing pumps and pipes to the village in one trip would be enough to create substantial impact - that’s not how ADI works. This is just another significant step towards the long term goal of creating a beneficial, self-sustainable system to help fight poverty. This is Project RISE Phase 2.
Tomorrow I’m picking up my good friend, Darryl Finkton, from the airport and we’re taking off for the village! Stay tuned.