New Cassava Varieties Save Zanzibar’s Food Security

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet and written by Catherine Njuguna

Millions of cassava farmers in eastern and central Africa are in distress from viral cassava diseases that are sweeping across the region and ravaging their crops. But their counterparts on the popular tourist island of Zanzibar are undergoing a quiet revolution using new disease-resistant and high-yielding varieties that were introduced three years ago.

The four varieties, Kizimbani, Mahonda, Kama, and Machui, have given cassava a new lease on life after the crop was devastated by the two main diseases afflicting the region: brown streak disease and mosaic disease. The diseases, which are spread by white flies, cost Africa’s cassava sector more than US$1 billion in damages every year. Small-scale farmers – among the poorest in the region – bear most of the economic effects.

Cassava mosaic disease first appeared in Uganda in the mid-1980s and spread rapidly in cassava-growing areas of eastern and central Africa through the sharing of infected planting materials and via the white fly vector. Following the development and deployment of resistant and tolerant varieties and widespread awareness-raising on ways to curb the mosaic’s spread, scientists, governments, non-governmental organizations, and farmers were able to bring the disease nearly under control. Then the cassava brown streak struck. This disease had been around for much longer but was confined to the coastal low-altitude areas of Eastern Africa and around Lake Malawi. From 2004, it started spreading rapidly to mid-altitude areas that were recovering from the mosaic, sending scientists back to the drawing board.

Haji Saleh, the head of Zanzibar’s roots and tuber program under the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Environment, says the first survey of cassava brown streak on the island was conducted in 1994 and indicated that 20 percent of the crop had disease symptoms. In a follow-up survey in 2002, the disease was found everywhere. “All the local varieties grown by the farmers were susceptible. The farmer and authorities were crying out for help,” Saleh said.

Heeding the call for help, Zanzibar crop scientists in collaboration with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) started a breeding program to develop cassava varieties that were resistant to the two diseases. Their efforts paid off, and after only four years, four new varieties were released in 2007.

“You have to understand, cassava is a very important staple in Zanzibar, where it comes in second after rice,” Saleh said. “However, it is first in terms of acreage and production with over 90 percent of farmers growing the crop. It is our food security crop as it grows in most of the agro-ecological zones including in the dry parts of the island where other crops do not perform well. So when the diseases hit, they were very devastating to the island’s food security. We had to act fast.”

The research team then started a rapid multiplication program, working with the farmers to spread the improved varieties on the island and beyond. “We selected pilot farmers in each district to help with the multiplication,” Saleh said. “We trained them on how to grow cassava to get good yields and maintain soil fertility, and on business skills, as they were to sell the planting material as a business.”

One farmer, 59-year-old Ramadhani Abdala Ame of Kianga village – a father of 10 – participated in the on-farm trials using the improved varieties. During the trials, the farmers helped the researchers select not only the best performing varieties, but also those that met farmer preferences and requirements for various uses of the crops. Ramadhani said he had given up on cassava, which was suffering from “kensa ya mhogo,” or “cancer of the cassava.” Infected by the brown streak disease, the crop develops a dry rot in its roots – the most economically important part of the plant – which makes it useless for consumption.

“The cassava looked good in the field, but when you harvested, the roots were rotten and useless, with all your labor and efforts going down the drain,” Ramadhani said. He explained that he was given 40 cuttings of the four new varieties to test on his farm. “At that time, they did not have names, only numbers. I was amazed at their performance: the  tubers were huge, and had no disease. I selected the two I liked best that were later renamed Kizimbani and Machui.”

Ramadhani said the sale of cassava roots and planting materials has made a big difference in his life. He has bought two cows to add to his stock, constructed a cowshed, and is now building a better brick and iron-sheet house for his family.

Another pilot farmer, Suleiman John Ndebe of Machui village, had also given up on cassava after 10 years of bad harvests due to the “cancer” and other pests and diseases such as mealy bug and cassava green mite. But the varieties given to him at Kizimbazi research station for testing excited him and motivated him to resume growing the crop. It’s a decision he says he has not regretted.

Suleiman says his involvement in the project has turned his life around. Farming for him is now a serious business. He estimates that he makes profits of between 50 and 100 percent from his cassava, depending on the season, and his income increased more than four times. “Before the training, I did not know agriculture was a business. I did not know whether I made a profit or a loss. Now, I know how much cassava I have planted, the cost of labor and manure, how much I expect to harvest, and how much profit I will make. I am now able to save some money in the bank and my life is less stressful. I even bought a color TV to be able to follow the World Cup!”

Yet there is still a big gap to fill before all the farmers on Zanzibar can enjoy the new cassava varieties. According to Salma Omar Mohamed, a research officer with Kizimbani Research station, only some 10,000 farmers are currently growing these new varieties, out of a potential of more than 1 million. She says the business model of distributing the planting materials has excluded poor farmers who are not able to afford the materials. However, she was thankful for the strides made with funding from donors such as Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), which supported the free distribution of planting materials to poor farmers under a voucher program.

Mohamed hopes they can get more such support to spread the improved varieties to all the farmers on Zanzibar and on neighboring Pemba Island, where the disease is also prevalent and penetration of the new varieties is even lower.

Dr. Kanju, a cassava breeder with IITA, says hope is also on the way for farmers in Kenya, mainland Tanzania, and Uganda, as 15 promising cassava varieties that are suitable for the climatic conditions of these areas are in the last testing stages. “With scientists and farmers working together, they can eliminate the diseases in the region, securing the food and livelihoods of over 200 million farmers in sub-Saharan Africa who depend on the crop.”

Catherine Njuguna is a communication officer with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

 

 

Fighting for Farm Workers’ Rights for More Than 40 Years

By Ronit Ridberg

This is the first of three parts of an interview with Baldemar Velasquez, President and Founder of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee. In Part One, Mr. Velasquez describes the biggest challenges and abuses farm workers face in the U.S., and what it was like for his family to work in America's agricultural sector. Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

Name: Baldemar Velasquez

Affiliation: President and Founder, Farm Labor Organizing Committee, FLOC, AFL-CIO

Location: Toledo, Ohio

Bio: Incensed by the injustices suffered by his family and other farm workers, Baldemar Velasquez founded the union of migrant farm workers, Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) in 1967. FLOC works tirelessly to give voice to migrant farm workers across the country and include them in decision-making processes on conditions that affect their lives. Mr. Velasquez is a highly respected national and international leader, not only in the farm labor movement, but also in the Latino and immigrant rights movements.

What is your background, and how did you come to found FLOC?

My family was recruited into the migrant worker stream back in the early 50s from South Texas to harvest tomatoes, sugar beets and other hand-harvest crops in Ohio, Michigan and the Midwest. That began my long odyssey to this work, getting stranded in Ohio and not making enough money to get back to Texas. In those early years we didn't even have our own transportation and we got so in debt one fall, we had to stay the winter and borrow more money from the local farmers just to stay alive. Then we worked off the winter debt the next summer- working for free in the fields. We then stayed another winter and were in debt again, we sort of became like indentured workers for about seven years.

Just to get out of debt we traveled the summers around the mid-west to find the back-to-back-to-back crops. In Michigan with the cherries and the strawberries, and trimming Christmas trees then back to Ohio for the sugar beets and the tomato and cucumber harvest, right into the fall and picking potatoes for the local farmers. So that's how we just tried to keep out of debt and try and survive the winter so we could survive the following summer.

The silver lining in all of this was that I was able to learn English and stay in school - it was cold at home and warm in the schoolhouse so I kept going back to school. I ended up going to college - almost by accident! I didn't think that college was for Mexican kids, I thought it was for white kids, and my senior literature teacher said, "Why not?" My grades were good enough. During college vacations I would go back to the fields to work and by my senior year I was already organizing my dad and his friends, and my mom and her comadres in the fields.

Can you describe some of the biggest challenges and most common abuses faced by farm workers in the United States?

Well there's the outward abuses, like stealing your wages, getting cheated in your pay, employers cooking the books and falsely reporting the wages of workers. And a lot of times they hide it - like in our family, our whole family worked together but only my dad and my mom would get a paycheck. So they reported it as individual earnings, but it was really the collective earnings of all of us who worked on piece-rate crops. We were regularly cheated out of minimum wages. And as long as people were working piece-rates, getting paid by the bucket, by the acre, by the lug, by the crate, by whatever container or unit we were working and getting paid for, the record keeping of hours was very sporadic and very distorted.

Then there's the disregard for the health environment of the workers, the labor camps where many times the legislation was so lax that you could house people in chicken coops and barns, and still qualify to have registered labor camps. And even then, whatever laws were in the books were never enforced anyway. So we grew up in very bad labor camp conditions. So there's that environmental factor.

And then the human abuse, the tongue lashings that workers would get, that women would get from unscrupulous labor contractors, crew leaders, field men, and even some farmers. One of the things that would really shock me and anger me was the way they would talk to my mom, in ear shot of my little sisters who were all smaller. Well, it makes a young man very angry, and you want to do something but you don't know what to do.

So those are the kinds of abuses that we grew up with. By the time I was old enough to think about this seriously, I thought well, when I grow up, if I can do something about this, I'm going to do something!

How common is child labor is in agricultural production today and do you think labor policies can address the problem?

You know, we've had child labor laws on the books for a long time. And the problem with any kind of laws governing the agriculture sector is the lax enforcement, or no enforcement at all. I started working the fields when I was six. By the time I was eight or nine, I was already carrying an adult load in terms of ability to harvest the number of lugs or crates or baskets or hampers or whatever.

And as far as putting more inspectors in the fields to enforce child labor laws, it's a two-edged sword. The reason parents have their kids in the field is not because they like child labor, but really in our family, the alternative to that was not eating. And that's what it boils down to. And it's very easy to say, "yeah let's pass some laws and get really tough enforcement and big fines for those who have kids in the fields," but if you get the kids out of the fields - okay, so then what? You let them languish in the labor camps all by themselves? They have nothing to do. Or you take away an adult wage-earner to stay home and baby-sit him? Take away that income from the family?

You cannot talk about eliminating child labor without dealing with the other family impacts - for instance family income. The kids may not create as much income as an adult worker, but it is income. And we used to pool our income as a whole family to make ends meet, to stay alive. And so you've got to deal with the wage issue. You've got to make the job where adults can earn a living so the kids don't have to be in the fields and you can still provide for them, you can still give them food. All of these have to be answered together - you can't just say, let's eliminate child labor. All these advocates in Washington talking about child labor laws and so on, well-intentioned as it is, they're not addressing the other issues.

What are some of the health hazards that farm workers face?

Every crop has different foliage and its own chemical make-up, and sometimes people have allergies and react to them. Not to mention the residue that might be on some of those crops - the fungicides, the pesticides that they spray on them, and the lack of enforcement on reentry time in the field. You can have all the regulations you want - if you don't have a way in which workers can police that and be able to decisively do something without fear of retaliation, then the laws aren't going to do you a lot of good.

I've watched over the years well-intentioned efforts like the Environmental Protection Agency's Worker Protection Standards, and the required training of workers around pesticides and so on. And they have put millions into funding organizations to train workers about pesticide safety. Well, here's my question: a worker gets out of bed in the morning, and he sees a farmer who just finished spraying a field, and the crew leader takes him out there and says, "Okay - time to go to work". And he's educated about the reentry time, and knows it is too early to go back in. (The more toxic ones have longer reentry periods - two, three-day reentry period). And sitting on the edge of the field - the difference between a trained worker and an untrained worker, is either that you're knowingly going to go in and get poisoned, or you're not knowingly going to get poisoned. The guy that knowingly goes in and gets poisoned, what's his choice? What are his options? Not go and maybe get fired? And get retaliated against? What do you have on the books to protect him from being retaliated against, and how is he going to process that - file a complaint with the Department of Labor, who might respond in two weeks? And then you have to pack up and go make a living with your family somewhere else. Where is the follow-up on that particular incident? What good does it do you that day? That's the problem.

So there's the problem in terms of the chemicals, the residues on the plants. There's also the climate issue. We have had nine deaths in the fields of North Carolina in recent years, and seven of them from heat stroke. This summer already, among our membership, we've had two heat stroke cases: One guy is still in a coma, and the other fellow just came out of a coma. We have him in a hospitality place down where we're working on his workers' compensation case and in the past those workers who didn't have an organization, well they were out of luck. They were forgotten, put on the bus and sent back to Mexico, or just left to languish wherever they are.

So a lot of that is just due to pure neglect. The farmers can be held accountable, but workers have to have a right to make decisions about when they can walk out of a field, when they can file a complaint or a grievance with the employer. Already this summer we've probably processed a couple of hundred complaints from workers.

Stayed tuned to parts two and three of this series, which will focus on how FLOC helps farmworkers gain a seat at the negotiating table, and ways consumers can get involved. To read more about workers in our food system, see In a Global Food System: Breaking Down Barriers and Improving Livelihoods for Food Workers and Making Sure the Food Industry Works for its Employees.

Ronit Ridberg is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

Thank you for reading! As you may already know, Danielle Nierenberg is traveling across sub-Saharan Africa visiting organizations and projects that provide environmentally sustainable solutions to hunger and poverty.  She has already traveled to over 18 countries and visited 130 projects highlighting stories of hope and success in the region. She will be in Benin next, so stay tuned for more writing, photos and video from her travels.  

If you enjoy reading this diary, we blog daily on  Nourishing the Planet, where you can also sign up for our newsletter to receive weekly blog and travel updates.  Please don't hesitate to comment on our posts, we check them daily and look forward to an ongoing discussion with you. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

 

 

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: W

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.

Danielle Nierenberg (second from the right) meets with representatives from CEWEFIA in Cape Coast, Ghana. (Photo Credit: Bernard Pollack)

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.

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: W

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.

Danielle Nierenberg (second from the right) meets with representatives from CEWEFIA in Cape Coast, Ghana. (Photo Credit: Bernard Pollack)

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.

With ECASARD You Can See A Real Impact

This is two parts from a five-part series of our visit with the Ecumenical Association for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development and the projects they support in southern Ghana. Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

Part I: 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 have built capacity for farmers and you see their lives improving, it's something that you can't quantify or measure," she says.



Part II: 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.

Music Without Borders: Ghana

This is a weekly series where we recommend an artist, song, or compilation of songs, from a country in Africa, brought to you by our awesome friends at Awesome Tapes From Africa. Today's selection is from Ghana:

Listen to some funky highlife music from the good old days of Ghana's guitar band highlife boom. If this doesn't make you want to dance I don't know what will.

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