Learning to Listen to Farmers

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

At the Department of Agricultural Economics and Extension at Cape Coast University in Southern Ghana, learning takes place not only in classrooms, but also literally in fields  and farms all over the country. As part of a program to improve agricultural extension services, extension officers are working with professors to find ways to improve food production in their communities. The extensionists, who are already working with farmers, are selected by the Ministry of Agriculture and the University from all over the country to train at the University to help them better  share their skills and knowledge with farmers.

The program was started in the early 1990s after the Ministry of Agriculture found that its' extension workers were not communicating well with farmers, says Dr. Okorley, a  Cape Coast professor. The goal of the program, according to Okorley, is "to improve the knowledge of front line extension staff." Because the educational background of many extension workers is "limited" (many don't have the means to attend college) says Okorley, they "couldn't look at agriculture holistically."

But the university is helping change that problem. Students learn how to engage with farmers and communities by learning better communication skills. And they are trained to properly diagnose problems, as well as come up with solutions.

After attending a year of classes on campus, the students go back to their communities to implement what they've learned in Supervised Enterprise Projects (SEPs). The SEPs give the student-professionals the opportunity to learn that particular technologies, no matter how innovative they might seem in the classroom, don't always "fit" the needs of communities, says Dr. Okorley. The SEPs also help them implement some of the communication skills they've learned in their classes, allowing them to engage more effectively in the communities where they work. Instead of simply telling farmers to use a particular type of seed or a certain brand of pesticide or fertilizer, the extension workers are now learning how to listen to farmers and help them find innovations that best serve their particular needs. "One beauty of the program," according to Dr. Okorley, "is the on-the-ground research and experimentation." He says "it allows the environment to teach what should be done."

They have plans to scale up and improve the program by developing a "technology village" that will allow students to try out different technologies or practices before taking them back to their villages. And they hope to engage women in the program-currently, there are no female professors or students in the program. In addition, they're hoping to incorporate a value chain approach in the curriculum, helping extension workers and farmers alike find innovative ways to add value to and improve the quality of crops.

Listen below to Professor Festus Annor-Frempong discuss how the University is helping improve agriculture in Ghana and to Peter Omega, a former student, talk about his work with farmers in his community.

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 Burkina Faso 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.  Also, please don't hesitate to comment on our posts, we check them daily and look forward to an ongoing discussion with you.

Tags: Agriculture, Cape Coast University, Department of Agriculture Economics and Extension, economics, Education, extension, Ghana, Innovations that Nourish the Planet, Ministry of Agriculture, Nourishing the Planet, State of the World, farmers (all tags)

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