In the field
During my first week I was taken on field visits to some of the groups supported by TradeAID Integrated to meet the communities and to learn about the difficulties they face in earning a living from farming.
At Vea, TradeAID have supported some of the women of the community to form a basket-weaving group. As I was a first-time visitor the women assembled to sing and dance and ululate, it was an amazing welcome!
A few years ago TradeAID secured funding from Canadian Feed the Children for a craft centre to provide the women with a sheltered place in which to meet and weave the baskets. We sat in there to talk. They told me that weaving together allows them to learn from each other. In addition the building can be used for other purposes by the community such as a nursery, or by visiting health workers.
The group numbers 30 and they weave and sell the baskets mainly during the dry season when there is little, if any income from farming. The straw, called elephant grass, is actually grown in the south and transported northwards, but TradeAID is looking into cultivating it locally to reduce the cost of purchasing it for the women. It takes approximately two days to prepare the materials and at least two days to complete a basket, spending about three to four hours a day weaving.
At the time of my visit the group were completing an order of 290 baskets as part of a larger order placed by SERRV International, one of the clients TradeAID has established for the women’s baskets. Other groups supported by TradeAID were weaving the remainder of the order of over 1000 baskets. Part of my work has been to increase orders for the straw products by working on new product designs, updating the website catalogue and encouraging online fair trade retailers to place an order.
As a result of TradeAID’s support the women told me they had seen their incomes improve. This allows them to buy food (principally millet) when they need it, and to pay for their health insurance. When we left there was more singing and dancing and this time the women wanted me to join in, which I did, very poorly..!!
The second visit was to Biu where TradeAID supports rice farming. We joined the women’s weekly meeting in the shade of a huge baobab tree. My colleague reiterated to the group that TradeAID would be providing training on improving rice productivity, and assisting with market access. Part of my time here has been spent putting together a proposal and searching for funding for a new initiative of TradeAID. They would like to establish a fair trade company to buy produce from a number of communities and so provide a consistent buyer for the farmers’ produce. This will improve the level and predictability of incomes and relieve the farmers of the cost and time of transporting produce to a local market.
The women’s leader explained to me that the biggest problem faced by farmers in the community is not being able to afford inputs such as seed, fertiliser, insecticide etc. This brought home to me the importance of micro-finance for such communities, which is a service TradeAID also provides. It is a struggle to earn or save enough money for these inputs due to the seasonality and low level of their incomes.
The goodbye singing for my colleagues and I was beautifully warm and friendly. I just hoped to be able to contribute to the work TradeAID is doing to bring about some of the improvements the community would like to see.
A third visit took me to Nyriga rice-farming community. First we stopped at a threshing platform which had been built 9 years ago by an NGO. The platform makes the threshing easier and improves the quality of the grain by preventing the addition of dirt and stones, which would accumulate if they were doing it on sacks on the ground. When one of the men saw me take out my camera, he turned his threshing into dancing! 🙂
I admitted to only ever having seen rice in a packet bought in a supermarket, so we visited some fields containing rice at various stages of growth and I was introduced to the owner, a woman supported by TradeAID. There was some friendly joking about the fact she is a farmer called Afarma :).
As this community is close to the man-made reservoir and its irrigation channels, they are able to plant twice a year, obviously making a significant difference to the farmers’ incomes. Recently I have been writing a proposal for funding for an advocacy project to change the fees charged by the irrigation company. Currently the fees are requested at the time of planting when farmers struggle to meet the cost. If they were allowed to pay either in instalments, or after the harvest their access to the irrigated fields would not be delayed and yields would be higher.
From the fields we went to the milling building built by TradeAID from where CenPro (Centre for Agro Processing, an initiative of TradeAID) operates.
They buy the harvested rice from the farmers and process it. This entails par-boiling it in large cauldrons in one building (on the left above), to soften it before milling and to allow the transfer of the nutritional value of the husk into the grain. Then in another building (on the right above) a milling machine removes stones, husks and dust and grades it into long-grain and short or broken grains (the latter often contains stones and is mostly used as animal feed).
It is then packaged in sacks of 25kg or 50kg which CenPro sells at market. CenPro is able to give farmers a good price for the unprocessed grain as after processing the bags of rice are of a much higher quality than what else is available at the market.
On another day we visited the busy rice market at Navrongo. It was explained to me that there is no standardisation of weights and measures. This makes it easy for farmers to be cheated, something which TradeAID is trying to change through its standardised and labelled bags.