I have now been back in Bolga for three weeks, and can explain a little about what I have been doing at TradeAID, the NGO I am working for. My time has mostly been taken up by the collection of data.
Part of my work here is to assist in the establishment of a social enterprise called ProCom Ghana Ltd. This entity will buy farmers’ produce at the farm gate at a fair price. For the communities where ProCom will operate it will offer a guaranteed buyer for the farmer, remove the cost of transporting goods to market and improve on the price the farmer would receive at the local markets. The impact will be to stabilise and raise farmers’ incomes, allow farmers to invest in inputs such as fertiliser, better seeds and labour to increase their productivity, and therefore overall improve their family’s standard of living.
To establish ProCom we must secure funding. Initially we are looking for donor funding, but once it becomes a viable business we will look for commercial investment. Crucial to any donor funding proposal is primary data. We must be able to qualify our perception of a need for intervention with evidence that identifies a problem. And we must present facts and figures on the current situation and provide forecasts of the extent to which we would improve the status quo should we receive funding for our venture.
So, to this end I initiated a baseline survey to gather information about farmer’s incomes and their socio-economic status and I am conducting focus groups to highlight the need for better access to market for farmers. When I was here last year I conducted the pilot surveys and now my colleagues and I are doing the actual surveys. We have decided to target five communities with whom TradeAID has existing good relations.
The good relations are important because conducting demographic surveys raises many ethical questions. Amongst the remote rural communities in the region, there is often a low awareness of the ways in which NGOs work, although TradeAID has done much to provide advice on this to the communities they work with. When visiting to collect data I must be sure to make the farmers aware that my presence and the collection of data do not mean the funding is already on its way, so as not to create unrealistic expectations. It is also important to reassure the farmers that the data is only to be used by TradeAID and not for some other purpose. I therefore first made a visit to each community I need to survey with a colleague to translate my English into Frafra, to be introduced. I was able to explain I would be visiting again to ask questions, and why I would be doing this and give the farmers the opportunity to ask me questions about the research.
The initial results of the baseline questionnaire are showing that with regards to education, the majority of those over 30 did not go to school, or only for a few years, and not all those in their 20s completed secondary school, which supports the fact that educational attainment in Upper East region is below average. Primary school attendance rates have been boosted since the elimination of fees in 2005 and now most children aged 5-15 are attending school. The number of people living in one household ranges from 5 to 10 people. The large majority are farmers and the crops grown are rice, ground nuts (peanuts), millet, maize. Some families supplement their farming income by weaving and selling baskets, which is done mostly by women, or with petty-trading and infrequently livestock rearing. Approximately one third of families count remittances from other family members living elsewhere as part of their income.
The initial results of the focus groups are showing what is already well-known, that the farmers are trapped in a cycle of poverty, whereby the farming is not profitable and they do not have the means to change this. They cannot afford the inputs that would increase productivity such as fertiliser, fees for irrigated land, good seeds, tractor or bullock services for ploughing, extra labour and transport to market.
TradeAID helps to alleviate these problems through the provision of small loans and we hope that with the establishment of an enterprise to buy the produce at the farm gate, productivity and living standards will improve.