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Supporting Ghanaian farmers in the Eastern Corridor

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Dec 17 2007, Ghana [GH], Livelihood opportunities

In 2003, the Eastern Corridor Agro-Information Centre (ECAMIC) project began supporting farmers in Ghana’s Eastern Corridor by setting up cooperative farmer groups. In 2005, the Social Enterprise Foundation of West Africa (SEND), which began the project, signed an agreement with IICD, in collaboration with Cordaid, for a two-year project to develop a market information facility to serve 24 community-based farming cooperatives. Today, the project is focussing on developing the capacity and efficiency of the farmers through the deployment and use of mobile phones.

Rural farmers struggle to access timely and accurate information

As in many developing countries, rural farmers in Ghana are burdened with the problem of accessing timely and accurate information to decide what to produce, and when and how to market it. Although marketing is a national problem, the situation for small-scale food crop farmers in the Eastern Corridor of the Northern part of Ghana is the most serious one. Consequently, in 2003, a Roundtable workshop organised by IICD in cooperation with Cordaid was held with the primary focus of enhancing access to agricultural markets in Ghana.

A community notice board that shows farmers the current prices of products in the ‘basket of goods’. One of the outcomes of this four-day workshop was the ECAMIC project. The project, which is coordinated by the Social Enterprise Foundation of West Africa (SEND) with assistance from IICD, set out to develop a market information facility. This market facility would serve as a source of market information and data to 24 community-based farmers’ cooperatives. The project began by choosing two locations for the first centres. Set up in Kpandai and Salaga, both centres would be manned by a cooperative marketing officer. These Market Information Centres are linked to a central database located at SEND’s Head Office in Tamale. From there, the information is delivered to the farming communities by the community information officer. This information is then disseminated throughout the community either through public addresses, group meetings, or via a community notice board like the one depicted below.

User impact

Farmers working with the SEND foundation, Salaga, Ghana.The information provided details about buying and selling prices and other market indicators on a select number of products: products that were communally agreed upon at conception. Farmers have now become reliable suppliers of these products and have profited from up-to-date information on market prices and an expanded market. According to surveys, large-scale buyers are also benefiting from the efficient organisation of supply and transport. One in particular - Bosbel, a large oil producer - stated that the project has ‘been very beneficial for both sides.’

Even though the project is relatively new it already reaches over 10,000 people in 41 communities. According to one estimate, farmers’ net income has increased by 20%. It is also very interesting that, with regard to income, some respondents stated that the increase in income they had experienced was secondary to the knowledge that they were no longer being ‘cheated’. In addition, they were now able to forecast turnover for the coming year, allowing them to prepare more accurately. Others reported that their self esteem had improved, as a result of which they were now able to interact effectively with financial institutions from the formal sector to access services such as savings and loan facilities. Several respondents are sharing their knowledge and skills with others outside the project in order to spread the benefits of the project beyond the immediate target population. Access to mutual business networks has also increased in many cases. As one of farmer remarked: “Iknow where and when to sell my farm produce. I have also bought a motorbike from the proceeds I made from selling my produce and have been the best soya bean farmer in the district two times in a row: in 2005 and in 2006.”

Though clearly these results are large strides in the right direction, it quickly became clear that there were still several challenges to overcome. When deciding which products would be included in the marketing information, ECAMIC invited both male and female farmers to contribute. However, on reflection, many women felt under-represented as their products, such as okra and pepper, were not included in the ‘basket of goods’ that appeared on the community notice boards. Traditionally, women seldom compete with men in matters such as farming, so no contest was offered with the choice of goods. In addition, the cooperative information officer still has to deliver the market information to the communities and this could be by telephone, mail or even motorbike. Consequently, market information still takes some time to get from the project field offices in Salaga and Kpandai out to the communities, resulting in a possible loss in information value. One solution seems to be mobile phones.

Mobile solution

Mobile services were introduced in the area in 2006, and, according to Mr Shafiu Shaibu, Programme Officer for Enterprise Development at SEND, ‘have been growing ever since’. Shaibu goes on to say that “the choice of the mobile phone (SMS) as an alternative is because it is much cheaper than the internet services available or the land-line phones.” Enabling farmers to finance the services of the project was always a concern. Consequently, the marked reduction in the costs of mobile technology, particularly SMS, creates a significant step towards self-sufficiency.

The financial benefits are not the only positive outcomes that are predicted to arise from the conversion to the delivery of information via SMS as, clearly, mobile technology is cheaper than computer technology. The simplicity of the mobile phone, when compared with computers, allows individuals to maintain their own mobile phones. Moreover, it allows the farmers to take their destiny into their own hands, which is a major component of the project approach. The service transfers administration to the individual, allowing farmers to choose the information they wish to receive, rather than giving them what is felt to be of value. The information can then be more easily and efficiently transferred to their families and the greater community and will complement rather than usurp the existing forms of information transfer and dissemination such as community meetings, public address systems and notice boards.

One other important development that will come hand-in-hand with the adoption of mobiles will be through ECAMIC’s strong collaboration with Tradenet. A key to future sustainability, the collaboration is expected to enable farmers to access, upload and engage in agricultural transactions and many more related ones in the future. Indeed, the Tradenet service holds information on a whole array of products; something that will also address the concerns of the women, without overtly and directly challenging the status quo.

Empowering the user, and enabling them to take responsibility in this way, can only result in the evolution of a service which meets the needs and demands of the proposed beneficiary: an achievement that lies at the heart of effective development.

About the SEND Foundation

The Social Enterprise Development Foundation of West Africa (SEND Foundation) operates in Ghana, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Its oldest and largest program is in Ghana, which began with a team of volunteer staff in 1998. In 2001, the first full-time staff were employed, operating out of a small office in Tamale, in the Northern Region of Ghana. By January 2007, the number of staff had increased to 52 of which more than 30 percent are women and over 50 percent are professional staff with university degrees. SEND Ghana now has three operational offices located in Accra, Tamale and Salaga.

Core values and principles of the SEND Foundation Development is a human right that should provide men and women with equal opportunities to actively participate in and contribute to the political, economic and social transformation of their communities.

It is essential to forge strong partnerships with state and non-state actors that are characterised by mutual accountability, openness and effective communication throughout the programming cycle.

Development is multi-dimensional involving economic, political and social issues. Therefore it strongly pursues an integrated programming approach that emphasizes community-driven development initiatives, economic literacy and policy advocacy.

Self-managed, community-based organizations are critical in order to promote sustainability in development processes and initiatives.


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