The Remoteness Deterrent

Staying in Accra over the Christmas holidays with friends I found myself in a discussion surrounding  a serious barrier to development in rural Africa that I had seen in Zambia, this time the context is Ghanaian but the issue still remains the same. The issue is getting educated human resources for development (doctors, teachers, agric. extension workers, or business people) to remote areas and keeping them happy. When I was in Zambia, I was in the remote community of Kacholola, there I first encountered the barrier of this “remoteness deterrent”. Many of my friends were teachers because when I first arrived in the community I was not conversant in Chinyanja (the local dialect). The teachers all taught courses in English. None of the teachers were from Kacholola, and few were even from tribes in Eastern Province.

I was in love with Kacholola and was thrilled with working in a remote area, but I was working here by choice. I didn’t take long to realize that almost all of the teachers resented the location of their teaching post. The place was ‘bush’.

“We are suffering here, there is no light, the water hasn’t flowed in years.”
“This place is just boring.”

Most teachers studied at teachers colleges in the cities and come from the urban forty percent of the Zambian population, where more creature comforts are a regularly accessible, provided that they can be financed. In Kacholola this was not the case. I didn’t have to look far to see how some people almost felt cheated by having been posted to a job in the ‘bush’. It was also often negatively affected the way that people work. How can you really commit to students or projects or initiatives if deep down you are praying for a transfer the following week?

In Ghana, I noticed the same phenomenon with some National Service Staff. Upon completing university, all graduates must complete one year of mandatory community service for their nation. Our project were given several. We have seven field offices and I can remember hearing some grumbles at the training from students saying “I just hope that I am near Accra”. It wasn’t all of them and to be fair some were passionate about far off postings too, but it brought me back to this barrier that I had seen before: If people in remote areas lack extension services the most and they are the least likely places for qualified staff to want to work, then how do we send people there that will work at a high capacity?

Over Christmas I was hanging out with some new friends that were also recent graduates. After having pondered the “remoteness barrier” in a few contexts, I was quick to judge when someone said “I am in my national service year but I refused the position that was in that isolated northern part of Volta Region.” I was also quick to challenge, and quick to judge.
“But you know that place is really remote, even the nearest hospital is sooo far.” My mind was still judging and my ego brought out a feeling of how “hardcore” or “badass” I am in that I wouldn’t complain over such a situation and I strive to get to the frontlines of the field. Amid my questioning, another friend brought me back down to earth.

“You know my friend I introduced you to a couple of days ago? The one who is not ‘all there’ mentally? He suffers from spinal meningitis. There was an outbreak in the village where he was carrying out his national service and he was infected. He was completely normal before but he hasn’t been the same since. The vehicle would only leave for the town with the proper hospital once per week. And the national service program has no extended health coverage. You like to work in bush and it’s your choice but its different when it’s not.” It is also different when my employer provides an extensive health insurance plan and his does not.

..And so my ‘badass’ ego shrank back down as I realized that I was sounding like an overpriveleged foreigner that thinks he can solve complex problems so easily.

I’m not.

But checking my privilege still didn’t address the fact that many educated people would prefer not to work in places very far from enjoyable amenities. Unfortunately, these are also the locations where so many underprivileged farmers live.

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On Zambia and Ghana: Part One

Maybe they are not fair to compare. Maybe my experience in each nation is too limited and I should instead compare Eastern Province of Zambia and Eastern Region of Ghana. In fact, maybe it would not really be fair to extend past comparing Kacholola with Somanya. Well, I am going to compare them anyway. I will qualify the comparison by defining it: Through the narrow scope of my lense, I will be comparing my view of my two experiences in Kacholola and Somanya. This is part one because I’m sure more will follow.

Population Density

One of the biggest differences between Zambia and Ghana is population density. Zambia is sparsely populated, with 12.9 million people. There are 17.2 people per square kilometer. Ghana on the other hand is in highly densely populated West Africa and with 23.8 million people and a much smaller area, it has 100 people per square kilometer. The difference in population densities between the two nations is huge. This is very significant factor for agricultural development.

Transport

Population density affects a nation in many ways. For the purpose of conciseness in this post I will focus on one that stands out in particular: access to transport. Since I have been in Ghana there have been a couple of times where I have waited fifteen minutes for a trotro (the local name for a minibus). That is when I haven’t checked for any indication that a bus might be leaving and I just showed up at the station, or even the side of the road. This includes waits in big cities and small rural areas.

In Zambia, when I would buy a ticket on the coach line from Lusaka to Kacholola, the nine o’clock bus would bus would depart at eleven on the good days but sometimes even after twelve. Getting back from Kacholola was another story altogether. There was no bus station so I would wait at the police barrier and my policeman friend would ask passing vehicles if they could take me back to town for an appropriate fare. Sometimes it would be a private car, sometimes the regular coach, sometimes it would be a transport semi-truck. One day I started waiting by the roadside at seven a.m. with my friend Pio and we finally caught transport by three pm. When I compare Zambia and Ghana at a glance population density and ease of transport stand out the most starkly.

Two assumptions for Agricultural Development…

Simply put: Densely populated areas are likely to have a more services and cooperative capabilities. Access to transport eases the flow goods in and out of farms.

For a seed or fertilizer shop to open, the entrepreneur will need customers. If the shop is hard to get to and available to few customers and all other things are equal, the owner will have less business than someone who opens a shop that is easy to get to for many farmers. It is also easier to find other farmers to collaborate with to procure inputs or find markets for crops in areas of higher farmer density.

Transport is a means of accessibility for many things. For agricultural development, seeds and fertilizer must be brought to a farm by transport and harvested crops must be sent to their markets via transport.

As a generalization, Ghana – or to be safe I will say Somanya, has a higher population density and greater access to transport than Kacholola. Easier access to transport, inputs, markets and other farmers give an agricultural economy strong points on which to grow and develop. Its like having the pieces to a puzzle that hasn’t been put together yet. It is exciting to be working in an environment that is so primed for economic take-off. It also makes me miss Zambia and think about the farmer group that I worked with there a lot.

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African Agriculture Baselines 3: Mango Interview Followup from last Episode

Episode 3: Interview with Nii Adjei Sowah, ADVANCE’s Field Business Facilitator for mango answers questions from around the world on what PAB/ADVANCE is doing to make Ghana’s mango sector more productive and competitive. It’s a little late but internet connections have not been bountiful so thanks so much for your patience.

 

 

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African Agriculture Baselines: Mango Farming in Eastern Region

Sorry for the delay but this one took a while due to a constantly crashing computer. Post Questions for Nii Adjei Sowah, the ADVANCE projects mango market facilitator below! He will be interviewed and asked your questions next episode!

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Somanya

I have been living in Somanya, Eastern Province for the last few weeks and I am really starting to fall into the rhythm of Ghanaian life. The people here are incredibly friendly and the mangoes have been delicious. Everyone is so open and welcoming and I have made a lot of friends and eaten heaps of delicious food, especially Banku and Tilapia with pepe. I have also learned a lot! I have been living with my counterpart, Nii Adje Sowa part time for the last couple of weeks. He is one of the Field Based Facilitators on the ADVANCE project. Building a relationship with him has been nice and has shed a lot of insight on what it is like to be a market facilitator. It is not as easy as it sounds. When I haven’t been staying with Sowa, I have been staying at mango farms with farm workers. I have also been visiting mango aggregators and exporters and taken a look into the structure of mango farming FBOs (farmer based organizations. You can hear much more about what I learned there in an upcoming episode of African Agriculture Baselines, so stay tuned.

Mango minor harvest is coming into full swing which means that the hamatan season is upon us where winds blow down from the Sahara and give the sky a foggy look.

I have been starting to play some soccer with the local Division II team. It has really been nice to get solid exercise because often it can be tough fit in to the day. The team will be playing in the Ghana FA cup on December 26, go for it boys!

In the new year, I will likely be getting my own place. Even though I have been bouncing around a lot it will be nice to have a place that feels like ‘home’. On the topic of home, I have been thinking about my friends and family a lot this week as the countdown to Christmas is on! All my love, joy and blessings at this great time of year! I would love to be seeing you all but it will have to wait until next year. Also if you are looking for a way to spread holiday cheer, come donate to my perspective at www.perspectives.ewb.ca/markbrown ! I only have three supporters so far and I still have a ways to go!

Lots of love, Merry Christmas and Season’s Greetings!
Mark

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African Agriculture Baselines: Rice Production in Akuse

Check Out Episode One of African Agriculture Baselines

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My Perspective: Business Partners not Hand Holders

Season’s Greetings,

This holiday season I am encouraging people who are keen on giving to charity my perspective. Please click the link to take a look if you are interested.

http://www.perspectives.ewb.ca/markbrown

Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah and Happy Kwanza

One Love
Mark

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