MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

Increasing Women’s Access to Land: Advancing the Conversation

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On Saturday, November 18th, 2017, MEDA’s GROW project (Greater Rural Opportunities for Women) will be hosting a Land Tenure Forum in Wa, Ghana. The goal of this event is to bring together opinion leaders to discuss the issues surrounding land tenure for women. Attendees include Chiefs and Queen Mothers, landowners, GROW’s Lead Farmers, Key Facilitating Partners (KFPs), the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, Women in Agricultural Development, and various community members. A well-informed advocate on formalized land agreements will facilitate the event and lead the discussion on the importance of land ownership for women, and its sustainable impact on economic empowerment in GROW communities.

MEDA is very excited for this Forum as it is an important step towards promoting land rights for GROW women. Women in Ghana’s Upper West Region understand that the return on investment into their small plots of land is lost with constant changes from one plot to another.

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Interview with a development worker: GROW's Karen Walsh

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Katie West: Let’s start with something easy. What is GROW?

Karen Walsh: GROW is a food security program that is looking at changing the lives of over 20,000 women and their families. The goal is to provide consistent access to food throughout the year – in every season.

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Two women, eight teams trekking for women in Ghana

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Two adventurous women are trekking Ontario’s 900-km Bruce Trail in July in support of women farmers involved in MEDA’s Greater Rural Opportunities for Women (GROW) project in Ghana.

GROW focuses on improving food security for families in Northern Ghana by assisting women farmers to grow more soybeans and forge market links that will increase incomes.

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World Water Day: Opportunities to Innovate and Address Time Poverty for Women




World Water Day, on 22 March every year, is about taking action to tackle the water crisis.

One of my first experiences with global inequality was related to water. In a remote part of the Maasai Mara in Kenya, I met mothers and daughters who were obligated to make an arduous and long walk to the river, daily, to collect dirty water and carry it alone back to the homestead to prepare meals, bathe, clean, wash laundry, garden and nourish livestock. This story is not an anomaly. The world over, rural women and girls often bear the burden of collecting water for their families. Globally, it is estimated that women and girls collectively spend 200 million hours every day, or individually 6 hours a day, fetching water. In terms of distance, in Africa and Asia, it is estimated that girls and children walk an average 3.7 miles a day to fetch water.1  As a result, women and girls are at a higher risk of violence and health hazards due to isolation along rural routes, issues related to menstruation and women’s hygiene, along with heightened exposure to diseases found in unclean water.2

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An Easy Sell? Women's Economic Empowerment in Ghana

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Empowering women in rural, northern Ghana—where nearly 80% of women have never attended school, is no small feat. With some smart marketing and production support for farmers, agribusinesses are now buying the idea.

Greater Rural Opportunities for Women (GROW) is a six-year project funded by both the Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) and Global Affairs Canada (GAC). The main goal of the project is to improve food security for families in the Upper West Region of Ghana by assisting women farmers to increase productivity, link to sustainable markets, and improve nutrition practices.

The implementation of the GROW project started in 2013 with a goal of reaching 20,000 women farmers using a value chain approach. Through a mixed methods data gathering approach including interviews and surveys, MEDA recently developed and published a case study that examines the role of market actors and their profitability as they have engaged with the GROW project and female farmers. This blog shares some of the results.

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What does International Women’s Day mean to me?

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To mark International Women’s Day 2017, MEDA is highlighting important issues and voices around women’s economic empowerment and gender equality in the area of economic development. This is the third in our “Be Bold for Change” blog series celebrating the power of women entrepreneurs and their partners around the world.

Catherine Sobrevega (center) in Afghanistan, with her previous MEDA’s project, Through the Garden Gate, in Afghanistan.

I always look forward to International Women’s Day (IWD) as it is celebrated differently in form and structure worldwide. In the Philippines, where I am from, I cannot remember any celebration that I have been part of. I am sure there is an IWD celebration somewhere, but it is mostly celebrated by women’s right activist groups — not by ordinary people or companies. This is likely because men and women treat one another equally. I grew up knowing that there is no difference between us – all of us can go to school, all of us have access to information and opportunities.

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An intern's journey home in Ghana

Learning the ropes to get around the capital Accra has been an interesting and rewarding experience. In a city that only recently started naming its streets, the locals still rely on landmarks, prominent buildings, and well-known spots. There’s something very rewarding about learning the name of an area, like you’re finally getting to know the city and the people. More importantly, it lets you communicate with the taxis and tro-tros.

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How one small business can change the lives of many

As the Business Development Intern on the FEATS project in Ghana, I had the opportunity to help an entrepreneur start a cashew aggregation business that will improve the lives of 250+ farmers and the lives of their families and communities. I supported this entrepreneur by developing the business strategy and operational plan to successfully and sustainably start his small business. In the process, I have learned a lot about the farming value chain and the challenges faced by entrepreneurs and farmers in a developing country like Ghana.

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MSC Capacity Building





From August 26 to September 1, GROW’s communications team was busy visiting the offices of all our Key Facilitating Partner organizations in order to facilitate a refresher training and capacity building discussion on MSCs. MSC is short for Most Significant Change stories, and is MEDA’s version of a client success story. The template features three main sections: relevant background of client, change the client is reporting and why the change is significant to him/her. Basically it’s one of the ways we collect qualitative (or narrative data) and it allows us to track the project’s success on an individual basis. In addition to individual stories, a few are tracked over the life of the project in order to provide a complete view of the impact.Me with GROW’s team at ProNet after our MSC discussion

KFPs are required to submit stories quarterly, and, currently, we have over 40 stories in our catalogue that highlight diverse project areas including conservation agriculture, gender, farming as a business, our value chain partners, technology adoption and financial literacy, among others. Last year, the KFPs all attended a training session on MSCs conducted by GROW’s Senior M&E Manager from HQ and its former in-country M&E Manager. Story quality definitely improved after this workshop and they have been gaining more and more traction, even over the eight months I’ve been in the country. Stories were shared by the KFPs at our annual PAC meeting, they are included in our Annual Report, shared with our donor and partners, appear on our social media feeds, are included in GROW and MEDA fundraising appeals and requested by other managers from HQ for various other purposes.

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Upper East Adventure (Pt. 2)

On our last morning, we visited the village of Tongo Hills and the nearby Tengzug Shrine. In order to go inside the community, we had to pay a fee and ask the chief himself for permission to enter his palace and take pictures. He was an older gentleman who looked a bit like a professor with his round glasses and white hair. He was reclining on cushions on his throne where we introduced ourselves and shook his hand. The chief has 23 wives, about 150 children and there are about 350 people who live in his compound. Tradition dictates the buildings are not allowed to have thatch roofs and are made completely of mud, with flat roofs where people sleep outside during the warm season.

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Upper East Adventure

Part One of a two-part series on an awesome adventure by our interns in Ghana.

Hi friends! Janelle and Sarah here. July 1st is Republic Day in Ghana (and also Canada Day) so we decided to take advantage of the long weekend and travel to the Upper East Region. This area falls directly east of the Upper West, where we live, and borders Burkina Faso to the north and Togo to the east. Our destination was Bolgatanga and nearby Paga, which are located about smack-dab in the middle of the region. Even though it’s only a few short hours away from both Wa and Tamale, the terrain is vastly different from any we have seen in Ghana so far. There are rocks everywhere! Nevertheless, it seems to be more fertile there, or at least they have received more rain than in the Upper West, because everything was very green and the maize and millet were already knee-high.

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MEDA’s Strategy for Meeting Demand and Improving Livelihoods


Part Two of a Two-Part Series about our new FEATs Project in Ghana.

 High quality tree seedlings have a significant impact on trade success and economic growth. With funding provided by the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada, MEDA has partnered with international tree nursery company, Tree Global, to produce and supply high quality cocoa, shea, cashew, and rubber tree seedlings to Ghanaian farmers.MEDA’s goal for the project is to improve the economic well-being of 100,000 male and female farmers in these four tree crop industries over a span of 6 years. With an emphasis on women and youth, MEDA hopes to distribute 21,000,000 seedlings over the life of the project. Since 2015, the project’s seedling supply partner (Tree Global) has been using leading edge growing technology aimed at producing high quality seedlings that grow faster, have higher survival rates, earlier maturity and increased yields than conventional seedlings. MEDA has deployed iFormBuilder, an electronic data collection tool to collect seedling performance metrics for analysis in partnership with selected academic and research institutions. The results of this analysis would contribute to the project’s policy work and would be disseminated at selected fora.As part of the project, MEDA is working to facilitate the development of a sustainable seedling distribution network by supporting local businesses and entrepreneurs with matching grants to establish seedling distribution centres called Community Distribution Nurseries or CDNs to get these high quality seedlings into the hands of farmers. Using an inclusive market systems development approach, MEDA is also partnering with key stakeholders including government agencies and industry groups, for example the Ghana Cocoa Board, Global Shea Alliance and African Cashew Alliance to name a few, to make the project successful and sustainable. Through partnerships with major international companies such as Mondelez – makers of Oreo, Toblerone and Cadbury - MEDA is helping farmers to gain access to high quality seedlings and to thus increase their productivity and incomes for years to come. Building the capacity of farmers is vital to their sustainable economic growth and well-being. Incentive programs such as discount coupons offered by the project to farmers, enable them to procure and plant high quality seedlings. Supplementary training on good agronomic and environmental practices as well as business skills equips farmers with the knowledge they need to make their business flourish.With tree seedling production in Ghana residing at the apex of West African trade and sustainable economies for individuals and communities, MEDA continues to prioritize this work as part of our larger mission to provide business solutions to poverty. So the next time you are wandering the aisles for your favorite chocolate bar or shopping for new tires, remember the farmers in Ghana working to provide better livelihoods for their families and the shared prosperity that occurs when trade, sustainable agriculture and entrepreneurship succeed.

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Global Cocoa Demand and MEDA's Response

Part One of a Two-Part Series on our new FEATS Project in Ghana. 

Roaming the aisles of the grocery store, one might not expect to find a chocolate bar or shea lotion sitting next to a collection of crisp apples. However, these products unsuspectingly originate from fruit trees just like their apple relatives. Residing on the West African coast, Ghana’s tropical climate allows for cocoa, shea, rubber and cashew trees to thrive, creating an essential export for the country and providing market opportunities for farmers.

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Unlocking possibilities for dry season agriculture

Implementing Keyhole Gardens to Improve Food Security for Women in Ghana

When the tropical storms subside and the dust begins to gather, farmers in Ghana become concerned about how to sustain their gardens. With water scarce during the dry season, water retention becomes a challenge. MEDA targeted its keyhole garden project towards women because women produce 70% of Ghana’s food crops. As a result, they have a direct connection with expanding crop cultivation and providing their families with sufficient nutritional needs. Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the project’s goal was to extend the growing season for female farmers.

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Meet the women growing soybeans and progress in northern Ghana

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Agro-entrepreneurs. An intriguing word for those like myself entering the business world and being enthralled by realities of nonstop work-education. So far today, I have been talking to 12 agro-entrepreneurs on the four-hour bus ride through stark Sahel countryside in northern Ghana, and I have come upon a meaning for this word. For these women, today, and everyday, it means: leader remade. Meet the GROW women: 12 Lead-Farmers who represent over 20,000 women agro-entrepreneurs who have chosen to remake their gruelling hours tilling the fields to work to their benefit - and in the process, revolutionize the idea of the women business leader.

I feel bonded to these remarkable business leaders through our collaborations on the GROW project. The acronym stands for Greater Rural Opportunities for Women and today we ride to the city of Tamale for the 2016 Annual Pre-Season Conference: a semi-annual business expo for agro-entrepreneurs, equipment suppliers, soybean processors, and financial backers. As we pass anthills the height of single-storey buildings, my thoughts keep returning to how best to do something I have not yet attempted and which just so happens to be my prime task of the day: marketing for agro-entrepreneurs.

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Moringa Tree Sensitization Workshop

My name is Steve Hogberg and I’m a week into my Enterprise Development Internship here at MEDA. I’m from Ottawa, Canada and as this is my first field mission, I find myself happy to be back in West Africa and meeting all the MEDA GROW staff in Ghana – including my fellow collaborators, Janelle and Sarah. So far I’ve travelled to Accra (the coastal capital), and Tamale and Wa in the northern parts of the country. My mission here is to work on expanding market linkages for women soy agro-entrepreneurs throughout the region. Right now I’m learning a lot about all the components of the soy bean Value Chain (or the production process from growing to processing to selling). My goal is to establish strong market linkages for women entrepreneurs to grow and sell their product at a reasonable price long after the GROW Project has ended.

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What exactly is GROW?

Before I left for Ghana, obviously everyone wanted to know more about the program I would be working with: what its objectives are, the people it works with and generally how it’s doing. While I had to be pretty vague because I didn’t really know many of the details at the time, this blog is my attempt to explain the program after two-and-a-half months here (can’t believe it’s already two months!).
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Arriving in Ghana

Accra from Jamestown Lighthouse

 

A view of Accra taken from Jamestown Lighthouse

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Intern training

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Hello MEDA fans! This is Janelle and I am one of your newest interns from the November 2015 cohort. There are four of us, of which three are travelling to Ghana (one leaving around the end of the month, two leaving in mid-January) and one travelling to Tanzania (also mid-January). We are an eclectic bunch, one from Ottawa, one from Kitchener (that’s me!), one from Saskatchewan (currently living in Barcelona) and one from Kenya (currently living in Mississauga). We all met for the first time the last week of October when we undertook a whirlwind training regime in Waterloo at MEDA headquarters. But you will hear from each of us as we get our internship and our travelling underway. Be very excited because these are top-notch individuals! As I mentioned earlier, we all met in Waterloo for an intensive training program October 26-30 where we were introduced to MEDA, connected with our in-country program managers and underwent security and first-aid training. Every day was jam-packed with sessions from a combination of MEDA vets, newcomers who had been hired out of the intern program and many others who will be instrumental in helping us make the most of our internships, both for MEDA and for our careers. Specifically, we were introduced to MEDA as a whole by the current President Allan Sauder, and the organization’s key operating divisions, such as Private Sector Development, Cross-Cutting Services, Economic Opportunities and Engagement, among others (it can be a bit difficult to keep everything straight). I was very impressed with this dedicated, intelligent and passionate group of people who are responsible for ensuring the programs are running effectively and objectives are being met. Our first few presentations were complete with PowerPoints, but we were able to convince a few to forego the formality and take on a more conversational tone. Apparently a rumour was going around that we were asking all of the presenters to tell us about their trajectory into economic development work. As someone interested in the potential of stories to illustrate organization effectiveness and educate others, I was especially interested to hear how presenters had ended up interested in international development and how MEDA fits into their values, both personal and professional. While the goal of this training week was preparation for our upcoming deployments (some sooner than others), it ended up becoming much more. When I apply for jobs, I prefer to physically go to the office rather than meet over Skype (whenever reasonably possible), which gives me the opportunity to check out the “vibe” or “energy” of the office (it sounds kind of hippie-ish but is more of an overall feeling and first impression). I could not have been more impressed by MEDA! Our first morning, Melissa (human capital generalist, training organizer and all-around great person) gave us an office tour and introduced us to any staffers who were in their offices. Everyone was more than willing to tear themselves away from their computer screens, actually got out of their chairs to shake our hands, ask us where we were travelling and find out more about what drew us to MEDA. If we weren’t MEDA converts after having our lunches provided, as well as hotel and transport for those from out of town, we willingly accepted the “Kool-Aid” after meeting the staff and being introduced to the candy drawer.

I could go on about facts and figures or provide an outline of the organization based on what I have learned, but I’m sure you (like me) are more interested in the people who passionately carry out MEDA’s economic development work all over the world. However, I will mention our sessions on Thursday and Friday: safety, security and first-aid training geared at a Third World context. Over these two days we learned how to work safely in volatile circumstances and how to react in crisis situations (don’t worry Mom, I’m going to Ghana and am unlikely to encounter anything “volatile”). However, MEDA does work in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan, or in other contexts where events such as Westgate Mall or a kidnapping situation could potentially happen (thankfully it never has!). This is a training regimen required by all MEDA staff and our “core four” of interns were joined by a few full-timers. We worked through topics such as kidnapping, emergency situations such as shootings, and walked through what to do during an event such as a robbery. While other staffers may have referred to this training as “Did Scott scare the crap out of you yet?” I found it very informative and feel very prepared for any event I may encounter in the field (whether likely or not). FYI, MEDA does not pay ransoms, and this is actually a good thing!

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The national picture of soy in Ghana

For much of the last month, I have been helping the market linkages team conduct a value chain update. This is part of a mid-way point evaluation of the GROW project to help inform possible future interventions in the remaining three years of the project.The first two weeks of February were spent undertaking interviews with key actors at various levels of Ghana's soybean value chain, from the small village aggregators and market sellers, to large multinational firms. This saw us travel to border villages with Burkina Faso to the capital of Accra and many points in between.The team carrying this out consisted of Hilda Abambire and Mohammed Fatawu, our value chain people in the project, myself, and the project manager, Ariane Ryan.We started in Accra, meeting with equipment suppliers, and an industrial user of soybean oil – the Azar paint company. We then traveled to Ghana's second city of Kumasi and spoke with processing companies, the state seed distributor, financial institutions and poultry operators.All throughout these interviews, one consistent theme arose: There is not nearly enough soy being produced in Ghana to meet the demand. The huge unmet demand for soybeans and its associated products in Ghana has meant this gap is being filled by imports of raw beans, soy oil and especially soy cake used in animal feeds.This reliance on imports for a large portion of the country's demand for soybeans is a double negative for Ghana for two reasons. First of all, the country has great potential and many natural advantages to be able to grow substantially more soy. This is a missed opportunity not only for the country's agricultural sector, which could be growing a high value crop, but also for many potential downstream commercial activities – from milling and processing, to end product creation – that create more value. Secondly, importing soy adds to the trade deficit, one of the many large macro-economic difficulties facing the country.However, there are positive developments. Farmers and other market actors are slowly beginning to realize the great potential in this previously relatively unknown crop. The pace of change is not as fast as we would like: Service providers, seed growers and other key actors are still not able to meet the demands of producers. Although, the market forces and price signals are slowly starting to turn increasing numbers of agriculture value chain actors towards the soybean. This, along with help from projects like GROW, and increasing attention and recognition from government policy makers on the crop, means Ghana's soy production is sure to increase in the coming years.
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