My second day in Tamale, and I am slowly getting used to the pace of things here.
My fellow intern, Clarissa Heger has been an invaluable help, showing me some good spots in Tamale and introducing me to the rest of the staff at the office here. The real work has yet to start, but I have been getting good background information from the office team here.
The week before I arrived, some of the office staff attended the opening of a soy processing facility in Wa, which is where I will be doing most of my work.
One of the principal tasks I will be engaged with, will be publicizing and explaining the process of producing soy milk so that potential investors will be able to see the opportunities of this particular market. There is an entrepreneur who has already invested in this, and who will be buying soy from the farmers that MEDA has trained.
The more buyers and markets that exist for soy, the better, and developing this market will mean more opportunities and earning potential for the smallholder farmers who are producing soy.
However, numerous challenges exist. Soy milk is a very foreign product here in Northern Ghana, and creating demand for it will be a challenge. Also, competing with cheap imported soy will be a challenge for producers here.
I have just come off of a 3-month contract working in the Department of Agriculture at the provincial legislature in my hometown of Winnipeg. Part of my duties there entailed putting together a daily news briefing for the minister and other staff. I am fairly well versed now in the movement of key commodity prices and trends in agriculture.
The world will see a very large soy crop this year, as several key countries including the United States (the world's largest producer) and Brazil are harvesting record crops. The downward pressure this will put on soy prices will be problematic as the soy processors that exist here may look to cheap imports.
Conversely, though, the Ghanaian cidi has been depreciating and this makes importing more expensive, which will make domestically produced soy more attractive to processors here.
All of this highlights the risks of the marketplace, and doing business in a globally traded commodity. However, the diversification of Ghana's agricultural sector will help mitigate these downside risks. For too long, Ghana's agriculture sector relied on the export of cocoa. With the development of other crops and products, the price swings of one commodity will be mitigated.
Furthermore, any displacement of imports with domestically production will improve the country's balance of payments and put the country on a sounder economic footing.
This in and of itself is laudable. However, this is only one small aspect of the GROW project. The main goal of GROW is to improve the incomes of rural women and the nutritional outcomes of their families. The benefits this would have are too numerous to mention here and would far outweigh the narrow benefits identified above and I will leave that for a later blog post. Needless to say, this is a very exciting project to be involved with.