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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
After five months in Ghana with the GROW project, it feels like I've really found my stride. I love my job and living in Tamale, not to mention my amazing friends and co-workers that have become more like family to me. Our GROW project has had a busy start to the new year- packed with trainings, field visits and visitors from headquarters on top of the usual work. Luckily when you love what you do- there's a lot of fun involved and working for a good cause always keeps me going.
The New Year also brought great news for me. I'm thrilled to announce that I've been offered an internship extension and I will be continuing my work as part of the GROW team for another six months here! I'm so happy to be able to stay here longer and am really excited to contribute more to the GROW project, embrace new challenges, take more learning opportunities and make deeper connection with people. In celebration of my awesome news, I thought I'd provide a little more insight into why I love my job...
- Supporting real change – During my field work, I get chance to meet the rural women soybean farmers and learn about their lives, families, successes and troubles. I can't help but leave completely in awe of their strength, openness and determination- it's incredibly inspiring every time! I feel so fortunate to be able to share their stories and how the GROW project is improving the women's and their families' lives. I really love that part of my job!
- Our MEDA Team – I have the pleasure of being surrounded by very supportive, smart and fun people. For the first day that I arrived, I was warmly welcomed into the GROW family and we've only gotten closer since then. It's a great to be part of the team that works together, grows together and supports one another. Thank you all for being your wonderful selves!
- It never gets boring –There are constantly new projects and challenges coming my way. Whether it's working through cross-cultural barriers, figuring out the process of getting marketing materials printed or learning about a new aspect of GROW- I'm constantly solving problems and learning new things.
- GROWing professionally – Working for MEDA comes with the perk of being surrounded by some of the best and brightest minds in international development. Just last week, we had MEDA's Ann Gordon take our team through an advanced value chain training that taught us all about value-chain analyses tools and Ghana's soybean industry. Plus, we actually got to practice our new skills in the field.
- Making connections – I'm always getting to meet new and interesting people! Just a couple of weeks ago we had the pleasure of hosting Kim Pityn, MEDA's Chief Operations Officer, and Dave Warren, MEDA's Chief Engagement Officer, from MEDA headquarters. It was great to get to know them, learn about their roles, hear about their experiences and exchange ideas with them.
I spent the two-week Christmas/New Years break in Lomé, the capital of Togo. I couchsurfed while I was there – a website that connects travellers to locals who open up their homes and allow that person to crash or "surf" on their couch or any sleeping surface. There is no expectation of payment, and depending on the host, lifelong friends can be made in a matter of a few days.
I had done this many times before but all in Europe and North America, pretty much all were great and memorable, but all were in situations and cultures that were at least vaguely familiar to me as a middle-class Canadian. This was certainly not the case in Togo. For two weeks I got the full experience of living like a typical Togolese with my Togolese peers. I slept on the floor sometimes, had bucket showers, didn't go on the internet, ate what my hosts ate, drank what my hosts drank, hung out with their friends, went to their spots, and lived life at their pace.
Sometimes there were long periods where nothing really happened, we lazed about and didn't really do anything. No electronic devices to distract, or appointments, or things coming at you. Constant stimuli are a luxury of developed countries or of the wealthy. In underdeveloped parts of the world, you have to just pass the time with nothing but the people around you. I came to appreciate these moments; this is when you just need to chill out, and be centered in yourself. It builds trust in those around you. I really had to learn how to just "be", and hang out with your friends doing nothing. You have to lose that nagging flighty-ness, not think about what others are doing or thinking, not think about what you should be doing, and not worry about the future.
These were contrasted by periods of fast action and intense stimulation of the senses: Fast nights jumping from place to place, all on the back of motorcycles weaving in and out of traffic. Walking through jam-packed markets where every sight, sound, and smell is new. The constant bartering over prices, and everyday tasks that require so much more than this North American could ever have thought.
All this reinforced a few things...
1. You have to take life it as it comes; planning and the future are luxuries. Live in the present. Eat when there is food in front of you, drink when you have drink, and sleep when you have a bed.
2. You have to be capable. For example, fetching water from the well for the first time, I felt so helpless; I couldn't get the technique to fill the bucket and could only retrieve a small amount each time. If you can't do something, learn fast, because as a grown person, you don't want to be a burden on others.
3. Saving doesn't happen. If you have money, spend it. If you have food or water, you consume it now, because if you wait, there is a good chance it won't be there in the future, just due to the uncertainties and precariousness of life.
4. Reciprocation and sharing are hugely important and reinforce bonds in a powerful way. Because the typical Togolese (or African for that matter) won't always have money or food, you have to rely on others. Sometimes you pay, other times your friends pay. That way you won't ever go hungry when others are eating.
5. When the good times roll, jump in with both feet because there's no guarantee tomorrow will offer you the same opportunity that you have now.
It really was a life-changing experience. It changed me by showing me a different way of living, with new rules, new social norms, new burdens and new rewards. I gained broader perspective on what life is for a large part of humanity and will carry those lessons and experiences with me. I loved it all.
This year, I spent my holidays at a beautiful beach surrounded by good friends in Lome, Togo. Although of course I missed celebrating Christmas with my family, the alternative wasn't too shabby.
Four friends and I flew from Tamale to Accra on the early morning flight, then took a car for about three hours to reach the boarder, and then ended up at our bungalow on the beach by late afternoon. We spent our time on an almost empty beach- swimming, playing Frisbee, listening to music, eating delicious food and playing lots of card games in the evenings. It was the perfect antidote to the busy pre-holiday stress we had left behind.
On Christmas, we played and relaxed on the beach all day, and then met Kevin, the other GROW MEDA intern who was also traveling in Lome, for dinner at a little Bavarian and French restaurant. Taking me back to my Bavarian roots, I was beyond excited to have discovered a German restaurant in Lome. The six of us shared a delightful Christmas feast that reminded me of celebrating the holidays as a child in Germany. We had a truly wonderful time and it was great alternative way to celebrate the holidays.
One of the perks of returning to Tamale was that everyone else was traveling, so I had been asked to house and dog-sit for two adorable puppies at a friend's nice house with a pool. In a way my vacation continued with lots of dog walking and pool time. And I also looked after a friend's horses, so I got to go horseback riding a few times, which made my break even better. It was a really great holiday break and I was happy to ring in the New Year's in Tamale celebrating here with friends and fireworks.
The last year brought many new firsts and special memories for me. Moving to Ghana and being part of the GROW team has been such an incredible experience so far. I feel very privileged to be able to travel to the villages to meet our women farmers, continue learning from our skillful staff here and be part of this meaningful work to help make a difference for these women and their families in Ghana. The GROW team is really a family and after three short months it feels like home here. I'm truly grateful for an amazing 2014 and I can't wait to see what 2015 has in store.