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Feb
27

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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Feb
02

Top 5 reasons why I love my job

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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...

  1. 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!

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

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Jan
27

An Interesting Christmas

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International development work has it perks for sure, but one of its downfalls is that you are often away from your loved ones for quite some time and are out of the loop with what is going on back at home. I try not to dwell on what I am missing and try and live in the present, soaking up as much of this experience as I can, but there are times when it is difficult. I'm sure we have all been there and being away from my family for Christmas was one of those times for me. For some, missing Christmas may not be a big deal, but in my family, it is probably the biggest event of the year. There is tons of food, music, and it really is the only time family from all over the globe can be together. This was my first Christmas away from home.

Thankfully, (in ways) work was hectic, so I really did not have much time to think about it and before I knew it, Christmas was only days away. It was strange for Clara and I – we were not only in a tropical climate away from home, but Ethiopia does not celebrated Christmas the same time we do. They celebrate Orthodox Christmas, which is about two weeks later, so not much was going on for our Christmas. With that being said, we still tried to make the best of it. We decorated our home with Christmas lights and ornaments, and blasted Christmas songs while at home. We both managed to get Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off, so we had time to relax and watch an abundance of Christmas movies.

On Christmas day, our work invited us for a special Christmas coffee ceremony and even gave us adorable Christmas buddies (a reindeer and a snowman). I truly appreciated their effort to make our Christmas as special as they could for us, especially since it wasn't their own Christmas. Even though we were far away from home, it helped to be around friends.

Perhaps the highlight of the day (besides saying Merry Christmas to our family back at home) was going to the movie theatre to watch the new Hobbit movie! Clara and I did a marathon that week and were ecstatic that it was actually showing at the movie theatre here. We thought it was a pretty great way to spend Christmas.

Even though I was not with back at home with my family this Christmas, I wouldn't say I was alone. MEDA and Clara were my family this year and I am so grateful to have celebrated Christmas with them. It is times like these that you really appreciate the relationships you've created and realize that family can come in different forms.

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and New Year's. Thank you to everyone who made mine special and unforgettable.

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Jan
23

A trip to the ocean, a time to reflect

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In Ethiopia, Christmas is celebrated at the beginning of January, because of the Orthodox Calendar. While Steph and I could have had two Christmases, we took a trip to Mombasa, Kenya to take advantage of our extended holiday. I'm not really the spontaneous type – but it was a worthwhile and refreshing trip. We planned it pretty last minute, but in the end, everything worked out and we had many good memories.

Mombasa is a coastal city on the Indian Ocean and is the second largest city in Kenya. Historically it was a vital port city for trade. We had to adjust quickly to a new language (Swahili), currency (Kenyan Shillings), transportation (Kenyans drive on the other side of the road) and so on. Our first time in one of the grocery stores was eye-opening. There was much more variety and selection compared to what's available in Addis. We were also very excited about the nice cafes, restaurants, and the mall in Nyali. From a development perspective, I began to notice quickly the differences between Ethiopia and Kenya. Ethiopia follows a state-led development model, and the government protects the economy from foreign franchises. Kenya, on the other hand, has scaled back the role of the state, liberalized markets and embraced a Western model of development.

Our time in Mombasa was short and sweet. We didn't travel around too much, but mainly relaxed by the beach, ate food we can't find in Addis, and spent time getting to know the guests at our hostel. Our stay at the hostel was pretty unique. The owner recently moved into the current house a few months ago, so it didn't feel like home yet and was missing her personal touches. We were there when artwork, curtains, and the like were being put up. To see her and express that she was coming alive again, was something that excited me. I'm all for pursuing things, opportunities and people in life that make you come alive. Of course we all go through different seasons, some much more difficult than others. But ensuring that there's life in what you do, is vital.

During our trip, I was reading a book called "The Me I Want To Be" by John Ortberg. It's a timely read, because I've experienced many challenges, opportunities to grow and self-discover throughout this internship. If there's one thing that I realized recently, it's this: for some time I got lost in questions and uncertainty about the future, which made me doubt my dreams, passions and capabilities. It's a downward spiral if you don't quickly realize there's a process to figuring it all out. And answers don't always come quickly or conveniently. Being confident and certain in who I am in my faith in the Lord, regardless of circumstances, is what will keep me grounded. A quote from the book that I love is this, "life is not about any particular achievement or experience. The most important task of your life is not what you do, but who you become."

It's already nearing the end of January, which means I have less than two months left. It feels like there isn't enough time to get everything done, so it's crunch time! I'm excited to go to the field next week and spend time collecting most significant change (MSC) stories from our clients. My sister wrote in her Christmas card to me: "There's no CAP to what you can learn there." I want to hold onto this. Each day, there are new things to learn from different people, opportunities, and situations. There is no cap!

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Jan
08

A new way of living

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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.
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Jan
05

Sunny Holidays in Togo and Ghana

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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.
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