Posted by: mhirdyounger | March 30, 2015

Youth In Agriculture in Ghana Series Pt 1: Ruth

In late 2014, I published a series of blog posts featuring youth in agriculture in Ghana for YPARD, an international movement of young professionals in agriculture. The series was significant for me in that it showcased the potential and the future of agriculture in Ghana. It also highlighted a few of the youth that inspired me in my work in Ghana, telling their stories as shared with me.  I’d like to re-post that series here (with awesome credit to YPARD for their support in sharing these stories globally), in order to bring more light to these amazing individuals who are shaping agriculture in Ghana!

There will be four stories in total, and we start with the story of Ruth Quaye, which was originally published by YPARD in November, 2014.

Ruth“Story captured by Miriam Hird-Younger, as part of the series “Investing in Youth in Agriculture – Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB) in Ghana.” This Wednesday, this AgEx Venture Leader brings to us the success story of Ruth Quaye, a Ghanaian youth champion who participated in the EWB support Agribusiness and Entrepreneurship Project, building her understanding of how to start and run a business.

An FAO and ILO study in 2009 indicates that 40% of all unemployed worldwide are between the ages of 15 and 24. At Ghana’s agricultural colleges, graduates used to be guaranteed jobs with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture as Extension Agents, supporting the country’s farmers. Now, only a small minority are able to access public sector jobs. The rest have to find other means, and it can be discouraging, frustrating and difficult.

The inputs to get started in the civil society or private sectors are not easily accessible. Credit to start a business is hard to get, and interest rates can be unbearable. Higher management jobs often require a degree. Agricultural college graduates are trained in the practical, technical and field level competencies for the agricultural sector. But it’s not obvious how to place yourself in the system to play that role.

Starting a business with 15USD

Ruth Quaye graduated from Ejura Agricultural College in 2012. She had hoped to work for the Ministry of Food and Agriculture when she graduated, but was faced with the situation of many of her fellow youth – employment options were limited and competition was fierce for the jobs that existed. She notes that employment for youth in agriculture is a big problem in Ghana.

During her time at the college, she participated in the EWB support Agribusiness and Entrepreneurship Project, building her understanding of how to start and run a business. The course-based project does not given any funding for students to start their businesses. Instead, students are encouraged to use their own resources to start small and grow their businesses with the profits from initial investments.

Some students start their businesses with as little as 50GHS (15USD).The project doesn’t provide funding for the students’ businesses in order to demonstrate that you don’t need to wait for a thousand dollar loan to start a business, but can use the resources already within their reach and build up from there.

A first attempt

Ruth’s student group developed a quality and hygienically packaged shito (a popular Ghanaian fish, cooked with pepper and tomato sauce). They sold the product at the popular weekly market in Ejura, where consumers and sellers from all nearby communities came to do business.

Ruth reflects on her first attempt at business: “Before the project I was not having knowledge on marketing and how to do something on our own. Through the project I learned that I can do something on my own without depending on others.” She noted that it was not an easy process. She had a lot to learn about how to get customers and had challenges growing the business.

Create your own opportunities

Ruth now works in a private agribusiness that distributes agricultural inputs and products, such as fertilizer and pesticides, acting as the company`s agronomist. This young Ghanaian is still interested in also having her own business, but finds it challenging to start. With capital scarce in the system, it is especially hard for youth to access start-up capital.

Although getting started in agriculture as a young person in Ghana can seem daunting and discouraging, with capital hard to access and a lot to learn about business marketing, the private sector in agriculture is constantly growing in Ghana and opportunities abound.

Youth can seek out employment in agribusinesses like Ruth has done, or start their own. If youth are able to start small, to look at what is already within their reach, they can begin to create their own opportunities rather than waiting for opportunities to come to them.

Click here to watch Ruth Quaye’s feedback on her understanding of how to start and run a business.”

**Blog post originally published by YPARD in November, 2014.

Posted by: mhirdyounger | November 23, 2014

Selection of Stories of Change from AgEx Ghana

From our 11 year old history, here are a selection of stories of those who have been impacted by the work of EWB’s AgEx Venture in Ghana. Some are farmers, some are students, some are our institutional partners and some are our own staff and fellows. We are proud to share a peek into our impact with these stories.

For more on AgEx, check out this 10 year anniversary booklet!  

Agriculture As A Business: Most Significant Change Story By: Lauren Dodds

As a Junior Fellow in 2010, I worked on establishing the Agriculture as a Business (AAB) curriculum as a regular activity of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture in the Kassena-Nankana East District (Upper East Region, Ghana). I trained extension agents in the inner workings of the curriculum, going out to the field to coach them through its implementation and working with management to build buy-in to the program. Even with this investment, due to other competing priorities at the district, AAB didn’t become a permanent program at the district. This does not mean, however, that the program didn’t have impact.

In 2011, I revisited a women’s group of about 60 members that participated in AAB in 2010. Before AAB, they had never engaged in farming as a business before. Through our work with AAB, Eddy (Extension Agent extraordinaire) spent weeks investing in their knowledge, skills, and motivation. We planned a meeting between the group and a local rice processor, and the District Director even came to the meeting and the follow-up meeting with the group back in their village.

A year later, their level of self-confidence as a group had soared because they had been invested in. They had all doubled the size of their farms and they expressed a self-belief and determination they hadn’t before. Nobody had seriously invested in these women before AAB, then suddenly they were getting the attention of the Extension Agent, the Director, and buyers.

With EWB, we look to change systems, but sometimes we overlook and undervalue the less systemic, but more individual and human impacts of our efforts. If we dig into our failures a bit deeper, we might uncover real impact like the change lives of 60 female farmers in Kassena-Nanakana.

Agriculture & Entrepreneurship (A&E) Project: Most Significant Change Story By: Albert Adombila

Albert, who comes from the Upper East Region of Ghana, did the A&E Project in his second year of study at Kwadaso Agricultural College in 2012. His group won the pilot A&E competition at Kwadaso during the Engineering Design Competition and again the first annual National Agribusiness Competition at Damongo Agricultural College in 2013. Albert now works for an EWB Venture, Kulemela Investments, in Ghana. Albert’s story is one of empowering and building the capacity of the future generation of Ghana’s agricultural leaders:

“[My A&E] project was about commercialising pop-corn to feed its lovers as well as earn some income. The brand name of the product was “Armor Pop-Corn”, a combination of corn, groundnut and other ingredients well labelled.

The lessons from the project were enormous. Among them are:

  • The discovery of how to re-deplore existing resources (the corn, which is in abundance in Ghana) to make them more productive and valuable (the Armor Pop-Corn) to both retailers and consumers
  • The discovery of basic yet pertinent marketing skills and strategies that can be used to outwit competitors
  • Knowing and understanding how to work with people in a group towards innovating a product, marketing it and making it successful.

My [National Competition] project was about turning cassava peels into animal feed. The product name was “Ultimate Cassava Peel Meal” – an alternative feed source that is full of energy and other essential nutrients for animals.  [Winning the National Competition] was a humbling feeling; the kind that ignites excitement as well as responsibility. Excitement in the sense that it was the first time that people from the school had been adjudged the winner of a competition of that nature and I was privileged to have been a part of that. It was also a responsibility because that honour served as a benchmark that will be used to measure me and my entrepreneurial ability in future endeavours. What it then means is that anything I do after that award has to be of class else I will be making mockery of the honour done me by the organisers of the competition.

I see myself in the next few years working to improve and deepen my knowledge in agriculture, using that experience to support the operations of some of the dozens of smallholder farmers and agricultural related institutions nationwide as well as contributing to the development of the field and the livelihoods of people in the country.”

Agriculture As A Business: Most Signficant Change Story By: Paul Asunke Okumanpan – Farmer, Nkanchina #1, Kpandai

“When not working with EWB, the planning wasn’t there. Before we do something, didn’t know how to plan. Now we know how to plan out our farming projects. Initially, when we were doing something, we didn’t take much time to look at the start and what the end will be. Don’t even sit down to see what you were investing. What should be used for labour, inputs, all that. Just used to get up and do it and think we would gain. Meanwhile it was a great loss.

Now, start projects with planning. Get to know how to get profit and loss. This was difficult before, we were not keeping records before. Now that I can keep records, I can see that maybe when I’m doing one crop, it won’t give me a loss but another will. Now I know what crops I can depend on.

EWB showed us how to plan. If you only depend on one crop and it fails, you’ve lost. With planning, you can decide to do others and not have to depend on one thing.”

DDA Fellowship: Most Significant Change Story By Director Ahmed Adams

Director Adams participated in the 2011 DDA Fellowship, which invested in his leadership skills, management capacity and some of the more technical skills of being a DDA. Here Director reflects on learning about composite budgeting during the fellowship:

“In our country, we are trying to decentralize. We have gone through so many stages of the decentralization process. Now we are into composite budgeting. One significant training I’ve had in this

was through the DDA Fellowship. They made me have a first had feel of what this is about, what I should expect. I want to take the opportunity to congratulate EWB because when we presented our composite budget not at the district level but at the Regional Coordinating Council, Agric was one of the best. It’s the way we were already informed about it that we were able to go on very well with it. As I’ve said, for me, every day is a learning process and I’ve learned a lot and it has actually helped us a lot.”

Ashley Good, Long Term Fellow, 2010

Ashley’s current work is shaped by what she learned on the ground with AgEx. As she says: “I remember clearly the day the evaluator flew in from Rome to assess the project I was supporting. I was excited. For months my very talented and hard working colleagues had been sharing with me flaws they saw in the program and I thought “Yes! Finally they can tell someone who can make the changes that are needed.”

But when this evaluator asked all the right questions about what isn’t working he got answers like “Oh, we just need more SUVs and laptops.”  My colleagues couldn’t talk about the fundamental flaws and failures of the program for fear that it would jeopardize their jobs and the progress they’d made.  It was this experience, and others like it, that inspired me to try to shift the way the for-purpose sector thinks and talks about failure – not as a sign of incompetence, but as an opportunity for learning and innovation in the interest of solving complex and important challenges.” – Ashley Good, Founder & CEO, Fail Forward

Meghan Dear, Long Term Fellow, 2009

“The MoFA team (an incredible bunch of people, both then and now), imbued an approach to leadership and exhaustive systems thinking that has changed my outlook on the world.  The 10-year milestone for the MoFA/AgEx team is enormous! Kudos to this select group of people. I can’t wait to see how both the AgEx program and the alumni of the team keep changing the world.” – Meghan Dear

Meaghan worked with Team MoFA in Upper East Region of Ghana, working side-by-side with farmers, farmer groups, AEAs and MoFA staff on Agriculture as a Business, performance management within MoFA and a Market Information Systems project. Upon returning to Canada, Meghan saw a genuine opportunity to improve food systems in Canada. She founded Localize, a food labeling service for grocery stores which identifies where food comes from and which has a QR code which customers can use to find the full information set about where the food was produced, where the ownership is, and the narrative behind the ingredients and supply chains.

Alhaji Musah, Administrator, Kwadaso Agricultural College – Internal Attachment Program

“The involvement of EWB in the practical attachment really encouraged the students to see non-Ghanaian nationals taking interest in farmers and it motivated students. The students who did the practical attachment, without doubt, will be a better group of agriculturalists. We’ve talked to them and we see that they are quite different.”

Jackson Henry Nsiah, Student, Founder of Agribusiness Club at Damongo Agricultural College 

“On behalf of the club I want to say a very big thank you for all the helps you and your group members offered to us. We shall always remember you and your team.We have have been able to open a bank account with Ghana commercial bank and we have been invited to take part in a couple leadership training with USAID IN Accra and in Koforidua recently. The new students who have recently been admitted at Damongo Agric are impressed by the initiative. The club have  now gained much recognition and membership have more than tripled.

At wenchi the club is embarking on a cow-pea project ;our land is cleared seeds are sown and about to flower. We are also planning to provide training in mushroom production for some selected communities in the Ashanti region in our next semester and raise poultry at Wenchi. The club wants to focus on providing readily employable skills to our members by sharing our practical skills with rural people in collaboration with NGOs that are ready to support us in such initiatives.

Togbe, Farmer, Avalavega Community, Ohawu Agricultural College – Internal Attachment Program

“I am a rice farmer and the chief of the village of Avalavega. I had a boy called Emmanuel come to me for the attachment program. The first day, we went to the farm together and the water was so high. I asked him, “have you seen anything like this before” and the boy said no. I told the boy to come sit on the platform in the rice fields. He didn’t want to go so I went up. He soon joined me. We sat there and I told him that we have problems scaring the birds away. I showed him my sling shot and told him that someone has to sit here day and night to scare off the birds so they don’t eat the rice. He asked for the sling shot. I told him to go make his own. This is practical work. This is the point of a practical attachment. Soon enough he was sitting on the platform with me using the slingshot he made to scare away the birds. He asked me, when do we go home? I told him that we have to stay here all night to scare the birds away. Emmanuel asked me,  ‘what do you do if you are sick and can’t stay here all night?’ I told him that in that case the birds eat our crops, this is our problem and I tasked him with solving it. Anyone who solves problems and endeavours to solve them is valuable. Their age, education level, background don’t matter. Everyone can learn from others.”

Christina, Student, Ohawu Agricultural College (OAC)

“The program is a really good opportunity to learn about farming techniques that are used in other parts of Ghana. Working with the farmer I saw how to sow watermelon for the first time. On campus, we do weeding and it is boring, but out in the communities we are learning so much the work is so interesting. I work hard because I want to be a pig farmer. When I get my allowance I am going to use it to start a business. Where I am from in the North, many people will buy the pigs. Even though the farmer I was with was only planting watermelon, he took us around and showed us mangos, pineapples, and the piggery. He saw that we were eager to learn so he gave us many opportunities to experience new things. Even just living with the community was so interesting. When we watched them cook and saw the children playing together outside we knew that we were in a completely different place. Next year I will tell the first year students who are working with farmers to comport themselves and enjoy their time in the communities because it was so interesting to learn all that I did.”

Posted by: mhirdyounger | September 18, 2014

Celebrating A Change Leader – Principal Kontor

AgEx is celebrating the leadership and vision of Principal K.F. Kontor, on his retirement from Kwadaso Agricultural College.
Principal Kontor’s partnership with EWB has supported AgEx’s work in transforming the education provided across Ghana’s agricultural colleges. Without the mutual trust, accountability, communication, feedback and support of this partnership, the Agribusiness and Entrepreneurship Project, Internal Attachment Program and Innovation Committee would not have been possible. Principal Kontor’s dedication to development has been inspiring for many EWBers over the years, and we wish him the best in his retirement.
2014-03-18 14.48.50
(Left to right: Myself, Principal Kontor and AgEx’s Stacie Irwin.)
Personally, I have been privileged to work closely with Principal Kontor for the last three years and have been inspired by his drive, vision and ability to take risks – all key skills and qualities of a change agent. Within the sometimes frustrating and slow moving public service, Principal has dedicated 25 years. At KAC, he has been a visionary, holding dreams of what the college could become in terms of a systemic change institution in Ghana and bringing others into that vision. To the end, he has continued to try to institutionalize innovations on campus towards that vision.
Principal‘s dedication to change goes beyond his work at the colleges to other parts of Ghana’s development process. He envisions a Ghana free of litter. You won’t find a stray water sachet on campus. On weekends, he will put on his wellington boots, take a wheelbarrow and pick up garbage along the road. Working towards this vision takes humility, the ability to continue to learn and dedicate extra upon extra hours to the cause.
Principal Kontor’s leadership has enabled AgEx to work with the colleges to pilot innovations in student learning and training. Fore example, AgEx worked with KAC to pilot a new experiential learning opportunity that has young students learning about agriculture by actually living and working with farmers, a program that has since been scaled nationally to reach almost 500 students annually.
Through his dedication to Ghana’s agricultural colleges, Principal Kontor has inspired generations of agriculturalists to take on the hard work, vision and humility that he has role modelled. Thank you Principal Kontor for your contribution to Ghana’s agricultural development.

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