Pathways Ghana tries out new ways of talking with farmers

In the middle of a dusty field, a crowd watches intently as four travelers silently approach a dangerous river crossing. The first man takes one look at the swirling water and runs away. The second man climbs onto the back of his companion, who tires halfway through, leaving the man on a rock in the middle of a river. Finally, the last traveler grabs her companion’s arm, and they go step-by-step across the river to the other side.  

The silent role-play ends, and the onlookers burst into a lively interpretation of what they have seen. Some liken the scenario to how farmers adopt technology—there are early adopters, late adopters, and laggards. Others comment on the personal courage and self-confidence of the woman, and note that when equal opportunities are offered to the woman, they can even surpass the men. Many see themselves and their project:

“The river is the problem,” explained one. “We are the facilitators. The first man—who was carried—got to the middle and wasn’t able to go any further. The woman, who was shown how to do it, was able to cross. We as facilitators need to show people how to do for themselves.”

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The commentators are all staff and implementing partners of the Pathways Project in Ghana, which held an orientation training on the on the integrated Farmer Field and Business School (FFBS) approach from March 4-8. The purpose of the training was to understand how the core components of the Pathways approach—sustainable agriculture, market engagement, women’s empowerment, and nutrition—are interrelated, and how trainings on all of these topics will be integrated into a single FFBS curriculum, which in Ghana follows the crop cycles of the groundnut and soya value chains.

As part of the training, the participants have been practicing participatory tools—such as the river-cross role-play—that they can use to engage farmers in discussions and problem-solving on the core issues. For many of the participants, this represents an alternative to what one extension agent calls, “the sock-it-to-them” approach to extension, in which outside experts bring valuable knowledge but don’t know how to make it relevant to the community people.

For Malik Tingbani Abdulai, an MIS officer with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA), this new way of talking with the farmers has the potential to foster a strong sense of local ownership. “[This] has opened my eyes to how to talk with [farmers]. I learned that it’s important to listen more to the farmer, and hear his problems first. Participation starts from the grassroots, instead of from the top down.  Often with government projects, they are seen as a gift—then how are you going to sustain that? Farmers need to know that projects that are with them—they need to sustain it. Think of the river crossing—if farmers do not look at these projects as their own, they will be left in the middle of the river. [With Pathways], I can put something in their hands, but they can say, “this is ours.”

Mary Yarimaale, Field worker from Pruda, Labussie Kaan, thinks that Pathways’ integrated approach can help farming families make better decisions about how best to use their resources: “Through tools like the ranking exercise, [the farmers] can see that ‘this crop will bring me food, and that crop will bring me income.’  The important thing is for them to know about the crops that are important in their bodies, as well as for income. I feel more confident that through the field work, I know how to facilitate, and how to work with adults. When you talk too much, most of the time, they don’t understand and you take up their time. A better way is to short-cut, and let them talk for themselves.”

Many of the workshop participants were struck by the challenges faced by female farmers, including their lack of voice in the household and poor access to quality land and seed. Practicing a daily-clock exercise, which illustrated the different daily schedules of men and women, they spoke passionately about the need to encourage men to support women in their work.

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Barikissu Jangu, a District Officer for Women in Agriculture Development, MOFA, pointed out that culture and religion have assigned specific roles to men and women, and there can be social repercussions for people who challenge those norms. She thought that the Pathways approach can help bring about significant changes, by creating space and structured opportunities for some farmers to try out new practices:

“In the localities that [I have] visited,” she said, “I realized that realized that culture had a lot to do with the inequities between men and women. A lot of them want change, but probably they are afraid to initiate change, because they are afraid that people would laugh at them. They need examples and role model farmers who can lead this process. Doing the daily activity clock [on men’s and women’s workloads], people can see up front who is more loaded, who is less burdened. If a couple or a group sees that their clocks are not balanced, and they decide to balance it out, then they become a role model for others in the community.”

By the end of the five day workshop, the participants began the task of fine-tuning integrated work-plans for the upcoming cropping cycle. They know that the months ahead will bring many challenges—including building their own skills in the core components. But they left with a sense that they are starting the journey with a common goal, and with the understanding that by joining hands with the farmers, they will all get to the other side of the river.

Submitted by Emily Hillenbrand  – Technical Advisor for Gender and Livelihoods, CARE USA