MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

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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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...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.
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Young Entrepreneurs, Big Dreams

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It's the holiday season back in Canada and I'm trying my best to be present and thankful in my current circumstances here in Ethiopia. While I could compare and wish that I was back at home, there are so many things to be thankful for! I am part of a really great project (E-FACE) and am loving the work that I get to do. Here's a little snippet of what I did a few weeks ago:I went on a field visit in the South for a few days with Lauren Good from MEDA's DC office and an E-FACE colleague, Wondwossen. It was a really eye-opening trip. I learned so much from working and traveling with Lauren, Wondwossen and the field staff. And of course our wonderful clients always teach me so much. After a 7-hour car ride, we finally arrived in Wolaita. We then drove to Sibaye Korke kebele (kebele = municipality) in Damot Gale woreda (woreda = district) to meet with a potato producer cooperative and a group of youth sales agents. We were warmly welcomed by one of our female clients, a member of the potato producer cooperative, who had prepared tasty potatoes for us! Lauren and Wondwossen facilitated a focus group discussion, verifying information and data for our project's potato intervention. I couldn't help but notice all the kids in the area sneaking up around us to see what was going on.After this discussion, we met with six youth sales agents who participated in the Building Skills for Life program. They each shared about their businesses (used clothing, sugar cane, butter, coffee, cereals and seed, teff) and what their future aspirations are. It was refreshing to hear about their dreams and how the training they received changed their mindsets. I interviewed one client named Aynalem and I was so encouraged by her story. Despite a difficult life growing up, she has worked hard to provide for herself and support her mother. As we were leaving, I encouraged her to study hard and chase after her dreams.The next day we visited more youth in Humbo Woreda. In this group, two youth stood out to me. They were on time and one brought his record book to show how he keeps track of his expenses, sales and savings. I could tell they were very serious about their future dreams: one wants to become an engineer and the other wants to become a doctor. This really amazed me. Through their current businesses, they know if they work hard, continue to save and maximize their profits, they can attain their dreams.Another theme I noticed among the youth was a sense of empowerment. They felt empowered because they were no longer burdening their families. They were earning their own income through their respective businesses and can now pay for their own expenses. I have no doubt in my mind that these youth will go on to be successful and influential leaders in Ethiopia. I have a few months left of my internship, so I'm eager to meet more clients, hear their stories, and document how the project facilitated positive change in their lives.
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Increasing Sustainable Economic Growth = Improved Livelihoods

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In early November, I woke bright and early to catch a seven AM flight. When I arrived at the airport, I traveled 1.5 hours to visit three EDGET clients; a Farmers Field Schools Group and 2 rice processors. Each had a different story to tell about their progress, challenges and success. It was amazing to finally be able to connect the information I gathered for reports and see how the project is impacting client's lives first hand.Knowledge is Power- Farmers Field School GroupIn a town called Libo, I walked through hectares and hectares of farmland for what seemed to be hours. I almost stepped on a snake and screamed really loud, which provided entertainment for the rest of the staff. Eventually, I reach a series of huts and the group of farmers. This was one of EDGET's Farmer Field School (FFS) Groups.Farmers Field Schools is an EDGET initiative that gives farmers the opportunity to view demonstrations and experiment of improved farming techniques. Members then share what they learned and their results with their Farmers Field School group members and neighbouring farmers.Even though they were shy at first, the men opened up to me about their experiences with FFS and described how they have used the new technologies to improve their rice production, increase their businesses and ultimately create a better life for themselves and their families.Balay- Improved Technologies= Increased SuccessAfter the farmers group, I visited a processor named Balay. Balay provides a rice processing service for neighbouring farmers. Due to the training sessions and opportunities he has received from MEDA through the EDGET program, his business is a huge success. He also recently bought a rice processing machine on a cost-sharing basis with MEDA – it combines a number of steps into one. The machine produces higher quality rice, which increases the value and ultimately the profit.Balay believes this machine will be a great investment for his business and his future."This machine will not only benefit me as a processor, but because it increases the quality of rice, the farmers will benefit as well by receiving a greater income for the rice they produced."From Fields to MarketsThe last person we visited was Momina, a rice processor, turned parboiler turned business woman. Momina has been a rice processor with EDGET for a number of years but in 2013, she decided to parboil rice as well. Parboiling is an additional step in processing rice that increases the nutritional value and quality.Momina has used EDGET's training on market linkages to sell her rice in local markets and several supermarkets in Addis. She has not only put parboiled rice on the market but has also shown the value of women as key players and entrepreneurs in the rice industry.
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Leadership and Inspiration in Everyday Life

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I'm nearing the end of my third month in Ghana, and am still learning and doing something new every day. Overall, I absolutely love my life and work here. Whether I'm learning how to build keyhole gardens in the villages for the dry season, or documenting our semi-annual Project Advisory Committee meeting to get insights into the GROW strategies, I'm constantly growing professionally and personally as well as getting my daily dose of inspiration.Recently I had one of these moments of absolute admiration and inspiration in Maase village. Jalal, my GROW team member, and I had an early morning and a bumpy ride to this village in Upper West District. I was taking pictures, videos and interviewing Mary, the proud new owner of a keyhole garden. Her GROW group of women farmers had come to help with the construction and to learn how to build the gardens for themselves from Jalal's demonstration.Several layers into the construction, the garden was starting to come together, but needed more top soil. The women had to gather additional soil from outside of Mary's fenced in property. So, the women and some men formed an assembly line to pass bucket of top soil to the construction site of the keyhole garden. A true testament to teamwork and support, but more than that, despite the fact they had been working in the heat all morning to build this garden for their group member, they started singing songs, laughing and smiling as they were passing buckets of soil along the assembly line. I was so touched and impressed by this beautiful display of community. The women showed so much strength, unity and joy- with access to opportunities their potential to change their communities, Ghana and the world is endless.My time here in Ghana hasn't been without its challenges, but getting to work in this area of my passion, women's empowerment, is really all I need to relight my motivation. I'm truly inspired every day being surrounded by strong women. Whether it's through these incredible moments with the women in the villages, or by the strong female leaders on our MEDA team- it serves as a constant reminder as to why this work is so important.
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Hard work and a bit of luck

This week we had a Project Advisory Committee, or PAC meeting in Wa. The meeting was attended by a majority of MEDA Ghana country staff, MEDA staff from HQ in Canada, representatives from our five key facilitating partners (KFPs), folks from the Canadian embassy in Accra and Global Affairs Canada, as well as a representatives from the Ghana Health Service and the Ministry of Food and Agriculture.This was my first PAC meeting. What I was able to take away is that things seem to be on the up and up. There was a great deal of optimism for year three of the project, and I feel like things have improved in that regard since the last PAC meeting in June.This optimism will surely be necessary. The project has ambitious targets and the rate of uptake by the clients (i.e. the number of women planting soybeans within the GROW project) must increase drastically for next year's planting season and in subsequent years for these targets to be met.I have two thoughts on this. Initially I fear that the low hanging fruit has already been targeted so to speak; that it will be difficult to convince the remaining women who are enrolled in GROW but aren't yet planting, to plant next season. These remaining women are perhaps more risk averse and will be very hesitant to try something new making achieving the targets set for the number of women planting a tall order.Countering this is that the initial work put in with the other value chain actors will hopefully yield more reliable service and more stronger linkages after a longer duration relationship has developed, enabling more women to access these crucial services and inputs when they need them and allow more to plant. This will work in the project's favour going forward and be a positive factor in the following years that was not present at the outset.I think it will come down to whether or not women who have planted in the past were successful. In groups where women have been successful and have earned a decent income from their crop it will encourage more women from those groups to plant next year. However, in groups where women encountered problems and were unable to earn an income, or a high enough income to justify their efforts, it will be very hard to convince additional women from those groups to try planting, and indeed it may be hard to retain the numbers we do have.The abilities and strengths of our field officers will affect this to a degree, but I have learned that it is very hard to change people's perceptions and change ideas that have been long held and are entrenched. Some of the shortfalls from last season were due to bad luck, such as poor weather. In some of these communities successes will beget more success, but in communities that experienced difficulties, we will certainly have our work cut out for us.
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Arba Minch: A humbling visit with VSLA groups in Chano Dorga

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I recently traveled to Arba Minch for my first field visit in southern Ethiopia. The main purpose of the trip was to visit clients and collect information to write up briefs for an donor tour that's taking place here in a few weeks. Spending a few days out of the city was refreshing. I especially appreciated meeting various clients, hearing from them personally how they have been positively impacted by the project. I also gained a new appreciation for our field staff in Arba Minch who are vital to the project. They hosted me very well in the midst of their busy schedules.The highlight of the trip was our first site visit. We went to a village called Chano Dorga to meet with 2 Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) groups. I'm thankful to have been there for the first 1.5 days with Doris, our country manager. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience in micro-finance and international development. Doris asked the questions and then the clients' responses were translated. I wrote down everything as fast as I could. The members of both VSLA groups were eager to speak and share their successes with us. They were also very thankful to the project, as I often heard "ameseginalehu" which means "thank you".While Ethiopians living in rural parts of the country have awareness of traditional saving methods, it's still difficult to save. Generally, saving habits are poor due to low levels of income or lack of financial literacy. However, through the project, clients training and education on financial literacy – how to save, budget and access credit. Through this training they can take steps to start improving their household income. When target households experience livelihood improvements, their vulnerability to resorting to child labor decreases. This is huge.When I first read about E-FACE, I didn't quite understand the connection of why our project was working in the South. Yet I learned that traditional weaving is originally from the South and there is a growing demand for hand-woven textile products. This is why child labor and child trafficking are such big issues in Ethiopia.The diligence of these savings groups really amazed me. They initially started out saving 5 ETB (25 cents USD) a week, and now they save 10 ETB (50 cents USD). Some members even save two-fold, in which they receive more in dividends. It was humbling to sit with them in their village and hear their stories. Saving a small amount of money each week has opened up opportunities that they otherwise would not have had. This is why the successes and life changes of our E-FACE clients are very inspiring. They save each week for the sake of their families and communities. They also took the knowledge and skills offered through the project and put them into practice to bring positive change to their families and communities.I don't think the issue of financial illiteracy is isolated to developing countries. In North America, debt is a really big problem. It may be a different strand of financial issues, but perhaps reveals learning about finance and money is needed back at home as well. I personally would like to learn more about personal finances, how to budget and how to save. These are skills and habits that require training, awareness and self-discipline.It's really exciting to hear about our clients' future plans and aspirations, as they have set goals to save more and expand their business endeavours. I hope to have another opportunity to visit the field, meet more clients and capture more of their success stories to demonstrate the amazing work being done through E-FACE.
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E-FACE Site Visit in Addis Ababa

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I had the pleasant surprise of being able to join our team on today's site visits, which included various interventions such as: Business Owners (BOs) and Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA), Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET), and Building Skills for Life. The day started out driving across the city to an area called Shiro Meda where we visited the first intervention of BOs and VSLA. The youth representatives seemed to get a kick out of seeing me there – I'm guessing they weren't expecting me to be there. While I didn't understand most of the conversations, my colleague, Tsedey translated what one of the youth shared: she spoke about the valuable lessons and training received in the area of saving. Through their weekly savings, the youth gain capacity to purchase their own notebooks – something I wouldn't even have to think twice about back at home.Our second visit was to a TVET site, where youth received training at a hair salon school. When I entered the building, the youth were busy working away at doing people's hair. It was interesting to see a fair amount of males receiving this training, whereas at most hair schools in Canada, the students are mostly female.My highlight of the entire day was the last site. We drove down a very bumpy road to a government work space, where youth participants in the Building Skills for Life program were working with weaving looms. Building Skills for Life targets young workers (ages 14-17) and provides them with practical education and training, so that the youth can be empowered to create opportunities for themselves. The program also includes technical training on traditional weaving, which is what I was able to see for myself through the visit. The youth seemed pretty shy as I went around with my camera, but once I started getting a few shots, some of the youth seemed to be alright with me taking pictures of their work. Some of the pieces were very intricate, and it amazes me that they learn and develop these skills in order to make a living for themselves at such a young age.I'm thankful I had the opportunity to join today's site visits. It really brought the past few weeks of what I've been working on in the office to life. It's one thing when you see E-FACE numbers, reports, and documents. It was refreshing to see the clients and get a better understanding of how this project is really impacting lives, especially those in the textile industry. Of course I still have so much to learn and grasp about the project and overall child labor in Ethiopia (especially in traditional weaving), which makes me even more eager to get out into the field and to the sites.In the future, I'll be traveling to Arba Minch to see E-FACE's field work and interventions. I'm really excited to see a different part of Ethiopia, and look forward to meeting more clients.
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More than economics

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.
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Fadila’s Story: Soybeans for School Fees

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This past week I had the pleasure of joining a wonderful, passionate and committed group of MEDA supporters visiting us from Canada for a MEDA field experience. It was a jam-packed schedule with lots of meetings, village visits, cultural excursions and new adventures. We had so many inspiring highlights, fun experiences and moments of growth, but today I want to tell you about one encounter that stood out to me above all others. About half way into the field experience, we visited a little village called Tampala, where with the help of our NGO partner PRONET, MEDA started the GROW project. We were so warmly welcomed by the women farmers, their families and the village chiefs, which even included one female chief! It was moving to see so many women successfully growing soybeans, hear about how they’re able to make more household decisions and better support their children. While intently listening to the achievements and challenges of the women GROW groups, I was circling the group to document our visit with lots of pictures. I found myself standing next to a young woman in a pink shirt. She had shared her perspective to a few of the group’s questions, and her natural leadership, charismatic personality and vibrancy came across clearly, despite the language barrier. I asked her if I could take her picture and we got to talking. To my surprise, my new friend Fadila spoke very good English. So, with her permission, I’d like to tell you her story. Fadila is eighteen years old and was born and raised in Tampala. She lives with her mother, father, her father’s second wife (his third wife has passed away), four brothers and four sisters. Unfortunately, Fadila was just six months shy of finishing senior high school, when due to family’s inability to pay for school fees, she was forced to drop out. As is sadly often the case, her brothers’ education was prioritized (all four are still in school), but none of the girls in her family are. That’s not going to stop Fadila though— she’s growing an acre of soybeans and plans to use her proceeds from selling the crop to go back to school. Fadila wants to be a nurse. It’s not easy to grow soybeans, she mentioned harvesting the crop “destroys your hands,” but she’s determined and I have no doubt that she’ll achieve her goals. Plus she’s already experimented with soybeans by incorporating them into local dishes, such as paola (by making a boiled soybean dumpling) and tambra (adding soybeans to a maize, beans and rice dish). I didn’t get a chance to try these, but as soy loving vegetarian, they sound delicious! Fadila and I got along so well that she suggested I marry one of her brothers, so I could come live in Tampala with her, which made us both laugh. I am so impressed by Fadila’s strength, resolve and positivity, and will definitely visit her again during my time here so we can catch up about this year’s harvest and how she’s progressing in school.
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GROWing Women’s Empowerment in Northern Ghana

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Hello MEDA Family!My name is Clarissa, I'm the new communications intern for the MEDA GROW Project (Greater Rural Opportunities for Women) in Tamale, Ghana. I arrived in here about two weeks ago and it's been a busy, exciting and fun ride so far!I had my first field visit to Wa last week, where our other MEDA office is, just about 4 hours from Tamale. I truly enjoyed meeting the MEDA field staff and our partner NGOs there. Although I have to admit that my favorite part was getting to visit two of the GROW communities in upper west region, Tanziri and Penetobo.In true Ghanaian fashion, we were so kindly welcomed with much singing and dancing, which was such a blast! We got to see the women's soybean fields, listen the groups' challenges and successes, and thank them abundantly for having us, which was of course followed by more dancing!I am so impressed by these incredible women. And here's why: Part of GROW is that our partner NGOs implement gender trainings in these communities. For one activity they have each the men and the women list their daily tasks.Here's what they found:The men on average had 2 tasks, one of which is riding their bicycle to sit under a tree and play a board game with their friends.The women on the other hand had 18 tasks including cooking, cleaning, farming, getting water, caring for the children, just to name a few. . .Although I have known about the unequal work distribution of women and seen it in similar communities in other parts of the world, it still blows my mind every time.I inquired if there was any progress as a result of these gender trainings. Here are some of these results they shared: Listing the tasks out helped some of the men see that the work distributions was unfair, so they consented to help the women (who usually walk to carry water) to bring the water on their bicycle on their way home. Other men now understand that the women have been working all day and sometimes it takes longer to finish their tasks. Finally, some men decided to take their dishes to the women after they finished eating so that these can be washed.Clearly we have a long way to go toward gender equality, but change in these rural communities happens slowly and at least these little steps are progress in the right direction. Plus because of the GROW project, women have been growing and selling soybeans and now are able to contribute financially to the household, which helps to raise their status and financial decision making power. Mostly women use their earnings to purchase food and send their children to school.I will never be able to understand what it is like to be born here in Tanziri or Penetobo, but I am so inspired by the incredible strength, selflessness, perseverance, warmth and work ethic these women have. I am grateful and excited to have the opportunity to contribute to the GROW project, to learn from MEDA and these women, to share their stories and see how the spark of empowerment will slowly but surely spread through their communities.
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A Sense of Empowerment

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One of the main objectives of the GROW project is to build the capacities of our Lead Farmers – female farmers who are chosen to represent their women's groups – so that they will have the skills to maintain their practices as entrepreneurs even after the project is completed in their communities.This process can also be very empowering for the women: teaching agricultural practices to ensure their soybean crops produce good yields, providing communities with gender sensitization to avoid stereotypes, demonstrating different ways of using soybean to benefit their families, and promoting group savings accounts so women can manage their own funds.One of the most recent examples of both capacity building and empowerment was last week – a select number of Lead Farmers were brought to Tamale for two days to participate in the Pre-Season Forum, an agricultural event that brings together different actors in the soybean value chain. The Lead Farmers were able to attend discussions, network, and observe demonstrations of farming technology.The following day, the group was taken to meet with a shea processor, and learn about the details of collecting the fruit, making it into butter, packaging it and selling it to buyers. Although the GROW project focusses on soybean production, an important element is maintaining the farmers' businesses throughout the year – this may mean engaging in other income generating activities, especially during the dry season, after soy is cultivated.After these two days of introducing the farmers to different people, as well as new agricultural innovations, MEDA held a small reception at the office. Over biscuits and juice, the women were asked what their most memorable moment was during their stay, or something interesting they had learned. For many women, visiting Tamale was their favourite part – some of them had never travelled from their communities to the town. For others, the highlight was attending an event with different people involved in agriculture. Many Lead Farmers left with contacts of other farmers and links to input suppliers. Another element they enjoyed was meeting each other. Although they are all part of the GROW project, the selected Lead Farmers were from different communities of the Upper West Region. They were happy to meet other women like themselves and share their experiences.Regardless of what their most memorable experience was, the emphasis lies in the fact that the women were chosen to participate because MEDA believes in them – in their skills and capabilities, both as farmers and as women. Providing them this sense of accomplishment is almost more important than providing them with something tangible. It is with this confidence that the Lead Farmers will go forward in their communities and truly embrace their multifaceted identities as mother, business person, farmer and woman, and continue to be the role models MEDA knows they are.
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Catching up with Prudence

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I have met and interacted with so many women farmers – our targeted clients – during my work in Ghana, and am always interested in learning about their experiences and how they are impacted by MEDA. Recently I sat down with Prudence, a Lead Farmer whose participation I began noticing more and more as she became increasingly active within her community. This is her story within the GROW project!I first met Prudence in September. Visitors from headquarters – Wally and his wife Millie, and Marlin – had come to interview farmers. We learned that Prudence was a mother of two girls, a wife of a trader, and had devoted an acre of land (out of the 6 acres her husband owns) to soybean cultivation. In fact, it was her first year planting soybean. The crop looked lush and she was excited to participate in the project. When asked about how she would spend the income earned from her yield, Prudence said she wanted to be a teacher, and would put the money towards that because she felt with MEDA's help, "in the future she would be someone." Some of Prudence's story was then published in The Marketplace.In October I was pleasantly surprised to see Prudence in Tamale at the pre-harvest forum, a conference that links farmers, buyers, input dealers and other actors in the agricultural value chain together to network. We had asked our partners to choose a representative farmer from their communities to attend the event. Prudence had been selected. She came in a beautiful dress which she quickly traded in favour of a GROW t-shirt she received, and her hair had been nicely done. I watched as she participated in a meeting where the price of soybeans was negotiated amongst processors, asked questions after watching threshing equipment being demonstrated, and tasted soy milk – an example of what she could one day do with her own yields. I asked whether or not she liked Tamale (it was her first time visiting) and she responded with a bright smile and said that she "REALLY REALLY enjoyed Tamale." Now, her friends joke with her – if they don't see her around the compound or in the market, they claim, Oh! She must be in Tamale.Rachel, our senior project manager, and Christine, MEDA's women's economic development director, both came to visit at the end of November. We visited some communities to talk with the women about their experiences so far in the project. Prudence's community was one of those selected, and she was present at the meeting. Her confidence and leadership were apparent as she organized the women, fetched drinking water for the guests, and lead the group in a dance to send us off. Likewise, during a nutrition training session in December, Prudence was eager to participate and share her thoughts on infant and young child nutrition with the other farmers and the male facilitator from Ghana Health Service.After returning to Ghana from the Christmas holidays, I thought it would be nice to touch base with Prudence after not seeing her for several weeks. The first opportunity I was in Wa, I arranged to speak with her. The field officer who organized the visit surprised me by taking me, not to the community meeting place where we usually saw the famers, but to Prudence's home. As we arrived there, she came out of the door laughing, "You're early!" She was still wearing a towel after having just bathed. Once she was dressed, she ran out of the compound and returned minutes later with water for me to drink, and offered me a seat on her plastic furniture in the courtyard.I asked her about her experience after nearly one year with the project. She began by saying "I have changed totally!" She elaborated that she had developed so many new relationships with other farmers, she knew more places now (again referencing her trip to Tamale) and that she can cook at least seven dishes that include soy. She told me about the success of her harvest – one bag she kept for family consumption while the other three she sold at the market for a good price. I was sure to ask what she was doing with this income, and she confirmed that it was in her savings account (which she emphatically stated was her very own – separate from her husband's bank account) so she could take classes to become a teacher. Prudence stated that her husband is "proud of me!" and that she will continue to cultivate soybeans because it is now her best crop.These chats with Prudence I've had over the six months that I've now known her really encapsulate what the GROW project is all about: empowering women economically through the cultivation of soybean, educating clients in the nutritional benefits of the legume, and encouraging women's leadership in order to combat food insecurity. Prudence has proven that she is capable of achieving this in her household, and that she embodies the role of Lead Farmer. My time in Ghana is coming to an end, but before it does I will be sure to speak to Prudence a final time. Although, based on how she's grown throughout the project so far, I think I know how her story will continue.
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Just Flabbergasted

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This is Jiro de Carmen Altamiran. His home is located in rural Santa Barbara, a region in Jinotega, as he put it "from the Santa Barbara school, 300 blocks north, is my house." He works with IDEAL, a Techno-Links partner that works with low-pressure micro-irrigation systems for small producers. Additionally, the technology package includes seed, fertilizer, financing, technical assistance and monitoring. CARITAS, another non-governmental organization in Jinotega, recommended Jiro to IDEAL.Jiro has never had a farm before and now he has 0.7 hectares of land. Before he thought the irrigation system would not work because water in his region is contaminated. However, CARITAS built a well for Jiro to use his irrigation system, which also blocks out debris. He now grows yucca, cucumbers, malanga (a tropical vegetable) and onions with the irrigation system.This is a flabbergast kind of story because I saw a real change in the client and their family. Jiro is now 58 with a wife, who is a preschool teacher attending school again, and a daughter who will begin preschool soon. He was saving money to buy products to burn the ground around him to create space for growing products. However, IDEAL recommended not to do this because it contaminates the air with chemicals. Now he's using that saved money to buy pencils and paper for his daughter when she attends school.Jiro has not only saved money by using the irrigation system, but he has also been able to save time. Having to only turn on the irrigation system, Jiro waits an hour while plants are being watered but spends this time with his wife and daughter, which he previously could not do.I was not able to gain more information about how Jiro was doing with his crops because his first-ever harvest is still coming up but I wish him all the best!
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Searching for markets in Ghana's Upper West

Living in rural Africa, it's difficult to connect with sustainable outside markets, especially as a woman. The project that I work on, Greater Rural Opportunities for Women (GROW), looks to link women and their families with markets to develop a lasting income. Here's a brief review of a recent trip in the field. GROW clients are currently at an important stage – it's the first year of harvest and the women farmers are looking for markets to sell their soybeans. Learn about the difficulties of finding markets in Ghana's Upper West – one of poorest and least food secure regions in the country – and what MEDA is doing to help solve this problem...

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QUE RICO MIEL!

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This week I had a little taste of what it was like to be a beekeeper, known as an apiarist, for INGEMANN FOOD in the region of Boaco, Nicaragua. INGEMANN is a grant recipient of a MEDA program called Techno-Links. They are an exporter of organic honey.Local beekeepers were loosing honey and panels were being broken when they were manually being taken out of the bee box. Throughout Canada and Central America there is an external parasite mite called Varroa Destructor. This mite attacks honeybees and causes a disease called varroatosis. This disease spreads throughout the colony causing bees to be weak and have infections that ultimately kills the hive.To improve these challenges INGEMANN has been producing queen bees in their bee yard to sell to local beekeepers in Boaca. Every two years beekeepers need to switch out the old queen bee for a new one. The queen cleans the hive consistently, doing 99% of cleaning compared to the other bees, and this leaves no room for the Varroa mite. This increases productivity through beekeeping because bees aren't dying and farmers can have higher production and increased quality of honey. I tried the honey and the technology is worth it.I also got to see how they use their technology for producing Queen bees and even wear a beekeeper suit! However, the first time I was going to go into the apiary, which is a bee yard, I was wearing all black. Bees see black and think of dark fur and think a bear is coming to take their honey. I didn't feel like being attacked by bees, so I waited till the next day to put on something a little brighter. Once I was prepared with my bee suit and double-checked and then double-checked again that no part of my skin was showing, I was taken into the bee yard. The apiarists were nice enough to look in a bee box to find a Queen bee to show me. Each bee box has 15,000 to 20,000 bees with only one Queen bee.
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Domingo: using innovative technology

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The growth of agricultural technology has grown at an incredible rate within Nicaragua that has helped improve and change the quality of production. One example is Domingo Antonio Tigerino Acevedo. Domingo and his family live in the Potasi neighborhood of Rivas, located in southwestern Nicaragua. He has 9.1 hectares of plantains, with one hectare consisting of 100 plantain in-vitro plants, which are seed tissues that have been combined from different plantain seedlings in the lab from the International School of Agriculture and Cattle (EIAG) to fight diseases and improve quality of plants.Domingo Antonio was having trouble with his plantains with the lack of water during the rainy season and the spread of diseases and insects. This reduced yields and impacted the quality of his crop.He heard from APLARI, an organization of plantain farmers in Rivas, that EIAG had a new modified plantain that would solve his problems.Due to his position of influence in the community, Domingo Antonio is a lead promoter of the Techno-Links program, which has the goal to increase the productivity and income generating opportunities of 5, 000 small scale farmers by improving the capacity of agriculture technology suppliers.He was eager to participate, especially since this innovative technology could solve his problem of lack of quality. He has talked with other farmers and friends about the benefits of this technology. He sees this as a smart and innovative idea. He has told 10 other producers and continues to spread the word about the in-vitro plants using the EIAG manual. Five of these producers have bought in-vitro plants from the university. He likes to visit these farmers and see how their production process is going.He has noticed a radical change in his crops due to the use of the technology. The in-vitro corms offer an improved variety of plantain that means higher quality, better clusters and greatest number of fingers on the plants."The change was significant because with in-vitro plants there is a more marketable number of fingers to sell."He was excited when describing the differences between his hectare of in-vitro plants and the normal plantain. He said there was an increase from 30 fingers to between 40 to 55 fingers per branch.The most exciting difference was an immediate decrease in his use of pesticides. For the next cycle of plantains, Domingo plans to buy 200 more in-vitro plants so that he doesn't have to spend money on pesticides. By not having to apply pesticides, Domingo will have more free time to plant more crops and spend time with his family.Innovative technology continues to grow throughout Nicaragua and is changing the way farmers see and work with agriculture.
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Nidia: promoting sustainable development

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In November, I had the opportunity to interview plantain farmers for a week in Rivas, Nicaragua to do a case study on the University of Agriculture and Livestock (EIAG), a partner of MEDA. Nidia de Carmen Yescas is a lead farmer that uses her farmer as a demonstration for other local farmers to see the progress of the technology she uses. Nidia, her husband and her five grown children live on the farm alongside a highway on the outskirts of Rivas, which is located in southwestern Nicaragua. Nidia and her family had problems with disease in their plantains, which meant little income due to poor quality. The plantain had no resistance to the black weevil and black sigatoka disease. Sometimes it was hard for Nidia to find markets for her plantain and it sold at poor prices. Nidia Yescas heard about technological development through APLARI, an organization of farmers in Rivas. She decided to try new agro bio-technology being developed at a nearby university lab. Vitro selection screens plants for certain characteristics. With plantains, it selects for tolerance to diseases, insects and soil adaptability. Nidia decided to try this new technology after seeing the demonstration plot at the university. These new technological alternatives have increased yields and plant quality. Nidia said the in-vitro plant resolved her problems. "It was a huge progress for me. The plants aren't sick and now I don't use pesticides." The new plant is resistant to pests and disease, making for a more productive plant anchor with a more competitive context in an increasingly demanding market. As well, Nidia doesn't spend money on pesticides and is able to save this money to spend on household needs. With the help of her sons, she has been able to produce healthy plantains. With the outcomes she's seen of the in-vitro plants she is now a promoter of reference for the university. She uses her farm as a model for planting in-vitro plants that other farmers can come see as an example. She's excited to see the profits that the plantains will now bring in and she's happy for the help that the technicians gave her from EIAG.
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8 Manzanas

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I’m in Wiwili, the department of Jinotega, Nicaragua. On the horizon I can see the Honduras border while I’m sitting on a bench outside doing the final interviews with farmers. In the department of Jinotega there is a large production of chia seeds and the Central American Commodities Trading (CAC), a partner of Techno-Links, has taken advantage of this opportunity.  CAC Trading is well known for having the most comprehensive program of chia seeds in Central America with chia seeds being exported to the United States. They focus on giving technical assistance to farmers and by using the program Techno-Links through MEDA, they have been able to reach farmers in Wiwili.  One particular individual caught my attention today, Jose Andres Basque Martinez. Jose Andres produces chia as his only cultivation on the farm, while his wife and two girls work in the household and manage a clothing store. He has been working with the new technology from CAC Trading for one year and has noticed an ample change in his harvest of chia seeds. A year ago he was growing 1 manzana as Nicaraguan farmers call it, or 0.5 hectares of chia seeds. Today, he has 8 manzanas, 5.6 hectares.  This is one of the goals that CAC Trading strived to achieve by having farmers adopt a methodology with the ability to increase revenues both through the increase in yields per hectare and increased sales prices. Beforehand, Jose Andres faced a technology gap of technological development. Today he said that with the technical assistance of CAC Trading, there is a new market for his chia seeds, a higher production rate at harvest, and an improved quality of chia seeds with new nutrients. He’s happy and his family is happy, and that makes me happy.

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Impact Stories from the Field

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I always enjoy getting out of the office in the busy capital city of Lusaka and visiting MEDA techno-links partner Zoona in the field. Zoona has an expansive agent network totaling over 200 agents located throughout Zambia. Seeing firsthand how these entrepreneurs are being empowered to grow their businesses is inspiring. Not only has Zoona helped increase their incomes and well-being, but it also provides a needed financial service in a country where over 84% of the adult population does not have a formal bank account.  Zoona is unique against other competitors in that individuals do not have to create accounts to use and benefit from Zoona services like sending/receiving money, bill payments, airtime purchases, and receiving international remittances. All they have to do is provide their personal National Identification Card (NRC) and they can be served. This makes the barrier to utilizing the services minimal and with Zoona’s Easy, Quick, Safe platform anyone from illiterate rural farmers to Lusaka businessmen can easily understand and appreciate the simplicity of the service.  This past week I was able to interview five agents along with MEDA M&E Program Manager Jillian Baker. Here are some of the highlights of how this techno-links funded project is making a difference for local Zambian entrepreneurs and consumers:Marjori and her husband Dominque have been operating two Zoona outlets in the Copperbelt region of Zambia since 2009. After being trained and supported by Zoona staff their business has steadily grown. With this income Marjori and her husband re-invested back into the business and also purchased 23 hectares of land for farming to begin generating additional revenue streams. Marjori says her goal is to, “Grow her Zoona business and help others in need.” One way she is already doing this is by taking in 8 orphans to her home and paying their school fees so they can receive an education.  Constance is a young and talented entrepreneur who after receiving training and support from Zoona has now managed to grow her business to six Zoona outlets throughout the Copperbelt region. She employs 8 female tellers who work at her shops and receive a salary as well as bonuses based on performance. When one of Constance’s tellers was pregnant she gave her three months of maternity leave fully paid. Constance understands the concept that if you treat your employees well it will not only benefit them, but also the business and her customer base. With the income Constance earns from her Zoona outlets she has enrolled in College to study for her Diploma. She also says she enjoys the feeling of independence running her own business brings.  Mercy started her Zoona business only 9 months ago. Through training from Zoona, hard work, and direct selling she has expanded her business quickly. She already employs three tellers and recently opened a second outlet in the town of Ndola. She says Zoona has empowered her to think like an entrepreneur. She is now enrolling in College to study Business Management. When asked why Business Management Mercy said, “So I can learn more about how to be a successful business owner.”  Perhaps the most inspiring part of doing these interviews was seeing the confidence and independence these Zambian entrepreneurs conveyed in every word spoken. This visit only reinforced my views that Zoona is living out its core belief, “we will be at the forefront of developing and empowering entrepreneurs in emerging markets.” Improved incomes for agents, local job creation, and increased financial services for the non-banked.... The list could go on and on. This is a model that works, this is sustainable impact.

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