Overcoming barriers in farmer profiling in Northern Ghana: the tale of UCC YouthMappers
In the quest to develop a profile of selected local farmers in the three northern regions of Ghana, students from the YouthMappers chapter of the University of Cape Coast were engaged by the Africa RISING Project, managed by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) to employ open data platforms in this quest. This expedition began with an hour flight from the National Capital to Tamale which are quite on opposite sides of the country. The five-member team were excited to visit this part of the country since this was the first time most of us travelled to this part of the country. In the midst of this excitement, some members had some reservations due to the exaggerated stories heard from people who claimed to have been to the north side. In every rumour, there is an iota of truth and to our surprise, some of the rumours seemed to be true but these happened to be environmental factors for which we could do little about. The green portion in the map shows the study area for this survey.
The high temperature that is associated with dry and dusty winds from the Sahara Desert was dominant in this area and unlike the south, the air in the north felt thinner and warmer in the day. With desert winds, daytime temperatures was as high as 35 degrees. This saw most team members developing cracked lips, dried nostrils and blisters on their feet as a result of wearing boots for longer hours in the scorching heat. At a point, the sole of a member’s boot fell off due to the harsh and rugged terrain of the farms. While enduring these conditions, both the Africa RISING staff and the local farmers seemed fine as they went about their duties. To shield ourselves from the effects of the weather, students resorted to the use of local remedies like the shea butter which offered a great deal of relief and insulated our lips and nostrils from the harsh weather. The picture attached is Kwame Odame, who (showing the removed sole of his boot) suffered most causalities.
With most students residing in the southern part of the country, another major barrier encountered in the field was language. This was an issue as the major languages spoken in southern Ghana differed from the dialects spoken in the northern parts. In fact, almost all of the local farmers could not speak or read English or any local languages spoken by the UCC YM. To remedy this situation, the team engaged the services of translators who were familiar to the local terrain. One challenge envisaged was the tendency of these translators to properly offer the needed service and to this view, the team offered good incentives and also took time to rehearse the survey for a number of times. Upon attaining satisfactory feedback from the translators, we proceeded to the field. While in the field, we took the opportunity to learn a few phrases in Gruni, Kasem and Dagari which were some of the popular local languages spoken in northern Ghana. The picture above represents a UCC Youthmapper, Translator and local farmer.
The bad nature of roads and long routes to farms also posed some challenges to students. Though the team members lodged in the regional capital which had relatively good roads, the roads leading to the various farming communities were not as good as the ones encountered in the regional capital. At a point, the team had to endure long travelling hours which made trips very exhausting and unpleasant. Aside the long distance to the communities, the use of OSMtracker to map farmlands also came with some discomfort. When the team asked the farms to estimate the distance to their farms, common responses included ‘’the farm is not far or the farm is just here’’. In some cases, ‘just here’ was found to be about 30 minutes’ walk from the community and due to exhaustion, team members had to resort to a motor bike as seen in the picture above. Even with the motor bike, team members had to endure about three-and-a-half-hour ride to complete mapping all farm lands in a community. Don’t forget that, this was done in the day when temperatures were between 30 to 35 degree Celsius.
With the Africa RISING staff being our local representatives in the three northern Regions of Ghana, the teams also encountered low turnouts in some isolated cases. This stems from late communication to farmers and in some case, farmers showed up late although information about the exercise had been received earlier. Also, some farmers had travelled outside the communities to attend to other commitments and were not reached. During moments of low turn out, the team took time to tour the communities since life in northern Ghana was different from what we knew in the South, this provided the opportunity to learn more about the inhabitants of the community and afforded the team the chance to interact with them and brush up on the phrases we had picked up in their local dialect. On occasions where farmers had travelled outside the community, necessary transport means was provided to get in touch with these local farmers. For those who could not be reached, attempts were made to reach out to them after the survey period.
Amidst all these challenges, students were able to sail through the activity successfully with the constant efforts from the management of the Africa RISING Project to make students as comfortable as possible. We are grateful for the support received from Chad Blevins, the entire YouthMappers community, and the Africa RISING project. We can’t wait to share the full report from this survey. Below is a group picture of farmers in selected communities and the research team.
UCC YouthMappers with IITA Staff