After the hustle and bustle of Accra, the peace and quiet of village life in Shia was a welcome change of scenery six days into my evaluation trip of COCO’s projects in Ghana.
My main objective was to see how the Information Technology Centre (ITC) that COCO funded was coming along, in addition to meeting with some of the cocoa farmers of the Shia Association who purchased farming equipment using COCO funds in February 2011.
A phenomenal storm greeted me on arrival in Shia interrupting a meal of rice, chicken and beer – perhaps a poor omen for my visit…
My first appointment the next morning was with the head teacher at the ITC where, unfortunately, I found the building was not yet sufficiently secure to unpack the 10 computers. It is for reasons such as this that it is so important that COCO follow up on funding. I spoke to the headmaster about this but he was preoccupied with the issue of outstanding school fees and seemed to think that COCO could foot the bill.
This problem seems to have its roots in the changeover at Shia Secondary School in September 2010 from a community school (where teachers’ salaries are paid for by the community and children attend for free) to a government school where fees had to be paid by all students. The first term’s fees are roughly £70, a figure impossible to achieve for parents who earn a living as a subsistence farmer – which is by and large the case.
The cocoa farmers meeting was more productive, 36 people turned up to speak to me; including 13 women, which was very encouraging. An interpreter chaired the meeting and translated from English to Ewe and back again. I was pleased to see that he had something of a challenge because so many members were so keen to have their voice heard!!
It became apparent that a major obstacle for these farmers was the costs of seedlings, fertilizers, pesticides and labour. These high input costs mean that often farmers have to leave some of their land uncultivated.
This year, at the request of the community, COCO funded the purchase of mist blowers (used to spray insecticides) and slashers (what you and I might call a strimmer) for clearing the land. However, there are stumbling blocks with both.
Most farmers cannot afford insecticides – when we agreed to this project the government had undertaken to supply free insecticides to all cocoa farmers – the rules have changed so only those with over 2 acres qualify: most of the cocoa farmers in Shia do not! Furthermore, uneven ground, lack of training as well as fuel costs presented problems for use of the strimmer.
Fortunately, the 2 mist blowers and one strimmer will all be used with a little more investment and discussions are underway to decide on the best way forward.
So today didn’t exactly go according to plan, but things rarely do in this line of work. Nevertheless I have high hopes for this community and I am privileged to represent an organisation that is listening to their needs and hopes for the future. My initial conversations show that this community is desperate to make a living for themselves to better the lives of their children and ensure that they receive the education they are entitled to so that they can break this cycle of poverty.
Lucy Philipson, Director, COCO