Greetings and salutations,
Two weeks ago today, I returned from a two week trip to Ghana, West Africa. This was my first trip to the continent of Africa and a certainly memorable one. First the back story on how I came to make this trek to the interior of Ghana. Just before Christmas, our oldest daughter, Melanie (she works at Penn State in International Ag Programs) sent me a link to the website for ACDI/VOCA, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, DC. They are involved in providing business and technical assistance to developing countries around the world to help them build and improve agribusiness expertise, build strong communities and increase food security. ACDI/VOCA is the largest implementor of USAID’s Farmer-to-Farmer program in Africa, Europe and Central Asia. The Farmer-to-Farmer program was the one I was applying for in Ghana.
Melanie said in her message, “this volunteer project is made for you.” That statement peaked my curiosity so I looked into what the organization was seeking and if it matched my knowledge and skill set. It did, so I applied to provide training on group dynamics and organizational strengthening for farmers organizations in a village in the Ashanti Region of Ghana. The day we returned from Cuba, I found out that I was accepted and the proposed dates were March 19-April 3. That set into motion a whole bunch of things, first applying for a visa, second to schedule an appointment with my physician to get a medical clearance and a whole series of vaccinations and preventive medications. And third, with not much information to go on, I had to prepare the materials that I might need to work with the farmers association leaders and members. Fortunately, I was able to talk with a few people who had been to Ghana and one volunteer who had an assignment similar to the one I was about to embark on. I also studied up on the country of Ghana, the people, the culture and the agriculture.
On March 19, I departed the US from Chicago O’hare to London Heathrow then on to Accra, Ghana arriving close to midnight on Sunday March 20 after about 28 hours of travel time. On Monday morning, I processed in at the ACDI/VOCA offices in Accra, changed American dollars for Ghanian Cedi’s (about 3.8 Gh C for $1.00), then headed back to the airport with my ACDI/VOCA contact, Frank Larbi. It’s about a 40 minute flight to Kumasi (the second largest city in Ghana) where we were met by a driver for the ride (about 50 miles) to Agogo, the city that would be my home for the next ten days. Agogo is the capital of the Asanti-Akim (also spelled Akyem) North District in the Ashanti Region, much like a county here in the US. Agogo has a population of over 35,000 residents and is very spread out. Over 70% of the economic activity is derived from farming and agriculture. Agogo is home to the well regarded Presbyterian Hospital along with a health sciences university. Below is a map of the region, Agogo is located in about the center of the image at the crossroads of four roads in the district. The village I worked in is Akutuase located below and to the left of road R76, more on the village in future articles.
Here’s one of my first photos taken in Agogo, note there are a very few buildings over two stories and most are one story homes and shops.
Here’s another photo of the city from another angle.
The Kusibo Hotel was where I stayed for my ten days in Agogo. Formerly, it was the Inspector General’s Headquarters that I assume was during the military ruling days. It was a comfortable place to stay and as a big bonus, decent air conditioning! A big relief during those hot and humid days in the 90-95 F range everyday with the lows at night in the 80’s.
The following two photos were taken in the neighborhood around the hotel that was located about 3/4 of mile from the city center. Some of the homes were made of clay or mud blocks while others were made of wood often with tin roofs. Note the goats in the second photo, they were everywhere wandering the streets foraging during the day and going home because they were fed by their owners. I was told that most of the goats were raised for meat not milk. While I was in Ghana, I read a story on the internet about a proposed 9,000 goat dairy for someplace in Wisconsin, I told that to my farmers in class one day and they got a very puzzled look on their face like “why would anyone want to milk and have 9,000 goats???!!!”
The first full day in Agogo, my local handlers, Stephen and Patrick, both employees of the Ministry of Agriculture (like our Ag Extension programs in the US), took me to the local market. Mostly women were selling tomatoes, hot peppers, cucumbers, cabbage, yams, and cassava as well as other items for the home. Cassava is an important part of the diet after rice and maize. It’s a starchy root crop that is drought tolerant and grows in tropical climates. As you can see in the photos, cassava was abundant in the marketplace.
I was amazed at how big the roots were, Stephen and I are pictured in the market with one of the roots!
So that was my quick introduction to Ghana and my temporary home, Agogo. In next week’s post, meet and see the farmers in the nearby village of Akutuanse where I worked on my assignment.
Welcome to Ghana and until next week,