As part of our Rurality programme our field team have helped some smallholders in Ghana with access to tools crucial for a successful harvest.
Farmers in the developing world are too often portrayed as victims of a struggle to make a living. We don’t see struggle, we see thriving potential.
These farmers grow the fruits and crops we use and eat every day. They don’t want sympathy; they need support to help them become more self sufficient.
This is what our Rurality programme does with farmers across the world in the Dominican Republic, France, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Malaysia and in the Western Region of Ghana, in a project funded by Nestlé, where Charles Boateng and Grace Obeng spent a year living with 155 independent family farmers – interviewing them about their farming practices.
These interviews provided the necessary insights into the farmers’ work and lives in order to find out how to best support them and help further improve their farming practices. Around 80% of these farmers are in the Mpohor District of the Western Region of Ghana and have a variety of backgrounds.
Some consider oil palm cultivation as their main source of income, while also growing other crops, like cocoa and rubber, and keeping livestock. Others might have different main forms of employment while farming provides an additional source of their income.
Despite the differing circumstances among farmers some needs are universal. For example, one factor holding some back was a lack of sufficient tools. Although they own some small tools, others such as harvesting chisels, knives and poles can be very costly to farmers.
Yet the oil palm needs to be pruned and without this and other tools farmers risk a poor harvest. Cost wasn’t the only factor either; access to tools was also a problem.
Many of these farmers sell their oil palm fresh fruit bunches to Benso Oil Palm Plantations (BOPP) – a subsidiary of Wilmar, one of the world’s biggest palm oil companies.
With Wilmar being one of our members, we were able to use our relationship to set up an arrangement for farmers to access tools from BOPP, who put together a list of tool and equipment prices that were shared with farmers. Those who couldn’t afford to pay for the tools up-front in cash can now buy them on credit without interest from BOPP’s buying agent.
Such tools, like harvesting knives, which makes harvesting and pruning palm oil fruit a much easier and more efficient job, are usually imported and virtually impossible for farmers to get hold of because they are only available in bulk orders. Having these tools has also prevented farmers from using dangerous and unsustainable practices.
One of our next moves will be to work on streamlining the time it takes for farmers to receive tools. We also provide training on how to best use the right knives and chisels to harvest the palm fruits, followed-up with further individual coaching to assess the progress being made on farms.
Charles and Grace go to each farmer’s plot to give training on cultivation techniques and general guidance. This comes in the form of advice on a variety of topics, including the planting of cover crops to prevent erosion, seedling planting, how buffer zones can be set to prevent pollution and of course how the quality of their harvests can be improved.
We are also working at bringing farmers together so they can share their challenges as well as their ideas for improving their resilience to stress and threats. This has been done through meeting groups, which, as well as helping to create a farming community, also keeps farmers up to speed with the latest tools, methods and innovations.
Not all farmers have the same knowledge. They are also scattered geographically, which presents a challenge in helping them to share information with one another. For that reason, we work with farmer associations and small groups of farmers to help share information more efficiently and widely.
Many of the farmers in our Rurality programme have joined based on recommendations given to them by their fellow farmers, which pleases Charles, who says: “We’re helping to give these farmers the foundations to be self sufficient – helping them to become independent and manage their own business has seen a lot of continuous improvement in their lives.”