With 20 hours of travel from Toronto under our belts, we arrived in Accra, the sprawling capital city of Ghana in West Africa. After a few days of planning and discussion with the Ghanian project partners, University of Developmental Studies (UDS) and the Ministry of Farming and Agriculture (MOFA), our driver William from UDS picked us up just before 6:00h this morning and we hit the road for Wa, in the Upper West Region of Ghana.
The scenery changed as we drove the 12 hours north on our cross-country trip. The hustle and bustle of city life in Accra gave way to the rural villages of the north. As we left the outskirts of Accra we passed through mountainous cloud forests with crops of cocoa and bananas, past more varied vegetables for sale at the side of the road (tomato, cassava, yam), pottery ware and palm oil, bread and fruit. The most common road side offering once we reached the upper west was large bags of charcoal and the vista is a savannah peppered with skyscraper termite mounds, giant baobab trees and plots of tall maize.
We left behind the street cats and dogs, and occasional street chicken, in Accra and started to see pygmy goats, hens with chicks then sheep and horned cattle and more substantial goats (the Burkina Faso type we’re told) and in the upper west we start to see wandering pigs, turkey and goats and sheep who are either less “road smart” or more bold than their more southern counterparts – William spent a good amount of time driving around these fearless small ruminants.
While there is no physical gap you pass over in your journey from south to north in Ghana, you can tell you have reached the rural north not only from the changes in landscape and roadside scenes, but from the signs announcing NGO and government supported development projects in every town and village. These signs clearly notify the passerby to the poverty gap that exists between southern and northern Ghana.
And that is a large part of why we are in Wa town waiting to meet our project partners in an enhanced guinea fowl production project centered in 4 villages within an hour drive of the town. The guinea fowl is not only a culturally important bird in northern Ghana (served at festivals, major holidays and funerals) but is in great demand and holds a high market value compared to other livestock produced in the region.
Just over three years ago, Dr. Bruce Hunter, an avian pathologist at the Ontario Veterinary College and VWB-VSF Canada volunteer of the year recipient, was invited to the Nadowli District in the Upper West Region of Ghana to investigate the cause of a sudden increase in mortality rates in guinea fowl (between 20-80% in some villages). Veterinary student volunteers were recruited in 2010 and 2011 to visit four villages (Chang, Nator, Sombo in the Nadwoli district and Charia in the Wa West region) to gather information about the husbandry practices, gender-based farming practices and collected sick and dead birds to collect samples for testing. This baseline information helped define the problem with guinea fowl production in the villages and informed a Ghanian team-led project proposal with a VWB-VSF partnership. Unfortunately, Dr. Hunter passed away unexpectedly in October 2011 and did not live to learn that the proposal had been funded by Ghana’s Ministry of Local Development and Rural Development and Food Security and Environment Facility. Although the loss of Bruce’s leadership, dedication and vision could have spelled the end of such an important project, he inspired a following of believers in Canada and Ghana and the project carries on in his memory.
For the 2 weeks we are here in Ghana, we will hold a project inception meeting with the Ghanian project leaders and visit the 4 villages to speak with farmers to find out how the project is developing and what changes in guinea fowl production have taken place since VWB-VSF Canada was last on the ground in Ghana. We will also identify the areas in which our organization can assist the Ghanian team in this project through to it’s completion in 3 years time.
Much to learn and more to come….
Trace and Stephen