Surveys are easy…on paper.

September 16-18
It’s Sunday morning and the team has assembled at the MOFA Office for a brief strategy discussion before we return to Chang for the first of four village consultations. Despite our best efforts we know our survey tool has not been road-tested and that today would be a learning experience. This is where the rubber hits the road (or dirt path) so to speak.

Our original plan: eight of us will survey 10 – 12 farmers each. Luckily, Francis speaks up and advises we should pass out the surveys and gauge who can complete it on their own and who needs direct support in terms of basic literacy and translation.  It’s a better plan given the amount of detail we are after — i.e. years of experience with guinea fowl, husbandry practice, housing conditions, nutrition and watering, mortality of keets, of mature birds, birds for consumption, birds for market, contribution to household income, marketing, division of labour. We want to know details specific to the women as a key project focus is the potential to increase the role of women in enhanced guinea fowl production. Last, but not least, our base line data must identify socio-economic indicators that will underpin the program evaluation. It’s a tall order and Trace and I are a little nervous about such an undertaking but our Ghanaian friends are fearless and determined. We pile into two trucks and make our way to the village.

The Upper West region is made up of both Muslim and Christian families and in every case, “God is Great”. We arrive just as Sunday mass is wrapping up in the Catholic church. As we pull into the village a harmonious cacophony of voices and drums rises up from behind a green curtain of crops: guinea corn, corn and okra. It’s really a beautiful scene and full of paradox. On one hand, we are in one of the poorest regions in Africa where many people live on less than $1 a day and yet it’s the end of the rainy season and there is a bountiful harvest, everything appears so lush, the community appears healthy (people and animals) and everywhere are smiles and hearty laughter. The town water source (a manual pump) is gushing clean water pumped by children seemingly anxious to show their good fortune (and their strength) to the visitors.  It’s difficult to imagine what this scene looks like in February, well after the rainy season when cassava and yam are the principle diet, everything is parched and brown and many families survive on one meal per day.

Eventually farmers emerge from behind the crop curtain, from a series of footpaths that converge at the community meeting place: a huge shade tree at the village centre. Priscilla and Ben address the group. We learn that each meeting begins with a ritual address starting with Priscilla greeting the group which signals a coordinated response from the farmers and ends with a single clap. And now it is time to get down to business. They explain that the project is under way and we must establish some basic facts about their relationship to guinea fowl production. Ben explains the plan: if you can read and write you should complete the survey and then you are free to leave. However, it would be nice if those people could stay to help others by writing and/or translating. Since interest is very high among the group no one leaves, making our job much easier.

At first I find myself on the periphery, somewhat shy to jump in with the interviews. Luckily there are pencils to sharpen so I busy myself with the sharpener. I look up to see ten or so young smiling and curious faces watching me pull pencils and sharpeners from my knapsack so it quickly becomes a game with the children taking turns with four pencil sharpeners and about 50 pencils. By the end of this exercise I have lost my inhibitions and am now aware there are a good number of farmers who could use my help. The first man I speak to, his English is good but reading and writing not so much. We finish his survey and then he helps me by interpreting for several others who don’t speak, read or write English. One of the profile questions asks for level of education. I find it amazing that those who had no formal education at all show no sign of stigma or shame about their lack of schooling. As we go through the balance of the questions it is clear that everyone in the group is very educated in terms of crops, livestock and home economics. This forces me to rethink a deep cultural bias. It’s a great moment for me and after three hours we have completed all 87 surveys. We wrap up the afternoon with a visit to the home of project co-founder Isaac Luginaah’s father and family and they present us with a colossal bag of sun-dried groundnuts (peanuts in the shell). Just as we are ready to climb back into the trucks we are beckoned to another community meeting place — a kind of pito bar under another huge shade tree and we are given another round of the local brew. This time Trace and I know the term “small small” and our portions are more manageable.

On the ride back to town, we make a stop at a catholic guest house. It reminds me of the picnic rest stops that used to be common along Ontario highways….except they serve bottled beer (Club and Star) and fire roasted guinea fowl. We decide to debrief over some much needed refreshment. The consensus is that while the day went well, the survey is too long and the wording and format of the questions too difficult. Trace, drawing on her MPH training, guides us through the survey revision and we work well into the dark of the evening. William, our driver, pulls the truck around and shines it’s headlights so we can complete our work. Zak, the young and intrepid project coordinator, and Dr. Trace take our heavily edited survey to an Internet cafe and print shop in Wa and persuade the owner to open up and stay open late so we are ready for an early start. Tomorrow we are planning to complete community consultations in two more villages: Nator and Sombo.

It’s the crack of dawn on Monday morning and we have a big day ahead. With a revised survey in hand we are heading first to the village of Nator. The revisions to the survey are significant. Gone is the woman-only section – the intention was to get a quantifiable picture of the work women are doing in terms of household duties, verses child care,  crop and husbandry work or market related work. The women in Chang looked puzzled and even laughed at the idea that they should estimate time spent on these various tasks. What was clear was that all of the above duties were seen to and one responsibility rolled into the next. Today we are using identical surveys for both the men and the women.

The Nator meeting starts in much the same way as in Chang with a welcome ritual started by Priscilla with the reply of welcome chanted back in unison by about 30 farmers.  The meeting takes place in the village market place and shortly after arriving a heavy rainstorm forces our group onto a platform in the middle of the market – surrounded by instantly forming rivers of rainwater, coursing through the market stalls.  In this meeting I speak with three farmers who shared the experience of losing 100% of their birds at approximately four weeks of age…all within the same 24 hour period. They describe how upsetting this is. Guinea fowl are important for family nutrition, for revenue and for celebrations and rituals. The farmers are scared that something very wrong is happening over which they have no control. We discuss the goals of the project and how the coop and extension services aim to establish a reliable supply of healthy keets. The interview process is going to help understand what must change in order to control illness and mortality so that keets grow to a healthy market weight.

In turn, each farmer describes how they obtain eggs — ideally from their own guinea hens or from other village farmers. In many cases eggs are given or lent. A number of farmers tell how they take two-week old eggs and bath them in cold water for 15 minutes to see if they wiggle. This is how they determine which eggs are likely to hatch. The non-wigglers are consumed. The wigglers are returned to the brood chickens which serve as surrogate mothers for the hatching process. Guinea fowl hens do not sit on their own eggs as they are inclined to damage or eat them. The dominant diet for keets and older birds is maize, augmented with guinea corn and occasionally termites for protein. Termite hills are an impressive feature on the landscape in the Upper West with towering sand mounds looking like the inspiration for Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.

The meeting in Nator is a much smoother consultation, but this time with only 3 women participating. The revisions to the survey have really improved the process. We wrap up with a farewell chant and then we are presented with a dozen guinea fowl eggs for our own consumption — a most precious gift. With our eggs in hand we head back to town for lunch at Mummy’s Kitchen where they agree to prepare our eggs for us. I have an order of jollaf rice, roast chicken and a few boiled guinea fowl eggs on the side. The eggs, much like the meat, has a slightly stronger flavor and texture than chicken eggs – delicious!

After lunch we are off to Sombo, which is a very different community from Chang and Nator in so far as it sits on a main road with plenty of traffic passing through and a more visible and highly branded commercial sector of vendors. One thing that really stands out in Ghana from north to south is the amount of visible branding by cell phone companies MNT, Glo, and Vodaphone. Phone card vendors are on every corner and corporate colors adorn all manner of buildings, shacks, fences…you name it. Every available inch of brand-able space has been claimed if not by the mobile companies then by Nestlé or another global corporation. My CSR interests are peaked as I wonder what benefit local people derive from this corporate presence. One of the questions on our survey is: do you have a mobile phone and if so, how many. Without exception, everyone we spoke to has at least one mobile in his or her household and there is pretty consistent cell coverage from north to south in Ghana. It will be interesting to see how mobile technology might support the agricultural extension goals of the project when we get a little further along.

The Sombo meeting takes place in and around the schoolhouse and runs even more smoothly than this morning’s meeting in Nator. Surveys are easy…when you practice!

It is interesting to note the greeting ritual in Sombo has a slight variation to the previous greetings. For in Sombo – there is almost a hand-jive clapping that takes place and ends abruptly in complete unison – followed by warm laughter. I think about all the meetings I have attended over my career in universities and hospitals that could have benefited by such a group expression of interest and intention.

Sombo is different for another important reason: guinea fowl are clearly visible throughout the community, pecking and playing. And, there is a variety of colours and many adult birds to be seen.

At the end of another successful farmer consultation we are invited for “water” but the day had been long and we are eager to get back to Wa – we promise we will stay longer next time.

 

Our final consultation is in the village of Charia, in the district of Wa West. Charia is a village in the Wa West region and not as far away. Farmers in Charia are more likely to vend their birds at the market in Wa.

Our meeting takes place under the meeting tree with approximately 30 farmers of which 10 are women. It goes very quickly giving credence to the idea that practice makes perfect. At the end of the meeting we are asked to partake in the “water/beer” ritual only this time we are lead to a “spot” which is Ghanaian for “bar” behind a beaded curtain in a small courtyard. The village leader for the project is the proprietor of the spot and seems very pleased and proud to share his pub with new visitors.

In each of the communities we leave a variety of small gifts from Canada to the delight of participants: school supplies and frisbees for children, towels, dish towels and soap for elders. In each consultation we have a draw of the participants and gave away Canadian t-shirts. These are positive gestures warmly received by the community.

– Stephen Woeller

After one round of pints it’s time to head back to Priscilla’s home for lunch and to debrief and to make plans for organizing a data frame, inputting data and outputting a report for analysis.

 

The community consultations have added to the valuable data and samples collected by the 2 teams of Canadian veterinary students who participated in our VWB-VSF student program in the summer of 2010 and 2011.  They have also been an introduction to us of our most important project partners – the hard working, knowledgeable, men and women farmers and their families who have put their faith in the project as a means to improve their livelihoods.  One final question we asked in the survey, we often introduced it as “the big question”, asked the respondent to identify what will be different in their household and/or village when there are many more guinea fowl to market.  The most popular responses were sending children to school (even though elementary school is free, uniforms and supplies are not and any education beyond currently has a fee), getting medical attention for family members, generally taking better care of their family and reinvesting capital into their own farms through expanding livestock holdings, acquiring more land or renting/purchasing automated equipment.  We were a bit baffled that food security wasn’t more of a theme as this is one of the major objectives or our project – but later in discussions with other development workers in Accra we realize that food security is like needing to breathe to be alive – it’s a forgone conclusion that access to a better, healthy, consistent supply of nutrition is a top priority for the villagers.

 

Tomorrow we will leave Wa and head east to Tamale before heading back to Accra in anticipation of our return to Toronto early next week.  Before we go, we will be having breakfast with Dr. Sylvester Galaa from UDS Wa to update him on our time in and around Wa and to make plans to meet with the lead/funding agencies on our return to Accra – he is hoping to join us as he will be in the city for a meeting on Monday.

 

But tonight, we will have one more amazing meal of roasted guinea fowl, spaghetti and vegetables with our hard-working consultation team – one more thing struck off the life list, eating spaghetti without utensils!