Finding inspiration in northern Ghana

With Martha Small

Volunteers Natalie Chow (left) and Olivia Bos (Right) with Martha Kumah.

We are pleased to introduce Martha Kumah! Martha attended our three-day animal production Training of trainers (TOT) workshop from June 1st to 3rd 2017 in the Kpandi district of the Northern region of Ghana. She is married with five (5) children and stays in “Kabonwule” a community in the Kpandai district. Her enthusiasm during the training sessions stood out, she was constantly putting up her hand to participate and asked questions despite looking after her small daughter Grace.

Martha even led the participants in a rousing energizer after lunch. We admired how she was able to show up early, participate effectively and look after her child all at the same time. There was something special and inspiring about her. After some casual conversation and giving her a brief knitting tutorial (which she was fascinated by and got the hang of very quickly), we learned more about Martha’s story.

Martha has been raising animals for over 15 years and now has a herd of 25 goats and about 20 chickens. Like many others in this district, she uses her animals for meat, eggs and as gifts for special occasions.When the family needs quick cash, her animals fetch a good price at the market, with a female goat selling for about GH?300.00 ($100 CD).
Over the three days, Martha learned about the benefits of providing animal housing and hopes to soon build housing for her animals. She will also be vigilant in providing fresh, clean drinking water for the goats and chickens. Martha is a great example for her community of a woman who is able to raise animals and run a household.

She is now excited to put what she has learned into practice in hopes of improving her animal production. Martha is thrilled with the training and plans to go to her community and actively share her knowledge on animal production with them!

with Samuel small

Natalie and Olivia with Samuel Agongo.

Samuel Agongo is one of the few individuals in the Kpandai district who considers animal production a business. We got to know Samuel through our SEND GHANA supervisor who mentioned that Samuel owned a farm and she praised it for how well kept it was. We were instantly curious since not many people in this area raise animals in any manner other than free-range/extensive system.

We went to visit his farm and began to learn more about his background. Samuel said he started his semi-intensive poultry and pig farm in Kpandai in 2014. Over the past few years it has grown and flourished into a profitable business. He currently has 1000 laying hens, and was expecting another 3000 shortly, in addition to having about 30 pigs and a small herd of sheep. According to Samuel, he became interested in animal production after watching his father raise animals and 1000 guinea fowl while he was in high school. He had a background in agriculture coupled with a degree in crop science before starting his animal production.

poultry barn small

Samuel has built an excellent poutry barn.

pigs small

Happy, healthy pigs.

He grows yam, cassava, soya beans and maize crops on 11 acres of land in order to feed his animals. Samuel provides an excellent example of the benefits of appropriate housing, good animal husbandry, herd vaccination and using manure as a natural fertilizer for crops. He is a strong believer in the importance of vaccines and believes that more farmers should make this investment for their herds. Samuel faced many challenges when starting out, some of which included high capital investment in buying land, fencing the land, getting electricity to the farm, and constructing the housing. He says that it took about three years before he finally started to make profit. His farm is currently doing very well and he is seeing the fruits of his investments in animal production. Samuel Agongo is a pioneer of good animal production in his area, and we hope that he can inspire others to start investing more in this business.

Below:  Cropland with the poultry barn in the background.

farm small

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!

 

New Vocabulary – Ansuma, Abiesong, “small,small”

September 15

After a good night’s rest we reconvened with the team at the MOFA municipal office to revise the questionnaire.  Questions about gender roles in keeping and marketing guinea fowl as well as household demographic and economic indicators were added.  We were feeling ambitious and reached our contact in Chang to arrange to meet the village project leaders and project participant farmers at 1PM at the meeting place.  Copying and stapling surveys and grabbing lunch delayed us more than expected and by the time we arrived at the meeting place (a large shade tree in the centre of the community) the farmers had gone back to work – with the good rains this year, there is much farm work to be done this time of year.  Word quickly spread that we had arrived and farmers and children started trickling in.  There are roughly 500 people living in Chang – you wouldn’t know it as, this time of year, you can’t see the houses and compounds through the tall maize plants.  We watch the children pump water from the village pump and fill large basins to take back to their homes – it takes 5 or 6 helpers to lift the basin but even the young girls can manage to carry the loads themselves on their heads, barely spilling a drop as they walk the foot paths and disappear into the maize plants.

I’ve been practicing my greetings in dagaare – people are pleased when you can say good morning “Ansuma” and reply to, well, just about any question, that all is fine “Abiesong”. We were officially welcomed as new visitors to the village by being offered water. It is customary to refuse the water but accept the locally made pito, a fermented sour mash made from guinea corn.  We were handed local bowls, which are about the size of half a large coconut shell and, being the first 2 visitors offered, one of the older village girls emptied an entire pot full of pito into each of our bowls, filling them to the brim.  It wasn’t until the rest of the team had their drinks poured that we realized you could just take a small amount!  It is also customary to drink all that you have been given, but the village elders let us off the hook this time and allowed us to share with some of the farmers.  Next time, we will know to ask for “small, small” when the pito is poured!

As it was getting late in the afternoon, we collected the names of the 87 men and women farmers who would be participating in the project from this village, as well as the names of our 4 co-op leaders for Chang and made arrangement to return the following morning after the church service was finished to conduct our questionnaire.  We said our goodbyes and headed down the dusty red dirt road back to Wa.

Introductions, Pinch don’t Pull

September 14, 2012
It’s been a busy  day of introductions – not only to our Ghanaian project team members, but to new foods and customs and life in general in the Upper West region.

This morning we got acquainted with the staff and facilities of the veterinary services division of MOFA.  We were welcomed by Sylvester Gala – Professor, University of Development Studies,  Priscilla Ang-Leuha, a veterinary technician, translator, project management board member and hostess extraordinaire – you are in good, kind hands when you are in Priscilla’s hands.  We were happy to offload a large bag of lab supplies for the regional diagnostic lab to be set up as part of this project – many thanks to Dr. Karyn Jones and Scott McRobbie and their team at the Ajax Animal Hospital for tracking down, rounding up and donating the supplies!

We spent some time at the on-site veterinary clinic in the morning -patients (mostly goats, sheep, goat kids and lambs) arrived by rope leash or on motorbike.  Well into the rainy season, there is a high intestinal parasite burden and most patients were treated with dewormer for diarrhea.  One poor ram had a urethral prolapse, diarrhea and a hefty tick load – after being restrained on an outdoor treatment table he was let down and immediately started grazing in some nearby grass – feeling better all ready!

In the afternoon we held our inception meeting with Priscilla, Ben Alenyorege (UDS Nyamkpala campus), David Wawula (MOFA Nadoli), Francis Nuntaba (MOFA Wa) and Zakaria Yahaya (recently appointed project coordinator).  This would be our working team for the next few days.  We were caught up on many aspects of the project to date and learned 2 very important facts:  that mortality rates in guinea fowl were now 100% in many flocks in the villages and the initial project budget had been sized down significantly.  We set out our plan for the week: we would make calls to all 4 villages over 3 days to introduce the new faces of the team, update our project baseline data and, most importantly, reassure the guinea fowl producers (and future producers) that this project is indeed going forward.

The formalities of the project inception meeting gave way to a team lunch at nearby Mummy’s Kitchen – this quickly became our favorite place to eat in Wa!  I was initiated in  the art of eating FuFu (a dough-like ball made of finely pounded yam) in a peppery groundnut soup with my first taste of guinea fowl (boiled for this meal).  The ritual begins and ends by hand washing with liquid soap and water in bowls at the table.  Procuring my meal involved no utensils apart from my right hand.  William and Ben instructed me in the finer points of handling the FuFu – pinch, don’t pull!  Guinea fowl is truly a superior meat – the flavour and texture of the bird is wonderful – no wonder it is in such high demand.  I look forward to trying it roasted!

On returning to our hotel, we had a great informal meeting with both the regional director from MOFA,  Mr. Joe Falon, and Dr. Phoebe Balagumyetime the director for health services for Jirapa District in UWR.  Dr. Balagumyetime was happy to discuss One Health approaches to public health as this is a new concept being adopted in the region’s health service department.  After a separate meeting with Ben that took us into the evening, we broke for the day with homework – to review and add input to a questionnaire that would help us gather the information from village farmers to update our baseline study to inform our project and evaluation plan and add to our understanding of what could be contributing to the devastatingly high mortality rates in guinea fowl flocks.

-Trace MacKay

Ghana, you are welcome!

September 13th
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

Happy Canada/Ghana Republic Day!

Happy Canada day, friends!

Today is a holiday in Ghana too- Republic Day to be precise. Workers get the day off, although most stores seem to be open which is convenient for those of us who would like to pop by the market for various celebratory snacks. Without access to maple syrup or a barbecue, we have decided against attempting a traditional celebration and instead will be preparing our favourite dish- plantain chips with guacamole -as our special meal tonight.

Yesterday, Dor and I arranged a visit to the local halal slaughterhouse, with the soon-to-be-acting Regional Veterinary Officer Dr.Paul Pulkuun (taking over from Dr.Philip Salia). We also took along vet tech Stephen (pictured performing the rabies diagnostics in our last photo dump) and met up with Elizabeth, one of the veterinary extension officers, at the facility (the extension officers rotate on inspection duty at the slaughterhouse). These officers have the duty of inspecting the animals both ante and post mortem, and have the power to partially or completely condemn an animal.

When we arrived, we were greeted by the surprisingly enticing smells of food, as multiple little stalls were set up around the slaughterhouse grounds. I guess the rationale is that you’re guaranteed to be getting a fresh piece of meat there! We toured the loading area, which is outfitted with a ramp for both loading and unloading cattle from trucks. Cattle are less expensive in this region of the country, and so many are shipped down south (where prices could even be double what is paid here). The holding pens were not crowded, and actually were fairly clean; we were also informed that as cattle are officially required to be rested/fed/watered after arrival, and that sometimes they would be let out into pasture behind the pens. Buyers (mostly butchers) will select cattle from the holding pens, and bargain for a good price (a large Zebu bull might fetch over 1000 Ghana Cedi [~$750CAD], while smaller animals may sell for 400 or more). Individual cattle were tethered at various points along the grounds as well, as people can bring in their own cattle to be slaughtered. Once an animal is selected for slaughter, it will be inspected by a vet officer who must deem it suitable for slaughter. While we watched, many animals were walked through into the slaughterhouse and it was quite remarkable how docile the animals were.

As we were warned in advance that sometimes there was a shortage of water at the slaughterhouse (as is the case in all of Wa), Dor and I were prepared to wade through blood and entrails if necessary, and were also equipped with a dab of Tiger Balm under our sensitive Canadian noses. However, we were genuinely surprised by the conditions within the slaugherhouse- the facility was very airy, with lots of natural light and windows, yet surprisingly devoid of swarming flies. There was very little blood or debris on the floor, as cattle were slaughtered and processed on concrete blocks with wells for drainage- and the odor was scarcely detectable.

Each animal would be led in, then its legs would be tied and the head restrained as the butcher slit the jugular as per halal specifications. Northern Ghana has a large Muslim population, and Wa itself is ~60% Muslim- so all vendors sell halal meat. Stunning is not in practice here, but the bleeding was done quickly and I never once heard an animal bawling or saw one struggle because the handling was so adept. Then a crew of perhaps 3 or 4 men would very rapidly skin and butcher each animal- again, very impressive display of strength and skill. At any given time, perhaps 8 cattle might be within the facility, but each was processed very quickly and efficiently. On the opposite side of the slaughterhouse were stone slabs where pieces were carved up as per individuals’ specifications, and we watched as large hunks of meat and various organs were tossed casually onto the floor of a butcher’s van.

Overall, it was a surprisingly positive experience. In a country where animal welfare is an afterthought at best, the cattle were skillfully and quietly handled, and the facility was again remarkably fresh and clean (although perhaps the introduction of stunning before slaughter, as well as use of refrigerated vans for transporting meat would be beneficial)

Thanks for keeping up with us, and enjoy the fireworks!

Ilona

And some more photos…

… To go along with Ilona’s description of our fun-filled times here in Wa, Ghana!

Here is a picture of Ilona assisting Dr. Shittu with a goat cesarean section. It was the goat’s first parity and she had  a very narrow pelvis so could not give birth naturally. We weren’t nervous with suturing mama goat at all as Dr. Shittu slowly and patiently guided our way through the procedure.

After suturing the skin and muscle together, a long piece of gauze was placed over the incision site and subsequently drenched with “wound powder” and “healing ointment” (will get back to the readers on the exact recipe of these concoctions later, but the goat has been doing fine since we last saw her a week ago for wound dressing so the topicals were effective!)

Post surgery, the fellows that brought the goat in cleaned mama’s udder and coaxed the newly born kid into suckling. It was a success!

Ilona and I decided to create large posters for each village to educate them on the 4 main causes of guinea fowl mortality during the rainy season, these conditions include: Newcastle disease, infectious bursal disease (“Gumboro”), coccidiosis, and parasites. We added photographs of some lesions that could be seen in affected birds and also basic illustrations for enhanced learning for the villagers as some are illiterate.

Ilona and I present poster 1 (of 4) to the village of Sombo. The man in the yellow is Ebenezer, our contact for the village. He is responsible for organizing the village meetings – usually we have them in this village after church on Sundays, and is also in charge of translating for us. He has been great help and is excited for the project and what it entails.

Hippos, and crocs and C-sections

Yes, hello!

The rainy season is finally setting in properly, and our little family has been enjoying the relief that the afternoon showers bring (although less welcome is the associated mosquito boom)
We’ve been keeping ourselves occupied since I last updated, with a number of veterinary and some totally non-veterinary-related activities.
This past week, Dor, Jenna and I made our way out to Wechiau Hippo Sanctuary. We arrived at the bus depot around 6:30 am, because despite the constant reminders of how things really run on Ghana-time, it’s so deeply ingrained in us to arrive on Canadian time. After about an hour of waiting around, we pile into a mini-van (called tro-tros here) and wait impatiently. Apparently, these tro-tros only depart when a suitable number of people are seated, so I counted the number of remaining spaces. Aside from Dor, Jenna and I, occupying the back bench, there were 2 other benches in front and the passengers seat. Seeing as how there were already 3 other passengers sitting with us, my hasty calculation estimated that we just needed another 6 , maybe 8 people to show up before we could hit the road. “Excuse me, how many people before the tro-tro can go?” Jenna asked our driver. “24 passengers”
Errrrrrrrrr….
The spirits of Canadian transport safety must have been watching over us, however, because Jenna then noticed a bus doubled parked in front of our tro-tro with “Wechiau Hippo Sanctuary” printed on the side. We chat with the driver, who used to be a tour guide there, and he says we can ride along in that vehicle provided we don’t mind that he needs to stop to pick up various chairmen on the way. We climb into this van, and are politely greeted by the officials who join us at various points along the journey. It turns out, there was a CIDA supported event going on, featuring many Canadians working on a reforestation-to-prevent-desertification project, hence all the officials gathering at the sanctuary (I made a very subtle plug for our own food security project.)
Our kind driver took us right to the river, and set us up with a senior guide and a canoe. Within minutes, we were watching 14 hippos wallow in the water (if only there had been a VWB hippo project…); we also had the chance to step (illegally) onto Burkina Faso soil. Then back into our official vehicle, arriving in Wa hours before we had even hoped. Funny how some things just work out here.

Jenna and I were given the chance to observe even more Ghanaian wildlife when we visited a nearby crocodile pond with Kirstin & Co. The highlight of this trip was watching a giant crocodile (“grandfather”) lunge out onto shore, miss the chicken bait and disappear back into the water with our guide’s sandal. Jenna actually has a video of this event, and it is truly Youtube worthy. Once we are back in Canada with access to cheap internet, I will see if I can link that for you, my loyal readers.

Last week, Dor and I assisted with a C-section on a goat. It is astonishing how surgery can be performed in conditions so different than the incredibly sterile/high-tech/well stocked facilities that we are accustomed to learning in. Despite the almost complete lack of sterility, and with very limited resources, the C-section was successful and both the goat and her kid are doing well today.

In terms of our project, Dor and I are really motoring along. We are currently working on creating educational posters for each of the four villages, describing the signs, transmission and treatment/control of four diseases (infectious bursal disease, Newcastle, coccidiosis and various parasites e.g. roundworms) identified by Kirstin and Steve during their necropsy surveys last summer. As someone who tends towards being grossly verbose, attempting to minimize the written descriptions in order to maximize the accessibility of the information to all interested villagers was a challenge for me. We included some coloured photographs of lesions, and Dor lent her artistic touch to some fun little diagrams. These posters also emphasize the role that the proposed project would play, vis-a-vis the hatchery/breeding flock/health management/nutrition/housing systems. I really hope we can get some feedback on how useful these posters are for the villagers….

On a final guinea fowl related note!
During our last visit to Nator, one of the village elders presented us with 15 guinea fowl eggs. We were really impressed by this gesture, as these eggs are very valuable (and tasty! I have been making guine fowl egg French toast for my wives)

I will come and go,

Ilona

A photo heavy update

One time we stopped by the village of Danko to use the borehole as our residence was out of water for the night. The locals insisted that I tried pumping water and all laughed at the sight of a foreigner performing an everyday task. The kids loved getting their photos taken.

Ilona and I were in Sagu village vaccinating chicken and guinea fowl against Newcastle – the I-2 vaccination is placed in the eye. We also managed to acquire two new pets that Ilona had mentioned in her previous post.

In Nator the villagers were so happy with our proposal and assistance that the elder made a contribution of providing us with guinea fowl eggs – this was very generous of him as guinea fowl eggs are hard to come by, not to mention very expensive (3 eggs are sold for $1 GHC which is a little less than $1 CDN.)

Ilona attempting to pound “Fu fu” a local meal that is enjoyed by many Ghanaians. Boiled yams are placed in the wooden bowl and pounded until it reaches a sticky/glutinous consistency and is served with spicy “Light” soup and assorted meats (such as guinea fowl).

 

More pictures to come in our next update!

 

Dor (aka Official Photo Uploader)

Anterai

Greetings my loyal followers! I apologize for not updating in the last week, things have been uncharacteristically busy for us at UDS guesthouse.

First! The non-vet stuff.
In typical soap opera fashion, I will describe the goings-on of all major characters. Jenna’s PhD project on the health insurance scheme in the UWR is going really well. Her minions have been taking out hundreds of surveys and returning them promptly (soon she will be swimming in data to enter!) and she reported to have had a great time at her first (of many) focus groups today. Her goat, Noma, is also thriving and frequently strolls nonchalantly into our living room whenever we leave the backdoor open. This is highly entertaining for three urbanites, and was made even funnier when we found goat poop on one of the couches today (funny for me, because Jenna cleaned it up)
Our menagerie has grown by one since my last update- Dor has adopted a little brown goat, named Empress Mackerel. She is not quite so friendly as Noma, but we enjoy her all the same as she puts our kitchen scraps to good use.
Kuli-kuli my kitten, and Sagu the puppy are both growing at an incredible rate; they are a great source of entertainment and it will be hard to say goodbye at the end of the project (hope to find them good homes!)

The weekend before last, Dor and I were invited to go to Kintampo waterfalls which are about a 5 hour drive from Wa. We ended up visiting two sets of waterfalls- Fuller falls, and the Kintampo falls- both were beautiful! Along with scores of school children, our party frolicked in the falls for the entire afternoon. The town of Kintampo, aside from being at the centre of Ghana (and the universe, as the sign informed us) is also known for it’s abundant fruit, so Dor and I picked up about 30 mangoes for ~ 3 CAD. We also bought a large bunch of plantains which we then had a chance to stop at a mango/cashew/pineapple nursery which was fabulous.

This past weekend, Dor, Jenna and I took the bus to Mole National Park. We woke up at about 3:30am to make to the bus depot by 4am (the time printed on the ticket) but of course everything runs on Ghana time so we didn’t pull out of the depot until 6am. We arrived at the town of Larabanga, where we had our first unpleasant experience in Ghana as we were harassed by some local ‘tour guides.’
Arriving at the Mole motel and seeing a baboon steal a bottle of ketchup off a table near the pool (!!!!) quickly put us in high spirits again, as did our walking safari. The next day we went on a safari by car, and by the end of the weekend we had seen monkeys, warthog, elephants, crocodiles, bushbuck, waterbuck and hyena tracks. Amazing.

Perhaps you are now thinking- wow, this all sounds fantastic, but are these girls doing any work? Yes. Yes we are.
Kirstin invited us to help process cattle with her last week- what an experience!

We were working with Zebu and African short horn cattle, which are extremely beautiful and actually fairly docile. There are no chutes or squeezes or headgates here- the local ‘cowboys’ simple lasso the hindleg of a cow, slow her down enough to wrap the rope around the other hindlimb and then pull the animal down using the horns. Then about 4 or 5 of them will restrain the animal (hold neck back, sit on shoulders, and pull on hindlegs) while Dor, Kirstin and I administered antibiotics, vitamins, dewormers and topical treatment for ectoparasites. I hope to post a photo of the size of the ticks we found, they were verging on mindboggling.
We spent the better part of a morning with these gorgeous cattle, before a young bull got too feisty and in the interest of our safety, the cowboys said we should call it a day.

Now, on to our guinea fowl project!
Dor and I have been going out to the four villages, and meeting with the farmers to ask them questions about how they rear their birds, as well as trying to determine how many birds they want to raise so as to better estimate the scale of this potential operation. We have been getting a mix of answers, from farmers wanting 25 birds to 300! We have also been meeting with groups of women in each village, and the contrast in responses to similar questions is interesting (e.g. Women give much more conservative numbers in response to “how many keets would you like to raise next year?”)

We have made incredible headway in terms of gathering information for the grant proposal, and have learned a lot about Ghanaian life just by interacting with the villagers during our visits.

It has also been fun learning how each of the four villages differ- despite being within ~40 minutes drive of one another. Chang, Isaac Luginaah’s village is very peaceful and orderly. During meetings, everyone is one time, they raise their hands to speak and ask remarkably thoughtful questions. Sombo is quiet too, but we found the women to be very forthcoming when asked about challenges they faced in guinea fowl rearing. Nator is also quite orderly but today we witnessed a great outburst of traditional dancing after our meeting, and the children there are extremely friendly towards us. Charia is the most lively village- there is always a lot of talking and shouting during our meetings there but it is all in good fun.

 

Although we have not been receiving any dead/sick birds from the villagers this year, we are hoping to do some necropsies with Stephen (vet tech at MOFA, who has also been translating for us at many village meetings) to hone our skills.

Again, I must lamely promise to provide photos later on (actually, Dor has agreed to be the offical photo uploader, while I take on the written descriptions) so please check back! We have a lot of really great photos to share. Really.

Thanks for checking in with us!
Ilona