Improving local health while reducing post-harvest loss

Bartholomew, a District Agricultural Officer in Mpraeso District, Ghana, applied for an Australia Awards Small Grant following the completion of his Australia Awards Short Course in Post-harvest Management of Maize, Rice and Legumes, delivered by the University of Sydney in 2012. Bartholomew’s objective was to reduce post-harvest losses by changing the way farmers in Mpraeso practised the preservation and storage of their produce. Bartholomew, learned key skills in communication, facilitation and presentation. These acquired skills became essential when it came to the delivery of his Small Grant Scheme project, Training of 311 farmers on post-harvest handling of maize in the Kwahu South District of Ghana and introducing them to the Super Grain Bag (SGB) to reduce post-harvest losses.

Bartholomew was consistently challenged by the farming methods used by the local farmers in his district. The problems local farmers encountered ranged from poor techniques and their antecedent losses to health problems that arose as a result of unsafe farming techniques, such as the chemical preservation of farm produce. Related to these potentially harmful farming practices were cultural misconceptions about safer  methods, such as the the perceived lack of masculinity associated with the use of protective clothing. Through the Small Grant project, Bartholomew set out to engage with farmers on changing their attitudes and behaviour.

In order to do this, he would need to not only introduce new technology (the SGB), but also ensure that local farmers adopted the technology and changed their approach to farming. The SGB is a type of grain storage bag that is able to store maize and other cereal without the need for chemical preservatives.

The project began in November 2014 and lasted until April 2015. As a testament to his dedication, Bartholomew had already begun working on the initial phases before his funds were approved, by reaching out to local community leaders in the district to start mobilising local farmers for the sensitisation meetings that were an essential part of the process. The project involved activities such as community sensitisation workshops, data collection and data entry on farmers, preparing training and reference materials, developing participation certificates, creating awareness through two radio segments, conducting a training of trainers workshop for staff, demonstrations and preparing project reports for the Ministry of Agriculture.

According to Bartholomew, the most successful parts of the project were the well-attended community sensitisation workshops. During the sessions, many farmers shared their experiences in dealing with unscrupulous farm input dealers and merchants. However, as a result of a lack of knowledge, it became clear that merchants themselves often did not know what they were selling and the farmers did not know what they were buying. One anecdote shared by a farmer recounted how she had stored pesticide under her bed in her home due to limited space, and every evening, upon returning from working on the farm, she would find dead insects around the bed. She soon disposed of this insecticide.

The outcomes of this project far surpassed Bartholomew’s expectations. In the six months that it operated, Bartholomew’s project reached 21 different communities and 388 people, and he distributed 311 SGBs in Mpraeso District. The use of the bag eliminated the need to use chemicals in the post-harvest stages. The project reached the wider Eastern region. Bartholoew achieved this in a number of ways. Firstly, Bartholomew ensured that he gave a training of trainers workshop to his fellow District Agricultural Officers, who became Agricultural Extension Agents, who were subsequently able to train other farmers in the Eastern region.

Secondly, to ensure that the message of the training and the technology reached as many people as possible, Bartholomew created radio programs and advertisements (that are still airing) that reiterated the message delivered during the workshops and continued to sensitise farmers and communities to the dangers of using chemicals for grain storage.

Finally, sensitising agricultural input dealers allowed merchants to also contribute and gain by introducing them to the SGB, which they could source and sell to local farmers. Women benefitted immensely as they made up more than half of those who attended the workshops. Many women in the district were merchants, and the prospect of reducing post-harvest losses and selling chemical-free maize promised greater returns for their businesses.

Bartholomew believes that the true impact of this Small Grant in the region has yet to be felt, and is likely to increase with each harvest as the message of the SGB method spreads. Through the Small Grant project, Bartholomew was able to impact on and improve local health and reduce post-harvest losses, thereby helping Ghana to achieve its national development objectives in agricultural productivity.

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