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Why It’s Hard To Be An Innovative Farmer in Africa

April 6, 2010 | By |

“When you’re from the city, two days on a farm can teach you a lot.” exclaims Ben Best in his latest blog post from Ghana. Ben, EWB-Grand River’s Learning Partner, has been working in Africa for the past few months with the Ghanaian Ministry of Food and Agriculture and recently received an invite to stay for a couple of days with one particularly innovative farmer, Musah, who taught him a thing or two about agrarian life in that Sub-Saharan country.
When most farmers are taking a break prior to the busy rainy season, Musah is busy. A quick list of activities, noted below, has been keeping him, and Ben, on their toes:
  • Palm nut cultivation (harvesting and nursing seedlings)
  • Mango grafting and cultivation
  • Orange grafting
  • Cashew cultivation
  • Irrigated tomato and garden egg (eggplant) cultivation
  • Animal husbandry (cattle, sheep, goats, chickens, guinea fowl)
  • Training bullocks
“Needless to say I learned a lot of practicals about farming over the two days.” notes Best. “Besides being an insanely hard worker, Musah is an innovator and an experimenter. Farmers don’t have a lot of insulation from risk here, and even common farming activities such as growing maize and yams are highly dependent on external factors, most notably rain. To invest in new, unproven activities when your family’s livelihood is at stake takes a lot of foresight and guts.”
“Innovation is something we like to talk a lot about in EWB and at [the University of] Waterloo.” remarks Best. “When I think of innovation I think of fast-moving exciting projects, pushing the boundaries and learning quickly. I think of shortening feedback cycles, “failing fast” and constant iteration. Two days with Musah taught me that innovation in farming is a bit different. Watching him meticulously check each of his palm nut trees and grafted mangoes showed me another type of innovation. Innovation where you invest in a seedling and wait three years …before you reap any rewards, before you learn if your experiment worked. This innovation requires patience, doing the small things each and every day with the hope that it might pay off in the end.”
“Being an innovative farmer is hard.” states Best. “Not only do you have to work hard, you need to be willing to experiment, to take risks, and to be patient.”
To read Ben’s complete blog post on his education with Musah, more about the Musah’s experiments or see more photos, visit (and bookmark) Ben’s blog: Ben In Ghana. Although he routinely works in remote parts of the country Ben will be updating the site as often as he can.