Tuesday 2 August 2016

My CIRCLE Adventure So Far

Dr Phyllis Bernice Opare, University of Energy and Natural Resources, Ghana
Cohort 2 CIRCLE Visiting Fellow

Dr Opare spent her fellowship year at Makerere University, Uganda. Here, she reflects on her time on the CIRCLE Programme.

When the email came announcing that I had been selected as a CIRCLE Visiting Fellow, cohort 2, I was ecstatic. I knew this year would be a life changing year for me, and so far it has been phenomenal. I worked like a maniac to get all my scripts graded, scored and upgraded before the end of 2015. This in addition to a full Christmas calendar of services and other events was scary, but I was able to get everything done by the 28th. I left my home, Sunyani, to travel to Accra on Sunday 3rd December 2015 to begin the first leg of my CIRCLE journey.

Experiences at the Host Institution

I left Accra on 9th January and arrived at Entebbe on January 10th, 2016. My time in Uganda has been very nice and peaceful. The CIRCLE Coordinator at Makerere arranged a taxi and place of residence for me before I got to Entebbe, which made things very easy for me. With Kampala being on a much higher altitude than Sunyani, plus the fact that Uganda is three hours ahead of Ghana, I had one of the worst cases of jet lag when I first arrived. Every little effort had me huffing and puffing. I slept a lot, mostly in the daytime. The room I got in the student hostel was near to their TV room and since some international soccer tournament was going on in January I was kept awake most nights and of course I slept in the day (a vampire in the making if I had stayed).

In spite of all that, I got to find my way around Makerere campus, and together with CVF Abimbola Oluwaranti form OAU, Nigeria, we managed to find new accommodation on the compound of Makerere University’s Agricultural Research Institute at Kambanyolo, about 35 minutes’ drive from the main campus (that’s on a good day with no traffic, we have actually spent 2 hours en route at one time). During this time, with the help of staff from the Coordinator’s office, we also managed to find our way around Kampala city, discovering most of the major shopping malls.

Culturally, there are many similarities between the people of Uganda and Ghana, but most importantly, there is the warm sense of welcome wherever I go. The people are very nice and welcoming, very eager to extend assistance when needed. I find that we have most of the same foods so eating has not been a problem – though I have to add a little bit more pepper to mine for some pizazz. I am doubly happy that fruits and vegetables are in abundance and fairly cheap. The meat and dairy products are more affordable here than in Ghana. Most fresh milk in Ghana is imported, so it is made shelf stable, hardly fresh, but in Uganda fresh milk is everywhere.

We also had access to the university library when we were living in town. At Kambanyolo, where we now live, the Continuing Agriculture Extension Education Center Staff has opened their kitchen to us so we can fix whatever we like. We also have access to internet here, and just recently I was given a key to a small computer lab with internet access so I can work in a place other than my room. In all, my stay in Uganda so far has been a positive experience.

Research and Data Gathering

I decided to work with small holder farmers in Ghana since they are among the groups most affected by climate variability.  After much consultation with my supervisor, specialist advisor, mentor and officials from the ministry of food and agriculture in Ghana I decided to work with three villages within the Sunyani east Municipality. These communities are Atronie, Nwowasu, and Benue Nkwanta (I will also be talking with my supervisor about replicating this research in at least one farming community in Uganda for comparative analysis). In all about 150 farmers took part in the study and they have been encouraged and challenged to begin Climate-smart farms that can be used as model farms for other farmers.

A section of Nwowasu Village
The timing of this research can only be considered propitious since Ghana experienced one of the worst dry seasons in recent history during the last harmatan. This coupled with some significant bush fires and other farming practices has resulted in significant food shortages, particularly in local staples like cassava, cocoyam and plantain. As a result, the farmers were very interested in finding out why the climate is changing and what they can do to adapt in the face of variability.

Initial meeting at Atronie, sharing the overview and objectives of the research with farmers
I employed several CCFAS Gender and Climate change research tools, with some of the tools modified for this study. The tools employed included:

I. Climate analogue tools:

  • The village resource map
  • The seasonal calendar
  • Daily activity clocks
  • Capacity and vulnerability analysis matrix

II. Weather forecast tools:

  • Seasonal food security calendar

III. Tools for understanding and catalysing gender sensitive climate-smart agriculture initiatives:
  • Changing farm practices
Young women at Nwowasu busily participating in developing a seasonal calender for their village
Key observations:

  • Farmers in the Sunyani East Municipality are very aware of climate change and climate variability
  • Farmers tend to adopt certain technologies very quickly, especially when it is considered to ease labour, without adequate understanding of the long term implications.
  • Farmers are very concerned with making a livelihood in agriculture in the face of climate variability
  • Farmers lacked the capacity to make proper commercial decisions that will help them maximise profits on their produce. Many of them barely break even.
  • Many farmers were willing to adopt climate-smart agricultural practices. However, those farmers who were only renting or working the land for others felt powerless to initiate too many changes without the land owners’ permission/cooperation.

Detailed reports and videos will be disseminated in due course. It should be placed on record that an agricultural extension officer was part of the research team and he has indicated his willingness to continue to work with the individual farmers in adopting CSA practices. Additionally, some financial institutions have been contacted on behalf of the farmers to bring banking services to these communities and to organise entrepreneurship capacity building training for the farmers and others in the communities to help improve their livelihoods.

Overall, the time spent with the farmers was very fruitful and it is anticipated that there will be continuous collaboration to ensure widespread climate-smart agriculture adoption in the district that will spread to other parts of the country.

Now I am back at Makerere, ready to get down to writing.

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