Do you ever wonder how our Organic Leadership Courses (OLC) participants apply their new knowledge and skills? Meet Francesca Doe, Managing Director of Green Acres Farm in Ghana. Francesca participated in our recent West African Organic Leadership Course, held under the scope of our Organic Markets for Development (OM4D) Project. As an OLC participant, Francesca wrote a development plan for a demonstration farm. After completing the course, Francesca was awarded an OM4D grant to implement her plan in a real-world scenario. Keep reading for an inside glimpse into her challenges, accomplishments, recommendations, and future plans!

Background on the Farm

Francesca’s development plan took fallow and virgin land plots in the Volta region of Ghana to cultivate vegetables using organic principles. Her plan sought to:

  • Raise farmer awareness of organic agriculture through practical training sessions,
  • Encourage young people to embrace organic agriculture as a business, and
  • Improve the livelihoods and earnings of farmers.
  • Site A: A four-acre plot located on Green Acres Cassava Farms – selected so that farm employees could be trained in organic vegetable farming alongside their daily work. Unfortunately, the site proved to lack accessible water and consequently had to be moved to an alternative location. This alternate location was too far for daily commuting.
  • Site B: A second farm site near the Volta River and Sogakope. Although fallow for more than two years, the site had been farmed in the past and was deemed to be suitable for cultivation. Farm works ploughed, cleared the land of weeds, and applied manure before planting crops and constructing cultivation beds. Five vegetable crops were then planted: tomatoes, maize, green peppers, lettuce, and cabbage.

What Challenges Did Francesca Encounter?

  • Severe Weather: Site B experienced significant rainfall, which washed away the nursery beds, leaving just behind 20% of tomato, lettuce, and green pepper seedlings. Seedlings had to be re-nursed at a different location. Farmers received training during this period.
  • Security Issues: Several security breaches also occurred on the farm, resulting in damages to and loss of farm produce. The farm’s isolated location was found to be the cause. Though walled off, the plot was accessible from neighboring farms.

What Recommendations Does She Have for Improvement?

The entire process was a learning curve. She cautions that her eagerness distorted the enormity of the task ahead in tackling: 1) low youth interest in agriculture as a business, 2) low earning potential for farmers, and 3) lack of awareness on organic agriculture.

Francesca has said that, “with the experience gained, I believe I am better placed to understand – from a producer’s perspective – some of the issues that ail the organic movement in Ghana.”

Her recommendations:

  • Low Youth Interest: Youth interest was lower than anticipated. The business model of undergoing training without a salary for three months did not prove feasible or practical. A stipend covering transportation, food, and water could have made a difference. The youth who were interested saw a business opportunity.
  • Lack of Accessible Tools to Help Reduce Labor Costs: Managing an organic farm requires a lot of labor. There are no, or very few, small tools readily available in Ghana to reduce manual labor. Looking at tools (weeders, planters, etc.) available outside Ghana, Francesca believes such items could make a difference to the average Ghanaian farmer, if they were available at an affordable cost. Such tools could also be made in Ghana. There is a thriving local machine manufacturing base in Kumasi. It is unreasonable to expect farmers to manually weed indefinitely, alternatives should be provided or farmers may keep up the status quo of spraying pesticides.
  • Limited Markets: If a farmer commits to the journey of organic farming, s/he faces will face the issue of accessing markets. It is clear that everyone would prefer to eat organic food, but beyond a small demographic, few people in Ghana are able to access it. This market segment cannot absorb the produce volumes if all farmers target the same consumer group.
  • Sustainable Consumption and Production: The average Ghanaian diet does not feature a wide variety of vegetables. Organic production for domestic consumption should thus focus on Ghanaian cuisine staples, such as: onions, tomatoes, and hot peppers. Other popular produce includes: cassava, okra, beans, garden eggs, yams, plantains, ginger, and garlic. Initiatives like Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) are proving to be a good solution in boosting domestic production and consumption of organic produce.

Francesca’s Accomplishments

  • More Secure Facilities: following team consultations, it was decided that the farm should be moved to a more secure location with regular traffic and better security. The team ultimately decided to approach the owner of the Eden Guest Lodge in Sokpoe to seek permission to use land annexed to the lodge. The lodge owner agreed to provide the team access to an acre of virgin land.
  • Multiple Training Sessions: training sessions were held on-site. On Site A, 10 farmers, five of whom were youth, were trained on soil fertility improvement using green manure and organic fertilizers. On Site B, three farmers were trained on land preparation, nursery set-up, and transplanting practices.
  • Home Garden & Surplus Sales: excess carrot, green pepper, cucumber, cabbage, kale, and tomato seeds were also used to start a home garden. Surplus cucumbers were harvested and supplied to the purveyors of Accra’s Organic Farmers market. Surplus tomatoes harvested from the greenhouse were sold at the Accra Flower and Garden show held in late August. Additional surpluses were sold to interested persons.

What Opportunities Lie Ahead?

Francesca has identified four opportunities she believes could improve the region’s organic farming.

  • Targeted Marketing: By targeting women, particularly nursing mothers, and informing them of health benefits for their families, there are opportunities to galvanize consumers into buying organic produce. Appropriate messages should be crafted and media as well as other platforms engaged to disseminate these messages.
  • Export Market: The export market currently offers organic producers better opportunities. By building up Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS), the hope is to build up the Ghanaian domestic market.
  • Domestic Supply Contracts: PGS should also look at assisting producers to negotiate supply contracts with high-end grocery stores, which already have demand for organic produce. Since the ability to produce high volumes are a key consideration in such agreements, it would be worthwhile for PGS leadership to engage buyers and introduce the concept. A trial promotion in supermarkets may help establish market readiness for organic produce.
  • Farmer Willingness to Grow Organic: Most farmers with exposure and training are willing to convert to organic farming, but risks and expenses are a hindrance. Farmers already engaged in organic production are dedicated, and there is a high level of camaraderie and willingness to collaborate and push the movement forward. However the challenges outlined above, particularly access to ready markets, make the task of converting more farmers more difficult.

Green Acres Demonstration Farm Supporters

This project was made possible by a grant from the OM4D Project and came to life with the help of:

  • Abraham Bolombo, Technical Support & Training with support from Oduro Sakyi
  • Samuel Quartey, Financial Trainer
  • Fidel Doe, Marketing Specialist
  • Green Acres Farm Workers

Francesca Doe, Managing Director of the Green Acres Farm

Francesca strives to connect Ghanaians to organic agriculture by raising awareness of organic agricultural practices, health benefits for farmers and consumers. On her demonstration farm in the Volta region of Ghana, she plans to provide practical training and show young individuals how to embrace organic agriculture more entrepreneurially.  At the same time, she plans to demonstrate how organic agriculture can improve the livelihoods of farmers and assist them in accessing local markets where they can earn a fair price.

In the previous blog posts, you’ll find posts exploring extraordinary innovations, organic policies, scientific research and expert opinions on organic. Check them out!