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A growing connection for Ghana's deaf children

Cape Coast students with the new piglets (Dr Joe Kwarteng, NASFA)
Cape Coast students with the new piglets
Dr Joe Kwarteng, NASFA

At Cape Coast School for the Deaf, there's excitement in the air. One of the sows on the school farm has just given birth to nine piglets. What's more, the other six sows on the farm are also pregnant. Soon the children will be enjoying hands-on lessons in piglet rearing. The farm club members have also been busy in refining their crop production, experimenting with input levels for their vegetable crops, grown in 'container gardens'. The containers they are using are a little special; water is fed to the bottom through tubes, and the containers themselves are covered in plastic - with holes for the plants to grow through. This reduces water loss, and allows the children to monitor exactly how much water, and other inputs, they are giving the plants, and to analyze the results. Such a controlled approach to vegetable production has proved to be an inspiration for the children at Cape Coast; learning about farming has become fun.

The Cape Coast School for the Deaf is one of three schools in Ghana's Central Region that have joined the Growing Connection, a programme set up by the FAO's Rural Youth Development Programme, the US Committee for FAO and the FAO Liaison office in Washington DC, and funded by private companies in the US. Based on a methodology known as the '4Hs' (Head, Hands, Heart and Health), it aims to teach new knowledge and skills to farm club members, and to change attitudes towards farming. In particular, children are encouraged to see that farming can be a viable source of income, whether as a primary occupation, or as a supplement to another job. At a broader level, the scheme also aims to address Ghana's persistent problem of 'hunger season' food insecurity, by helping young farmers to learn better techniques for dry season livestock management and crop production, as well as agro-processing.

Sharing profits...

Allowing children to experience the profitability of farming is not typical of school farms. Generally, schools tend to keep all produce and proceeds from their teaching farms, for use in the kitchens or to boost the coffers. But denying both students, and the teachers who support them, the fruits of their labour and time, is thought to be one reason why many school farms in Africa have gone to seed. In contrast, any school that wishes to join the Growing Connection scheme, and thereby receive funding for farm inputs and training from a network of resource people, must sign an implementation agreement that specifies how proceeds from the school farm will be distributed. Under this agreement, forty per cent of farm profits is split equally between four groups: ten per cent to the farm club itself, ten per cent to the teachers and watchmen who help run it, ten per cent to DASFA (Development Assistance for School Farms Association), the NGO which manages the project on behalf of the FAO, and the final ten per cent goes to another DASFA school in production exchange. Sixty per cent of the profit still goes to the school. However, in the case of the deaf schools, it has been decided that the 10 per cent for DASFA should instead be distributed to the graduating students to allow them to start their own farms.

...and ideas

Beyond supporting individual farm clubs, however, the Growing Connection, as its name implies, also has a strong focus on enhancing agricultural communication. A study of information systems in Ghana in 2001 conducted by FAO and DFID, highlighted the need for improvement. It was found, for example, that farmer field schools tended to do little sharing of information with other groups. Linking the school clubs has so far been done in a very practical way; each club has been giving the final ten per cent of their profits - in the form of seed or young animals - to another club, to help it diversify its activities. In the longer term, however, the project will be supporting a much greater flow of information between farm clubs, farmer field schools and the wider population. For the non-deaf schools, this will be done through a radio component. Five radio stations, including the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation are keen to use 'community' airtime to promote communication between clubs and schools. Moreover, this will not be a one-way flow of information. Given continued funding from the IT companies, the plan is to equip each school club with a satellite phone which they can use to 'phone-in' to their farming programme, to ask and answer questions of programme guests or other listeners. Phone-in programmes are already a very lively and popular feature of radio in Ghana, a strength that the project is keen to build on.

For the deaf schools, introducing computers so that students can communicate by email is the next step. A video link, which enables communication by sign language is also envisaged. Indeed the enthusiasm of the deaf children towards the project has already persuaded the local FAO coordinator that the next phase should be a scaling up of the school farm scheme to all 13 deaf schools in Ghana. Beyond that, Ghana has 110 districts across its ten regions, and the longer term plan is to have one school farm in each district joining the scheme. There will also be a curriculum development component, so that teachers can learn how to use the school farm to make the connection between school subjects, such as mathematics and science, and 'real life' in Ghana. For the young agriculturists at Cape Coast, working out how much they might earn from over 60 piglets, and how to invest - or spend - their profits, is a lesson they are more than ready to learn.

Date published: May 2004

 

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