text size: smaller reset larger

 

 

Organisation: the key to overcoming disability

Dry season gardening is an alternative livelihood option for disabled individuals in Ghana (© Caitlin Peterson (CIAT/CCAFS))
Dry season gardening is an alternative livelihood option for disabled individuals in Ghana
© Caitlin Peterson (CIAT/CCAFS)

Claire Dagbuo is blind, but you wouldn't know it. Not from the way she looks straight at you when she talks to you, and certainly not from the solid planting of her flip flop-clad feet on the long, dusty walk to the village centre. She didn't always walk with such purpose, however.

"It used to be that people like us had nothing going on in this community," Dagbuo says. She approaches a small cluster of mud buildings, shaded by two giant neem trees. A closet-sized store sells drinks and tins of tomato paste, while the women pito-brewers stack their calabashes and jugs of the homemade liquor in metal basins to carry to the nearby town of Lawra. "We used to gather here in the community centre and crack open groundnuts for people to earn a small living," she continues. "That was all people expected us to be able to do."

Disabled individuals in the village of Dazuuri in the Upper West region of Ghana are some of the most vulnerable to the threat of food insecurity; they have difficulty adapting to the new demands and uncertainties brought on by a changing climate and are highly exposed to the negative effects of those changes. However, dry season cultivation of vegetables has solved many problems for the blind and disabled of Dazuuri, and it's a strategy of their own design and initiative.

Gardening group work

Aabongbio - "who knows tomorrow?" in the local Dagaare dialect - is a group made up entirely of blind and disabled individuals living in Dazuuri. Although the name may sound fatalistic, the group's members have taken a strong and active role in assuring their own future. Dagbuo, Aabongbio's charismatic secretary and de facto public relations officer, knows the story from the beginning.

Water has always been a major concern for Aabongbio's industrious gardeners (© Caitlin Peterson (CIAT/CCAFS))
Water has always been a major concern for Aabongbio's industrious gardeners
© Caitlin Peterson (CIAT/CCAFS)

"The son of one of our members went away to school in Bolgatanga ten years ago," she begins, "and he learned about a group of disabled people there who had started their own organisation and were doing vegetable gardening during the dry season." The boy saw the need to replicate the practice in Dazuuri village, and the idea was taken up with enthusiasm. The group now comprises 20 members - 5 blind and 15 otherwise disabled - who maintain a sizeable garden space at the heart of the village, growing onions, sweet peppers and cabbages during the normally unproductive dry season.

"What the group members do not eat themselves they sell in the market," Dagbuo says, "and anything we can't produce in the garden we then buy with the extra income from the vegetables. We can pay the children's school fees and our medical bills." Members also pay a monthly contribution to the group account that goes back into the production activities of the garden.

Water has always been a major concern for Aabongbio's industrious gardeners. "In the early days of the garden the rains were good enough to fill our shallow wells," says Dagbuo." Now, the rains have become so unreliable that the wells often dry up completely. Even the water from the borehole becomes scarce at times," she notes. In response, the group has started using mulch from left-over groundnut leaves to reduce run-off and encourage infiltration of rainwater, and has also set up shading around the beds when the plants are young to reduce the number of times they need to be watered. Water scarcity is, however, likely to continue being a problem for the garden, as it is for nearly every farmer in this region.

Strength in numbers

Despite these difficulties, Aabongbio's status as an organised group means help has been remarkably forthcoming in an otherwise resource-scarce region. When the new group needed land, they negotiated with the village's key landholders to have a plot released to them. When maize and millet stalks would no longer serve to keep wandering livestock out of their vegetables, the local District Assembly supported their petition to construct a wire fence. Volunteers from town taught them gardening techniques and supplied them with seeds, and an international NGO even stepped in to equip the garden with a much needed borehole. "Nobody comes looking to support an individual," Dagbuo observes. "When there is support, it comes to people who are organised. Word starts to spread about a well-established group," she continues, "and before you know it, help is coming that you didn't even ask for."

Self-organisation has helped the disabled group access funds and technical support (© Caitlin Peterson (CIAT/CCAFS))
Self-organisation has helped the disabled group access funds and technical support
© Caitlin Peterson (CIAT/CCAFS)

Aabongbio will be looking to expand the garden in the future and, if the group members have their way, will get improved access to water to support production. They would like to try any new crop that would fetch higher prices at market. Meanwhile, the group and its secretary have already made a strong point: "Disabled people can also contribute to the development of society," says Dagbuo. "The way that we have been able to come together to support ourselves will influence policymakers to take a second look at assumptions about us," she asserts.

Indeed, the capacity of the disabled to organise themselves and solicit support from outside entities will have a considerable effect on their ability to adapt to changing climate conditions and, in the process, assure the food security of some of Ghana's most vulnerable individuals.

This article is based on Vegetables for Ghana's vulnerable published on the Thomson Reuters Foundation blog and In Ghana, reduced vulnerability for those that garden together on the CCAFS blog.

Written by: Caity Peterson, visiting researcher and science writer based at the Center for International Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and working on the CGIAR Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS)

Date published: September 2013

 

Have your say

 

The New Agriculturist is a WRENmedia production.

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.
Accept
Read more