Trevor in Ghana

About Me

I am a recent Engineering graduate from the University of British Columbia. I was born and raised in Vancouver, but now live in Tamale in the Northern Region of Ghana. I am working for Engineers Without Borders Canada in partnership with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture. Together we are developing an extension program that will help farmers bring their farming from a subsistence level to a fully functioning business.

A Farewell


I just wanted to put a short note here to let everyone know that I have finished my work overseas. I was originally suppose to continue my work until August, but for reasons that I don't wish to discuss here, I am ending early.

For the next two months I will be travelling around West Africa before heading home to Canada. I plan on visiting Togo, Benin, Burkina Faso and Mali, and I'm really looking forward to seeing how Ghana compares to other countries in West Africa. I won't be blogging while I travel, but I might write some stories and start up a travel blog when I get back home and can upload a whole bunch of pictures to my gallery.

Farewell, and thanks for reading my blog. I hope you have enjoyed it and had some insights into development and life in Ghana.


Too Much of a Good Thing

There’s nothing like an ice cold slice of watermelon on a hot day. Whenever I eat watermelon it reminds of being a kid again: running around in the backyard in the summer with friends having seed spitting competitions. Those fond memories have been coming back a lot lately as its watermelon season here in Ghana.

Farmers plant watermelon seeds at the start of the dry season, around the end of December. They grow it in the low-lying areas on the river banks after the water level recedes. Despite the name, ironically watermelon doesn’t require much water to grow. I still haven’t quite figured that one out seeing the stuff is like 99% water, but apparently so long as there is enough moisture in the soil during germination it will grow just fine.

[Watermelon field picture]

After the devastating drought and flood that struck the region, resulting in complete crop failure during the rainy season, farmers saw watermelon as an opportunity to make some desperately needed money during the usually unproductive dry season. They hoped that by producing watermelon, which in the past has fetched a good price at the market, they would be able to earn enough money to feed their families when their current food stocks soon run out.

The result, literally mountains of watermelon...

[Fresh watermelon picture]

It’s like some childhood fantasy of being in a fruity version of Candyland, but the fantasy soon fades to tragedy when you start asking what the watermelon is doing sitting out here in the fields rather than being consumed by hot thirsty children in town. With so many more farmers than usual going into watermelon farming the market is flooded. Most of the watermelon has been harvested and sits rotting on the roadside waiting for a buyer. The farmers try and pile it underneath trees so that the shade will keep cooler, but if they don’t sell it soon it will be too late.

[Rotting watermelon picture]

One of the biggest tragedies is that I know there is a market for the produce. The farther south you go the higher the price. Farmgate: 0.20-0.30 GHc. WaleWale (district capital) 0.50-0.80 GHc. Tamale 1-2 GHc. Accra 5-6 GHc.

People have different perceptions of the situation. One farmer I met is upset because his community has been growing watermelon for a few years. This year however a village closer to the main road has also grown, and traders are buying from them to make the long trip about 5 minutes shorter.

Another farmer tells me story about how a couple traders came and bought several truck loads. They told the farmers they would pay them after they sell it in Kumasi or Accra. The farmers seeing no alternative agreed. Several days later they received a phone call from the trader telling them that it all spoiled and he can’t pay them.

This situation is just one example of the marketing challenges small-scale rural farmers face. They have little power in the markets and are often left to bear all the risk.

So what is the problem, or better yet, what is the solution? Do farmers need to plant with a better idea of market demands? Are farmers lacking information about the fair price for their crops? Should farmers form groups to give them more negotiating power with traders and market women? Are outgrowing schemes that link farmers directly to markets the silver bullet?

In the remaining months of my placement I hope to further investigate at least a couple of these questions as I work with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture to see how we can help farmers become more integrated into markets and develop their farms into a business.

[Internet is hopelessly slow right now. I will add pictures later. Sorry!]

Christmas on the Beach

This year Christmas was a little different than I am used to. I spent it down on the coast of Ghana at a little resort, appropriately named Hideout Lodge. I went down with some other volunteers from Canada and Europe. It was really nice to have good company and a gorgeous beach to provided some distraction from being a little homesick over the holidays.

I would like to wish everyone a belated MERRY CHRISTMAS and an early HAPPY NEW YEAR! I hope you are all enjoying the holidays with you family and friends. I have posted a bunch of pictures on my web album and I will post a few more when I get some from the rest of the group I traveled with.

We Went to Burkina


So I originally planned on writing a rich blog post about the differences between Burkina Faso and Ghana, in particular the differences I observed related to poverty; however, I found the following format rather amusing at 1:00am when I was taking a break from working on an evaluation report!! I still plan on making another trip back to Burkina so maybe I will pleasure you with something more insightful then. For now I hope you enjoy the brief description and some pictures of my trip.


We took a trotro to Bolga
We waited for Sarah
We took a taxi to the border
We got stamped out of Ghana (except Sarah)
We waited while the Burkina guy did arts and crafts in our passports
We missed the bus to Ouaga
We were joined again by Sarah
We got our Burkina Visas
We took a taxi and caught up to the bus
We had some yummy Burkina yogurt
We got to Ouaga
We had more yummy Burkina yogurt
We took a bus to Bobo
We got mobbed by girls selling sesame cookies
We arrived in Bobo
We went to sleep


We woke up
We talked about our work
We got to know each other better
We tried to fix the development sector
We brainstormed
We played with post-it notes
We got frustrated
We ran out of time
We reflected on the day
We went out for drinks with the guys
We waited for the girls to get ready
We met up with the girls
We drank
We danced
We drank some more
We went to sleep


We woke up too damn early
We took a trotro to Banfora
We canoed to see hippos (well at least the nose and ears of hippos…)
We visited a cashew factory (those nuts are a pain in the ass to get at)
We tried to find waterfalls
We saw a white person standing at the side of the road who looked a lot like Sarah
We realised we left Sarah behind (sorry Sarah we love you!!)
We got a dirty look from Sarah
We got covered in dust from the road and could hardly breathe
We finally found the waterfalls
We went swimming at the waterfalls
We tried to show how manly we are by climbing the big rocks and jumping off of them
We hiked to the top of the waterfall and took some pictures
We took the trotro back to Bobo
We had an amazing dinner at “les 3 karites” with tasty roasted chicken and delicious salad
We passed out after a day full of fun


We woke up
We exchanged secret Santa gifts
We talked
We complained
We discussed
We ranted
We learned about the action learning cycle (apparently I’m a theorist as were 4/5 guys at the retreat)
We laughed at the planners activists and reflectors
We felt sorry for laughing at the others (not really)
We realised that if 4 theorists try and work together nothing gets done
We shared stories
We inspired each other
We cried together
We hugged
We made a fun conference video (I’ll try and post it when I get a copy)
We went to sleep


We woke up
We didn’t want to leave our friends in Burkina (or the French cuisine)
We travelled back to Ghana (ok so there was a day spent in Ouaga for a team MoFA meeting but it wasn’t blog worthy)

The End

A Celebration of Farming

The Importance of Farming

In Canada we have national holidays to celebrate our independence and war veterans, religious events, and the start of a new year. Here is Ghana they recognize the same reasons for celebration, but on the first friday of December they also take time to celebrate farmers.

Agriculture makes up the livelihood of most people living in northern Ghana and nearly all of those who live in rural areas. It provides jobs to work, food to eat, and money to send children to school. Ghana could not survive if it wasn’t for the farmers who work hard everyday to try and cope with the unpredictable weather year after year.

This year was particularly difficult for farmers in the three Northern Regions. The rains arrived early in May and farmers rushed to prepare their fields and plant their crops. Then in early June just as the seeds were starting to germinate the rains stopped. The drought lasted for over a month with the rains not returning until mid-late July. By then it was too late: all of the crops that had been planted at the start of the growing season had weltered and dried.

Farmers who could afford to buy more seed and replant rushed to do so during the last week of July and first week of August knowing full well that if they didn’t get the seeds in the ground soon it would be too late and the plants wouldn’t have enough time to grow. Those that managed to replant were only able to do a portion of what they had originally planted, and the rest of their fields were left with half-grown withered stalks of maize.

As if the weather hadn’t been difficult enough this farming season when the rains returned they returned without mercy. Rivers rose and crops were drowned or even completely washed away. (I’m sure many of you have read about the floods in the Northern Ghana this September. For those of you who haven’t I have attached a few links below.) When the Volta Rivers receded they left little behind. In all it seems as if the weather this rainy season couldn’t possibly have been any worse.

You may be wondering what is there to celebrate when so many farmers who tried so hard lost everything, but this only amplifies the need to celebrate those farmers who somehow despite all odds managed to have a successful season. There’s a need to recognize model farmers whose motivation and entrepreneurship can provide inspiration and an example to others of what can be achieved in agriculture.

National Farmers’ Day

I wake up at the crack of dawn and eagerly put on my new shirt made of fabric with the MoFA logo plastered all over it. Today is National Farmers’ Day and I’m headed off to Saboba to take part in the Regional Farmers’ Day celebration. I head to the office along with Nina, an EWB volunteer from Zambia who happened to be in Ghana for a conference this week and decided to come along and check things out. We get to the office and hop on the bus along with a few MoFA staff and the farmer award winners from all across the Northern Region.

About three hours later we get to the site in Saboba. There are tents all around to provide shade from the sweltering sun, and a sea of bicycles and other prizes in the centre. Along one side of the site are exhibits showcasing some of the best rice, maize, millet and pepper the region has to offer. Behind the crops stand farmers, proud to display what their hard efforts have produced.

After sometime wandering around the site looking at the exhibits and chatting with farmers it’s time for the ceremonies to begin. The Regional minister along with various other political and state figures arrive to give their speeches. The theme for this year’s national Farmers’ Day was “Ghana @ 50: Progress and Challenges of Sustainable Agricultural Development.” They talk about the aforementioned challenges farmers have faced this year, and encourage farmers and other Ghanaians alike to recognize that farming is not a second rate livelihood. Farming is a respectable and potentially prosperous way to make a living, and people should start thinking about agriculture as a business.

When the speeches come to a close the farmers are called forward to receive their awards. There are awards for the best farmer for each of the main crops (maize, rice, sorghum, soya bean, groundnuts, etc.) as well as the best livestock farmer, the most innovative farmer, and of course the all around regional best farmer. The award winners all get a bicycle and a collection of other farming implements such as cutlasses, hoes, sprayers, and boots.

Shortly after all of the excitement that has been building up over the past couple months comes to an end. As my co-worker Sarah said, “It’s like MoFA Christmas!!” Everyone waits for it all year long working hard in the months leading up to it, the excitement builds and builds, and then before you know it’s all over.

Life in Tamale

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything on my blog so I though I’d give you all a quick update about what I’ve been up to for the past month or so.


There are a lot of EWB volunteers in Ghana most of whom either work in Tamale or frequently pass through town. Accordingly EWB rents a house just outside of the city for traveling and newly arrived volunteers. This is where I’ve been staying since I arrived in Tamale, though I hope to soon move in with a family in the area to get a better experience of family life and culture in Ghana.

That said I’m not really living all by myself. The household is part of a compound of six: four families, a bachelor teacher/footballer, and then a variety of ever changing volunteers. They’re all very friendly and more than happy to teach me how to do laundry or point me in the direction of the closest store. In return I seem to have become the unofficial French tutor for the children in the compound. I was rather surprised to learn that all of the children start learning French in primary school, but I guess being largely surrounded by French speaking nations it makes sense.

I’m sure it must be pretty strange for the other people living in the compound to have wave after wave of volunteers pass through, but truth be told I think they find it rather entertaining. Everyone in the neighborhood knows “the house where the salamingas live!”


As you probably already know, for the next year I’ll be working with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA). For the first couple months of my placement I’m focusing on learning as much as I can about MoFA: how the organization operates, what type of projects they do, who they work with, etc. In particular I’m looking how these areas interact with MoFA’s Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) system and where I can work to create positive change over the remainder of my placement.

Above: Sign on the main road outside the office
Left: Veranda on top (3rd) floor of the building where my office is
Right: My office

So far I’ve spent the majority of my time at the MoFA’s regional office in Tamale. At the office I’m working closely with Sheref, the regional M&E officer. Sheref has to be one of the most energetic people I’ve ever met. He’s always happy and seems to get excited about everything.

I’ve also gone on a couple trips out to some of the districts with Sheref to help him run some training sessions on the new M&E reporting format. MoFA has undergone a lot of changes with their reporting over the last couple years. In particular they are currently hoping on technological tidal wave sweeping through Ghana and changing to an electronic reporting format. Doing reports in excel allows automatic calculations rather than using a calculator and hitting CTRL+C & CTRL+V saves a lot of time compared to re-entering 18 district reports. That said a lot of staff are new to computers and even those who have experience are often troubled by blackouts, occasionally having to result to running a generator to get electricity.


The EWB house and MoFA office are both located about a five minute drive north of the central market or main part of town. So long as your traveling along the main road there’s a constant stream of shared taxis to take you back and forth. It was a bit of an adventure the first few trips, but once you figure out the names of the main parts of town and junctions it’s not bad. It also helps to figure out the appropriate hand signals to give the honking taxi drivers who are always looking for another fare to cram into the car.

The shared taxis too and from town are relatively cheap, but it all starts to add up. Seeing I’m going to be in town for a long time I decided to buy a bicycle. Going bike shopping was quite an escapade, mainly because I can’t remember the last time I rode one! The first test ride I took I almost bailed and crashed into a fruit stand, but I managed to keep it together.

I eventually found a bicycle I in decent shape that I could ride without my knees hitting the handle bars. It’s not the latest 18 speed mountain bike you’d find in Canada. It’s got one gear, a basket in the front, a light on the front wheel, and mud guards on the tires. (Picture to come soon) The only down side is the front tire is slightly bent which isn’t helping my already sketchy balance.

After a kamikaze ride home was starting to get the hang of riding a bike again, though the bumpy dirt roads and bicycle traffic certainly didn’t help my cause. I guess it’s true what they say, “you never forget how to ride a bike,” but you can sure come close!

Hopefully that gives you a bit of a better idea of what I’ve been up to. I’ll try to keep the time between posts a little shorter next time!

Village "Number One"

In my first week in Ghana I’ve gone from a city of over 2 million people, to a farming village of a couple hundred… When I arrived in Tamale I spent the first few days with some other EWB volunteers. It was a great chance to bombard them with questions and hear about some of their experiences. I also spent some time wandering around the market, trying Ghanaian food, and attempting to learn some Dagbani (the most common local language in these parts).

After a couple days in Tamale it was time to head to Damongo where I would be spending some time in a small farming village. I woke up super early and headed to the trotro station. For those of you who don’t know what a trotro is it’s a small bus but with just as many people and luggage as a full size bus. They also don’t run on much of a schedule, they just leave once there are enough people. I arrived at the station just after 6:00am only to find out the first trotro had already filled up and left. I ended up having to wait around for about four hours until the next one finally t.

After a couple of hours on a pothole ridden dirt road I arrived in Damongo. I met up with the lovely Sarah, an EWB volunteer who has been there for a couple months. I stayed with her and her host family for the night. They were really kind and I spent most of the night playing some kind of board game with the children who kept beating me!!

The next morning I got up and traveled 15 minutes on the back of a motorcycle to SORI Number One. Despite the boring name, the village is pretty unique. It’s a settlement village where families from different areas have come to live because of the fertile farming lands. As a result there are a number of different tribes all living together in a single community.

The thing that struck me most about the village was how spread out it was. I had expected all of the families to live in a particular area with the farming fields a short distance away; however the households were scattered amongst large fields of maize. As with most parts of Africa maize is the favorite crop both to grow and eat. They keep their main fields by their house so that they can easily tend to it and protect it. The farmers in the community also hold other fields about an hour walk up the road where they grow secondary crops such as groundnuts, cassava, and cowpeas.

For the two nights I was in the village I stayed with Matthew and his family. Matthew, 21, lives with his mother, two younger sisters, and two younger brothers. They are originally from East Mamprusi (another district to the east), but when the man of the household passed away they moved to more fertile farming lands.

Matthew had just finished Secondary School and had rushed back home to plant the fields before it was too late. From what I could gather this was the norm for him and most other boys in the village: no time for “summer vacation.” Go to school October to June, and spend the break working in the fields to feed your family and hopefully make enough money to pay school fees for the following year.

Left – Matthew, Right – Tarica

I spent a lot of my time talking with Matthew and his two close friends, “Papaya” and “Super.” Papaya’s real name is Tarica, but he got the nickname because in his homeland they call papaya Carica-Papaya. They couldn’t really provide me with an explanation for Super’s nickname, but you have to admit it’s pretty sweet. I told them my nickname amongst my close friends is Fletcher. From then on whenever I saw Tarica he’d yell “Fletchah, wuzzup!!” which always made me laugh.

I also got my first taste of real farm work while I was there. You know that feeling when you go to the gym, and everyone is super buff and in-shape, and you feel like a pathetic lazy bastard. Well the same thing applies to farming. Despite my overwhelming feeling of inadequacy everyone seemed to be incredibly excited that I wanted to do some work on their farm. After about an hour of weeding I was exhausted, my hands were starting to get blisters, and my lower back was starting to throb.

The following day it was time for some real farming work. No more or this casual weeding business, it was time to till a field and get it ready to plant cowpea. The community had hired a tractor to plow the maize fields, but the rest of the fields were left to be done by hand. To get the work done efficiently every other day all the farmers come together to work on one farmer’s field. Without this farmers would never be able to prepare their fields in time for the planting of specific crops. Today the village was working on Matthews’s cowpea field. It was a brand new field that had just been cleared. I have to say it was a pretty impressive sight watching all the farmers working side by side in unison. I tried to help them a couple times but it more for entertainment value. I was way to slow to keep up and wasn’t doing a good enough job.

At the end of the two days it was time to head back to Tamale to start my work at MoFA. I enjoyed my time in “Number One” and learned a lot from the people and experience. There’s also a lot I didn’t get a chance to discover during my short stay. It can be difficult and frustrating to try to overcome the barriers that exist: language, gender roles, culture, age. That said I’m still determined to learn more. I know an important part of being an effective development worker is understanding the lives of those you are trying to help. I still have a long ways to go, but at least I’ve started down the path.

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