Farmers are the Future (Part 2)

Part two of our Deki interview with David Pankratz the CEO of iDE Ghana. In this segment David explains the tools that our Ghanaian farmers buy with their Deki loans and how a loan changes farmers' lives.

DEKI:  iDE are passionate about finding new technologies to help smallholders – what technology do Deki entrepreneurs use? Treadle Pump? Fertiliser?

DAVID: Much like Deki, iDE Ghana believe, and are really passionate about investing in new ventures. We are currently concentrating on investing in new technology to reduce fertiliser use. Nitrogen is the primary fertiliser that African soils lack. Organic nutrients improve the soil so we are teaching farmers how to use soil enriching crops and other methods of recycling organic matter back into the soil.

By new technologies, we're not talking about digital technologies, we're not technological innovators, but we mean creative and efficient new tools for our farmers to make, adapt and use effectively. A great example is the improved wheel hose - it's like a wheel barrow but attached to the arms is a blade which is flat and sinks below the soil. It helps to cut all of the weeds.

We're also really innovative and keen to spread the word about new water pumping technologies such as treadle pumps. Pipes to help water travel are also key innovations and one of the first things we advise our farmers to invest in. 

Drip irrigation is the most significant tool. Instead of pouring water from a bucket, which causes a lot of water waste. Drip irrigation reduces the wastage because instead of 15 buckets of water they use just one and it targets the right areas. Efficient use of water is better for the environment and the land they farm. Farmers also invest in better seeds with their Deki loan. 

DEKI: People sometimes ask why Deki loans are being used to fund fertiliser for fear smallholders will become reliant on it what would your response to this be?

DAVID:  The simple response is that they are already using it, but incorrectly! iDE Ghana want to prevent overuse and prevent pollution. We are adding new organic methods to reduce the needs for fertilizer and over time to prevvent its use of fertiliser altogether.

Deki loans funding fertiliser is right to be questioned and we understand lenders legitimate concerns - so there's two reasons why we would fund fertiliser.

1) It does not make economic sense for our farmers to completely eradicate a commercial fertiliser. How can you tell a struggling family to stop all of their food production and their small lifeline, purely to eliminate their fertiliser use and become organic? Like you, and me, people in Ghana need an income now. 

2) Although we are leaning in the organic direction African soils are very poor with hardly any organic matter. Anyone who loves tending to their garden would immediately know the soil is almost unworkable, it's almost gravel like. Nutrients don't stay in the soils, no creaks or green life. They need additional nutrients. The question should be what mechanisms can we put in place to make it usable? And to create a better livelihood for our farmers and their families.  Anybody who's involved on the soils - gardening or farming would recognize that Ghana needs help.

We teach an efficient and effective way to use small amounts of fertiliser and we actively encourage organic techniques that don't rely on it. 

DEKI: How have Deki loans positively affected iDE farmers?

DEKI: What crops(s) do iDE Ghana farm and why?

DAVID: Dry season: Crops that work well being irrigated so - Tomatoes, Onion, Pepper and it is very popular to produce onion seeds and sell the seeds.

Onion seed is the highest value crop in Ghana because the demand is so great. Onions are imported from neighbouring countries liker Niger so there is a big market. Onion seeds aren't marketable but they are very sellable.

Okra is also grown because there is a big market for them. We teach our farmers not to grow crop they can't eat. This also helps improve the families diet.

In the rainy season they grow maise, millett and sorgom. Sorgom is part of the grass family, it's a crop that's like rice but doesn't need wet soil and it has very small seeds.

DEKI: What do iDE farmers generally spend their profits on? Their family? Their children’s school fees? Re-investing in their land or business?

DAVID: The first answer is always education for the children. Digging into that answer: after 25 years of working in Africa - we know that education is our highest priority. Being able to send your children to school without sacrifice is the biggest blessing for our farmers.  Being able to take your children to the next step is an incredible opportunity for the family. All the children being able to go to school is life changing.

Profits go towards paying for school fees but also to take them to the next level - being able to get them a skill. Letting them get a trade, like typing, helps them to break the poverty cycle because it helps them to support their family .

Housing improvements are also a big priority. A tin roof instead of a thatched roof is a very important improvement. Thatched rooves sound quaint but they leak, and this can lead to bad health and disease. They also constantly flood. Like us, they like to improve their home to make it look better to hold their head high and to have pride in their home.

Building a latrine is also an important improvement so that they have a proper place to go to the bathroom. Currently some people share toilet facilities with a neighbour or a community, or they use a neighbouring field which also leads to disease. I know a farmer that brought a house in the city to rent out and use as a retirement plan. People invest in land to help diversify their income. A more varied and broader income for food is also something our farmers immediately invest their profit in, to benefit the whole family.