Locals reach out to help

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(Graphic by Steph Truong)

Last week, Peter Braid, MP for Kitchener-Waterloo, announced the initiation of a food security project by local organization the Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA), funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), to support 20,000 families in northern Ghana.

“The project has three important objectives,” Braid stated. “First is to increase crop production, the second is to improve market access and the third is to enhance nutritional practice.”

This food security project is a six-year, $20-million project that will be administered by MEDA, which is an international, non-governmental organization based in Waterloo.

Helen Loftin, the director of women’s economic development at MEDA, explained that CIDA approached them a few years back with interest in the food security of women in northern Ghana. The project began in April of this year.

“Ghana as a country is doing okay [economically], in comparison to its African neighbours, except for the North, which has been left behind and is particularly poor,” Loftin said.

The goal of the project, simply put, is about making families’ food secure. More specifically, it aims to focus on the female demographic of northern Ghana because, as Loftin explained, “We focus on women because we’ve come to realize that when you target women producers, when you target women as clients or beneficiaries of a project, the return on investment is quite huge. Women will optimize the resources in terms of re-investing in the family.”

Soybeans are the main crop in northern Ghana, so MEDA is focusing on that

“It has a nutritional part to it, so that the families, if they are consuming soy as part of their diet,” said Loftin. “They are going to have access to all the good body requirements, like protein and nutrients.”

“This is very akin to what MEDA does,” she added. “There is a shortage of soy, Ghana is a net importer of soy, so there is a real market demand for this product.”

MEDA is using market-based approaches to this project and plans on securing food for the surrounding families, by encouraging female farmers to engage in the market-based approach to farming.

“Women [will] become connected to market systems, they will be able to sell surplus and get profit from it, and that money of course will then help them purchase things they can’t grow themselves,”

Loftin explained. “It’s essentially Business 101.”

Loftin went on to explain that the aim is to get the women to grow soy, boost the yields of it and have enough for their own family’s consumption, while improving their diet and marketing the surplus.

“I don’t expect that this project will raise them all out of poverty, but our programs are about alleviating poverty,” she said. “We need to be realistic about what we can and cannot do.”

Regardless of the outcome, this project plays into one of the core mandates of CIDA.

“This project is part of the funding envelope that our government has set aside specifically to increase food security in the developing world,” Braid said.

He explained that MEDA is an expert in market-based initiatives and in his view, the project is in the right hands.

“I’m very proud to have such an excellent, international NGO in my riding of Waterloo,” he said.

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