Bawku West: Mapping the Onion Value Chain
I work with Engineers Without Borders Canada's Agricultural Value Chains Team (or EWB's AVC Team for short) in Tamale, Ghana. Our service is to provide high quality consultative services to development projects adopting a market facilitation approach to their interventions.
During one of my first field visits, I had the opportunity to witness farmers harvesting 'Bawku' onions to be bagged and sold in local markets. Onion farming is the biggest dry season income generating activity for men living in Ghana's Upper East Region, and some say is the main reason why most men in the region don't migrate to find work during the off season. This year, however, there was a major glut in the market: there were too many onions in the system according to the farmers and they were getting prices that couldn't even cover their input costs.
I decided to learn more about how this happened. So, I drafted a six week research plan and decided that I was going to map out the entire value chain from farmer to end market to understand the relationships throughout and points where farmers could be helped. In the process, I met with researchers, local staff at the Ministry of Food and Agriculture and NGO staff looknig to intervene in the sector.
How did you use the HCD Toolkit and / or human-centered design as part of the project?
I utilized a number of HCD tools as part of a recent shift in our team's thinking towards being more intentional or focused around how we are learning in the field. These included Factors and Forces Mapping, Discussion Guide for Farming, Expert Interviews, Resource Flows, and some of the prototyping exercises.
What was the biggest challenge that the project faced? Did you overcome it?
One thing that I noticed was that some times the tools were appropriate and some times they were not. For example, I found that using Resource Flows was an simple and interactive tool for better understanding farm budgets.
Forces and Factors Mapping, however, was a more difficult exercise at the farmer level. I think this had to do with the nature of the exercise itself, my novice skills in facilitation, and the barriers to communication caused by the use of a translator.
The concept of levels, I think, requires a certain familiarity with thinking in systems. The farmers that I interviewed had a difficult time conceptualizing forces (the state, competition from Niger, etc) that had an impact on their lives. The exercise did not necessarily make the framing any easier. Likely, Factors & Forces Mapping would be more useful at the stage of Expert Interviews as these individuals (e.g. MoFA staff, or researchers) tend to be better placed to understand how the pieces fit together.
I would love to hear others' thoughts on when they have found some of these tools useful as is, and when they have had to adapt them for their own purposes. I started with some initial observations on our team's blog. Any other thoughts would be great!
What is (or will be) the impact of your project?
Unlike most of the stories on this site, my 'project' was simply to map a value chain in order to: better understand marketing issues in agricultural value chains to prep for my placement; to give farmers information on what I was seeing; and to to try and influence implementers already working the space to explore issues that they might not have addressed in their thinking. In this sense, I was removed from any direct implementation and had the time and space to 'dream big'. This is a great place to be in to experiment with HCD's toolkit.