Learning to Listen to Farmers

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

At the Department of Agricultural Economics and Extension at Cape Coast University in Southern Ghana, learning takes place not only in classrooms, but also literally in fields  and farms all over the country. As part of a program to improve agricultural extension services, extension officers are working with professors to find ways to improve food production in their communities. The extensionists, who are already working with farmers, are selected by the Ministry of Agriculture and the University from all over the country to train at the University to help them better  share their skills and knowledge with farmers.

The program was started in the early 1990s after the Ministry of Agriculture found that its' extension workers were not communicating well with farmers, says Dr. Okorley, a  Cape Coast professor. The goal of the program, according to Okorley, is "to improve the knowledge of front line extension staff." Because the educational background of many extension workers is "limited" (many don't have the means to attend college) says Okorley, they "couldn't look at agriculture holistically."

But the university is helping change that problem. Students learn how to engage with farmers and communities by learning better communication skills. And they are trained to properly diagnose problems, as well as come up with solutions.

After attending a year of classes on campus, the students go back to their communities to implement what they've learned in Supervised Enterprise Projects (SEPs). The SEPs give the student-professionals the opportunity to learn that particular technologies, no matter how innovative they might seem in the classroom, don't always "fit" the needs of communities, says Dr. Okorley. The SEPs also help them implement some of the communication skills they've learned in their classes, allowing them to engage more effectively in the communities where they work. Instead of simply telling farmers to use a particular type of seed or a certain brand of pesticide or fertilizer, the extension workers are now learning how to listen to farmers and help them find innovations that best serve their particular needs. "One beauty of the program," according to Dr. Okorley, "is the on-the-ground research and experimentation." He says "it allows the environment to teach what should be done."

They have plans to scale up and improve the program by developing a "technology village" that will allow students to try out different technologies or practices before taking them back to their villages. And they hope to engage women in the program-currently, there are no female professors or students in the program. In addition, they're hoping to incorporate a value chain approach in the curriculum, helping extension workers and farmers alike find innovative ways to add value to and improve the quality of crops.

Listen below to Professor Festus Annor-Frempong discuss how the University is helping improve agriculture in Ghana and to Peter Omega, a former student, talk about his work with farmers in his community.

Thank you for reading! As you may already know, Danielle Nierenberg is traveling across sub-Saharan Africa visiting organizations and projects that provide environmentally sustainable solutions to hunger and poverty.  She has already traveled to over 18 countries and visited 130 projects highlighting stories of hope and success in the region. She will be in Burkina Faso next, so stay tuned for more writing, photos and video from her travels.  

If you enjoy reading this diary, we blog daily on Nourishing the Planet, where you can also sign up for our newsletter to receive weekly blog and travel updates.  Also, please don't hesitate to comment on our posts, we check them daily and look forward to an ongoing discussion with you.

What is a Recovery Without Widespread Job Growth?

At a time like this, even modest, and potentially temporary, declines in the unemployment rate deserve a round of applause.  Well, unless the decline in the unemployment rate only brings it back to where it was for the first three months of the year.  And unless the rate remains significantly higher for people who had been stranded furthest from opportunity even before the recession.  So, maybe a golf clap?

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Rising Tides Don't Life All Boats

"As they say on my own Cape Cod, a rising tide lifts all the boats."
-John F. Kennedy

"Rising tides don't lift all boats, particularly those stuck at the bottom."
-Reverend Jesse Jackson

President Kennedy made that declaration in 1963. Since then income inequality in the United States has greatly increased. As reported by The Economist:

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Weekly Audit: How Superhero Hilda Solis is Winning the Fight for Workers’ Rights

By Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger

While the poor judgment of top-level officials at Treasury and the Office of Management and Budget frequently makes the news, there is another, unrecognized economic crew doing terrific work: Officials at the Department of Labor are restoring workers’ rights after nearly a decade of neglect.

To top it all off, President Barack Obama appears ready to make another set of strong, though less high-profile, economic appointments that will help rein in Wall Street excess.

DoL All-Stars

As Esther Kaplan documents in a masterful piece for The Nation, the Department of Labor  (DoL) has been transformed from an agency that enabled corporate excess to one that holds companies accountable.  In less than a year, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and her team of deputies significantly leveled the playing field between ordinary workers and high-flying executives.

For decades, when conservatives have attempted to confront social problems, they’ve relied on the mantra of enforcement. If we had more cops, we’d fix everything. But as Kaplan documents, under President George W. Bush and his Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, the DoL simply stopped enforcing worker protection laws. From wage theft to mine safety, the Department essentially allowed corrupt employers to do anything they wanted.

That neglect has already ended. Armed with a budget of just $1.5 billion—that’s roughly 0.2% of the Troubled Asset Relief Program—Solis and company have cultivated a list of economic accomplishments that seemed impossible when they took office. As Kaplan details:

“Facing badly depleted enforcement ranks, Solis hired 710 additional enforcement staff, including 130 at OSHA and 250 for the crucial wage-and-hour division, upping inspectors by more than a third. Another hundred will come on next year to staff a crackdown on the misclassification of millions of employees as “independent contractors”–a dodge to avoid paying taxes and benefits–a move that has set off enormous buzz on business blogs. Her team took a plunger to the stagnant regulatory pipeline, moving forward new rules on coal mine dust, silica, and cranes and derricks. She restored prevailing wages for agricultural guest workers and is poised to restore reporting rules on ergonomic injuries.”

Fixing the Fed

Obama also appears ready to make another slate of strong economic appointments at the Federal Reserve, an agency stuffed with free-marketers who helped engineer both an economic catastrophe and resulting bailouts. Obama’s rumored picks—economists Janet Yellen and Peter Diamond and bank regulator Sarah Bloom Raskin—are aggressive about making the economy work for everyday citizens, as I emphasize for AlterNet.

If Congress passes financial reforms similar to what Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) has proposed, the Fed’s regulatory responsibilities will actually expand, despite its failures over the past decade. The Fed has never effectively regulated anything and it’s not very concerned with unemployment as an economic problem.

That makes Obama’s pending slate of officials who prioritize bank regulation and broader employment very important. Raskin, in particular, stands out with her strong record as a state banking regulator. If Obama ultimately nominates her, she’ll be the first pure regulator ever appointed to the Fed. The potential picks don’t make up for Obama’s reappointment of bailouteer Ben Bernanke as Federal Reserve Chairman, but they do show that the President is capable of sound judgment.

Strengthening the Dodd bill

But the strength of Obama’s potential Fed nominees doesn’t justify the weakness of Dodd’s financial regulation bill. As Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now! reveal in interviews with economist Robert Johnson and ColorLines Editorial Director Kai Wright , the bill leaves plenty to be desired. Dodd is currently making the rounds and declaring that his bill will end the abuses giant banks deployed against the broader economy, but the truth is, the bill has largely been gutted by bank lobbyists. Here’s Johnson:

“We’re engaged in a Kabuki theater right now, hoping the material is too complex for the American people to understand, declaring victory, and yet basically encoding into law current practices of the banks. Every one of your listeners should ask the question, given this legislation, if the President, House and Senate pass it, will we be in a place where AIG couldn’t have happened, Lehman Brothers couldn’t have happened, Bear Stearns couldn’t have happened, and, more importantly, nine, ten percent unemployment caused by the banking crisis couldn’t have happened? I argue this bill does very little.”

The importance of trust-busting

So Dodd’s bill needs to be substantially strengthened as it moves through the Senate. But there’s plenty of other economic work to be done outside of Wall Street. As Barry C. Lynn and Phillip Longman explain for The Washington Monthly, the steady expansion of corporate monopolies has resulted in a fundamentally unstable economy.

The U.S. simply does not create jobs at the rate it once did, and companies aren’t held accountable to market forces like competition. Many of our monopolies are hidden, as Lynn and Longman note. Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s seem like competitors, but they’re owned by the same holding company. The same dynamic holds true in auto manufacturing, banking, pet food, health care and IT. Consumers think they’re choosing between competing goods and services, when in fact they’re shopping in different divisions of the same corporate Goliath.

All hope is not lost. As Laura Flanders emphasizes for GRITtv, the passage of health care reform proves that the Obama administration and Congress can make substantive progressive changes when they put their minds to it. The question is whether Obama is willing to limit his economic accomplishments to lower-level issues, or go big and take on the deep-pocketed corporate campaign contributors.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

Weekly Audit: The Global Economic Crisis

By Zach Carter, Media Consortium Blogger

Over the past thirty years, Wall Street has waged a steady war against governments around the globe, convincing policymakers of various ideological stripes that whatever raises profits for bankers and traders will be good for the rest of society. It’s a very simple and appealing portrait of how the world works. Unfortunately, it’s completely wrong.

Profiting from hunger

In an interview with AlterNet’s Terrence McNally, economic luminary Raj Patel explains the connection between widespread global poverty and wild Wall Street profits. Markets are defined by a set of rules—if those rules completely disregard social welfare, then the participants in those markets will ignore them as well. When traders can make a quick buck speculating on the price of rice, they will, even if that speculation drives up the price of a basic necessity and makes people go hungry.

We’ve known this for a long time, but as Patel illustrates, governments have allowed financial bigwigs to rewrite the basic rules of the road so that Wall Street can extract profits from anything—even hunger. That process created several crises in the developing world over the past few decades, and has now ravaged the economies of the United States and Europe. As Patel notes:

By basically gaming the system with regulations — that they authored — which encouraged a certain kind of playing fast and loose with the numbers, it was possible through some creative accounting for huge amounts of systematic risk to be kicked off into the future and ignored. And of course when the catastrophic risk was realized, everyone ran for the hills and started demanding public support.

Financial turmoil in Greece

This political sleight-of-hand is demonstrated by the looming fiscal crisis in Greece. As Richard Parker explains for The Nation, Goldman Sachs colluded with prior Greek administrations to hide the nation’s fiscal situation from both its own citizens and investors (Parker is an adviser to current Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou). Goldman was not interested in fair play—it was interested in making money off of the Greek government in any way it could. If that meant actively sabotaging the market by hiding important information, well, Goldman didn’t care.

First Greece, then …

Now that this budget façade has been stripped away, Goldman and other investors are now profiting from making things very difficult for Greece.  As Matthew Yglesias explains for The American Prospect, the rational, profit-maximizing choices of investors are now actively helping to drive Greece into a default that hurts everyone:

When Greece starts looking shaky, the interest rate it needs to pay on its deficit goes up, which makes the country look even shakier. This cycle can push a vulnerable country into a default situation.

Various Greek administrations clearly bear significant responsibility for the situation. Nobody forced them to get in bed with Goldman Sachs, just as nobody forced U.S. administrations to gut our financial regulatory system. But the problem in Greece is not just a problem for a single Mediterranean nation—there is very real risk that the investor “unease” could spread to Portugal, Ireland, Spain, Italy, and by extension the European Union and the global economy. The bonuses at Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan Chase this year were not a sign of renewed strength in the global economy.

Community Security Clubs to the rescue

So if Wall Street can’t save us, what can? Our communities could play a significant role, as Andrée Collier Zaleska explains for Yes! Magazine. Zaleska profiles Common Security Clubs in Portland, Boston and Fort Lauderdale to show how people hit hard by the economic downturn are banding together to make ends meet, and organizing for political action.

“[Jared] Gardner, a busy organizer in Portland, launched four CSCs in his church, two of which were comprised almost entirely of unemployed people. By the time his own group had met five times, they were planning tours of local co-housing projects, organizing to fight locally for progressive taxation, and wondering how to bring the rest of their church into the time bank they had created.”

Markets are supposed to serve human needs, not the other way around. But Wall Street isn’t going to give up its stranglehold on the U.S. political process for nothing. While community-driven efforts are a good start, we need much larger actions and reform to restore balance to the global economy.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

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