Ghana Co-ops Score Big. Communal efforts play key role in keeping rural villages alive

THE Ojobi Food Farmers Cooperative just had a breakthrough year. The group of 50 villagers some 40 miles southwest of Accra, the capital, have made astonishing increases in crop yields by using simple farming techniques. These include planting in rows, instead of just scattering seeds, for example. As a result, the maize harvest on their two-acre test plot reached 5 tons per acre, a marked improvement from previous yields of 1 ton to 1.5 tons.

Because of their success, the cooperative's farmers, more than half of whom are women, have had to convert an old building into a grain shed to store their abundant supply of maize kernels. Next year they hope to devote 200 acres to the newly-learned farming methods. They're hoping to buy a tractor soon and develop an irrigation system. And another 100 villagers have asked to join the cooperative.

Encouraging this sort of cooperative work ethic and reliance on local initiative and resources is a major aim of Ghana's approach toward rural development. Although this West African country's economy is showing some improvement - one of the few on the continent to do so - it remains strapped for cash.

``We are sending a message that the government does not have the means, that people will have to do things themselves,'' says Kofi Portuphy of the National Mobilization Program.

Launched in 1983, when some 1 million Ghanians were expelled from Nigeria, the program initially concentrated on channeling returnees back to their villages, to avoid aggravating urban unemployment and crowding. It has managed to keep many of them there. A large number have gone into farming or have developed trades such as carpentry, masonry, and food processing.

Those returning and other villagers have been organized into Mobilization Volunteer Squads, or ``Mobisquads,'' that carry out group farming and other productive endeavors. These include public works projects that benefit the broader community. Their activities have also helped to stimulate others to greater initiative.

``Community involvement in development is very important for us,'' explains Huudu Yahaya, Secretary for Mobilization and Social Welfare. ``And the National Mobilization Program holds a key place in bringing this about.''

Ghanians have a long history of communal labor which the Mobisquads are tapping into.

The Mobisquad in Akropong-Akuapem, for example, is cultivating maize and peppers on 400 acres of an abandoned state farm. It also conducts lumbering and charcoal-making operations, builds school furniture (for free), and hopes to export pineapples.

Squad members in Muzano have built a new primary school, brick-works, and other projects in recent years. Such activities complement local church teaching, which has traditionally encouraged communal labor.

In Agona Mankrong, the local squad has taken over work on the 30-acre cocoa farm of Nana Kofi Sam. At 60 years of age, Mr. Sam can no longer cultivate it himself. In return for their labor, the 62 Mobisquad members receive one-third of the crop proceeds and have obtained the right to use two other pieces of Sam's land, a 20-acre farm now devoted to maize and a 500-acre farm set aside for future expansion.

Part of the farm was cultivated with new methods, which included using improved seeds, fertilizer, and precise planting and weeding schedules. Seeing the yield triple, other farmers in the area want squad members to teach them their techniques. Like a growing number of Mobisquads in Ghana, the one in Agona Mankrong has been formally registered as an agricultural cooperative.

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