January 28, 2008 We bought a radio last week and now are able to listen to BBC World Service with news on the hour. It’s truly wonderful to be somewhat in touch with world events. I listened with interest and incredulity to this morning’s 8:00 broadcast. They reported a news item from WHO (the World Health Organization) saying that the number of people in the world with obesity now outnumbers those suffering from hunger. I wonder if this statement can possibly be accurate. Every hour I see hungry people. There are at least 50,000 hungry people in this part of Northern Ghana, either experiencing or on the verge of malnutrition. Nearly everyone of every age is very lean, it seems everyone needs more food. This particular time of year, when the stored grains and ground nuts from harvest are dwindling and before the rains and farming season begins, is known as the “hungry” season. Food is never, ever discarded. Obesity doesn’t exist – in fact David and I are extremely well padded compared to anyone else in these parts. After experiencing just a small bit of the hunger problem in West Africa, it is hard for me to believe that obesity could possibly exceed hunger as a world problem. For us, the weekend was occupied with trying to increase food available in the Nabdam area. We attended lengthy meetings with two of the committees in which we are involved; one with dry season farmers and another with the recently formed Nabdam development committee. The dry season farmers defined the most important projects to help them. Repair of several small dams to allow for irrigation is their top priority. There have been many small, earth fill dams here for irrigation; they seem to fail often. I wonder if it is the engineering, the construction, or the heavy rains over a short period in the wet season. Repair of the dams would involve financing by the government, a process which requires influential people advocating for the repairs. We have two possibilities in that regard – Technoserve (an NGO that works with farmers) and the local MP (member of Parliament). We hope to visit one of the dams tomorrow with a Technoserve representative and then write a few letters in an attempt to get things rolling. Fencing is repeatedly mentioned as the second most important item of importance to dry season farmers. We have found that agencies providing aid to farmers are reluctant to pay for fencing, using the rationale that seeds, fertilizer, and pesticide for several farmers can be purchased for the cost of fencing a single garden. Aid organizations would rather spend money on less costly seeds/fertilizer/etc. The farmers, on the other hand, would rather buy those items themselves and get aid for fencing. The dry season farmers throughout Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Mali build a rustic barrier of millet stalks and a few sturdy tree branches if available. The fence can be trampled by either a donkey or cow without too much trouble. The farmers must sleep in their gardens at night with a torch, and in the company of both mosquitoes and snakes. The farmers are both anxious to get back to their farms and clearly fatigued during the meetings. After the last meeting, I think we are going to more thoroughly investigate the cost of fencing. The Nabdam development committee continues to focus on a school feeding program at lunch. The committee has done a good job at getting enrollment information for the Nabdam schools, arranging for food storage, and organizing parents for food preparation. All we need is the food! What a challenge to get enough food to provide a 20 cent lunch for 10,000 students during the 8-10 weeks at the end of the dry season yet before harvest. I am getting a bit fatigued myself right now, more on this later.
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