With the tagline­, “Lighting the world with recess,” U.S.-based nonprofit Empower Playgrounds has developed electricity-generating playground equipment that channels the unbridled liveliness of children in rural communities. So far, their merry-go-round and accompanying science kits have been brought to sixteen schools in Ghana.

Empower Playgrounds was founded in 2007 by ExxonMobil Research and Engineering’s former Vice President of Engineering, Ben Markham, and developed in partnership by Brigham Young University’s (BYU) engineering department. The team at BYU worked to design Empower Playgrounds’ merry-go-round so that the equipment captures the kinetic energy of the kids playing on it. This energy is then stored in a car battery that recharges several dozen portable LED lanterns. These lanterns were originally camping-grade models, but in 2009 Energizer became a sponsor of Empower Playgrounds and provided the organization with specifically designed LED lights. These new lights have a shelf life of five years and provide the equivalent of a 25-watt light bulb that lasts for over 40 hours.

Now, what is the big deal about these lights? Why is this technology so valuable?

Ghana’s location just above the equator does well to explain this need. Its location causes the country to experience around 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness each day. This means that Ghanaians are forced to spend around half their lives in the darkness. This affects the country’s young people in particular, because they are usually part of the daily agricultural work force while also trying to attend school. With a limited amount of daylight, young people are often forced to sacrifice their studies to help on the family farm.

Empower Playgrounds is providing these young people with the light they need to carry out their schoolwork after the day turns dark. The children at each school are divided by neighborhood into “lantern groups,” where they can study at night around the same lantern.

In addition to providing a valuable source of light, Empower Playgrounds’ equipment serves as a practical science lab, through which teachers can demonstrate concepts in mechanics, physics, and energy transfer. In collaboration with science equipment manufacturer Loose in the Lab, Empower Playgrounds has developed a science kit and lesson plans to teach these concepts using demonstrations on the merry-go-round.

Through these practical lessons and the provision of high-quality lanterns, children in Ghana have become more excited about going to school and helping to solve the electricity shortages in many rural areas of Ghana.

– Tara Young

Sources: Empower Playgrounds, Fast Company, Clean Technica, Revolve Magazine
Photo: Treehugger

According to Innovations for Poverty Actions (IPA), 50 percent of the rural population in Ghana lives in poverty. “In the Eastern Region, where the Mumuadu Rural Bank (MRB) operates, an estimated 70 percent of households make a living in the agricultural sector, but agricultural loans make up only 2 percent of the bank’s loan portfolio.”

Why? Because farmers are reluctant to take on loans out of fear that fluctuations in crop prices might lead them to default, while banks worry that the risks associated with farming might fall back on them.

Price fluctuations due to factors external to farm-holding directly affect farmers, who often barely have enough to pay for their own family’s survival. Baseline surveys suggest that there is an unexploited market for crop insurance as “farmers in the area served by MRB express that they would be willing to pay to guarantee a certain minimum crop price.”

Nevertheless, in addition to their reluctance to provide loans due to the associated risks, banks also face incomprehension from farmers because “insurance is not a commonly understood concept among farmers in the region.”

In coordination with the MRB, a system of loans, including a crop insurance parameter, was introduced in the region in order to ensure a form of insurance against low crop prices. The system went like this: if the price for eggplant fell below the 10th percentile of historical prices and the price of maize fell below the 7th percentile of historical prices, the bank would forgive 50 percent of the loan and interest payments.

The goal of introducing price insurance for maize and eggplant was to enable farmers to reduce the risk of investing in agricultural input and improve their harvesting capacity and technology. Eggplant and maize were targeted because both plants are widely grown in the region and have had volatile, but well documented prices.

The average loan size is $159, a substantial cash flow for a farmer in Eastern Ghana. The project was conducted at no cost among 84 farmers, and researchers at the MRB have been able to draw conclusions from the crop insurance experiment.

Although the sample size was small, crop insurance tended to be adopted by older people who had a record of borrowing. The reduced success of crop insurance might be explained by a lack of understanding of the risks and benefits associated with loans, or by the fact that price fluctuations might not be as important for investment as had so far been believed.

The MRB experiment conducted in Ghana paves the way toward improving agriculture in poor rural regions. Once the ideal loan and insurance system is established and once farmers are fully able to understand it, there is hope that farmers might invest in long-lasting technologies that will considerably improve their harvesting capacity. But, for farmers to make long-term investments, crop price fluctuation risks must be reduced to the maximum.

– Lauren Yeh

Sources: Innovation for Poverty Action, SOW
Photo: The Guardian

5 Innovative Ways to Adapt to Climate Change
1. Share Valuable Farming Tips

Farmers in Ghana can recall a time when farming was easier. “When I first started farming I didn’t have to put in so much effort to add nutrients to the land, and the yield was still very good. Now I have to put in extra soil nutrients,” said local farmer Clement Naazuin. Decades of intensified heat and wind, less rainfall, and unpredictable weather has taken its toll on the soil. Farmers in Ghana are taking advantage of an important resource, the Farmer Field School, which is organized by the government and multiple NGOs. Members of the community, like Clement, teach other farmers innovative farming techniques to help them adapt to climate change. Farmers, like Clement, are benefitting from the proposed solutions like composting, which cost nothing to implement. Farmers have broken with the tradition of planting on flat surfaces, which allows rain to wash away essential nutrients in the topsoil, and are now planting on ridges instead. Farmers in the Lawra District of Ghana are enjoying higher yields thanks to what they call “soil power.”

2. Listen to Regional Communities

Northern Kenya is trying something new, listening to the community when it comes to making decisions about solutions to climate change. Kenya is home to two different kinds of agriculturalists with very different ways of life, crop farmers and nomadic pastoralists. The government, when making changes to cope with climate change, was not able to address the needs of both. The new constitution, published in 2010, granted more decision making power to local governments. The Climate Adaptation Fund will be implemented this year, and each region gets to decide how to use their funds for projects that will help them adapt to climate change. Regional communities know best when it comes to their needs and workable solutions. One community opted to use its funding to start a local radio station. Everyone has access to a radio, even if they do not own one, which will keep farmers ahead of the game with local weather forecasts.

3. Take Advantage of Social Media

Global farmers who are tech-savvy and have access to a mobile phone can get up to date news about the changing climate. Kenyan farmer Julius Cheruiyot uses his phone to access the Young Volunteers for the Environment site for updates about the weather in his region, which has been more extreme and unpredictable in recent years. Knowing how much rainfall can be expected and when can make the difference between good yields and failed harvests. YVE also provides farmers with specialized tips, like suggesting which crops to plant in anticipation of changing weather patterns.

4. Long Term Planning from Policy Makers

Policymakers need to adapt their strategies as well in order to cope with a more unpredictable environment. After a devastating flood swept through the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, leaving 6,000 dead and destroying crucial infrastructure, Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna vowed to “do development differently.” Environmentalists have criticized the Chief Minister, saying the disaster was exacerbated by the tunnels that were blasted through the Himalayas to divert water for the construction of hydro-electric dams, at the risk of landslides. Chief Minister Bahuguna realized the need to think more sustainably, and has established the “Uttarakhand Relief and Reconstruction Authority,” which will involve scientists, geologists, and environmentalists in the development of construction projects in the future.

5. Be Prepared for Disasters

Let’s face it, with the reality of climate change already rearing its ugly head, at-risk regions need to be prepared for the inevitable disasters on the horizon. Early warning systems and shelters are crucial, but people also need to be informed about what to do in case of an emergency. Localities also need to be prepared for the aftermath, ensuring that people will have access to safe drinkable water. Being prepared also means smarter development. “Our exposure to extreme events is growing and this trend needs to be addressed through better land use and more resilient infrastructure as we seek to cope with population growth and rapid urbanization,” according to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, Margareta Wahlström.

– Jennifer Bills
Sources: UN News, BRAC Blog

Nets to Ghana
The Promoting Malaria Prevention and Treatment (ProMPT) Project in partnership with USAID and the Ghana Health Service has developed an innovative way to distribute mosquito nets in Ghana. The ProMPT project has delivered over 12 million mosquito nets to prevent the spread of malaria in Ghana. The four year project has given households training on how to use treated mosquito nets that are covered with insecticide to kills the mosquitoes. USAID was a major donor of the $20 million dollar project and support from the U.S. and Ghana governments was strong.

The Ghana Health Service has worked hard to educate citizens against malaria. The ProMPT project strengthened malaria prevention through door-to-door mosquito net distribution, increasing prevention efforts geared towards pregnant women, and improving malaria treatment in health care facilities. The project also utilized community volunteers to educate households on the proper way to hang a mosquito net.

USAID acknowledged the success of the project was only possible through the collaborative efforts of the USAID, the Ghana Health Service, and the government of Ghana. The holistic nature of the project and the inclusion of factors relating to prevention, education, and treatment led to a drastic reduction in malaria-caused deaths. Program officers encourage other organizations to adopt the collaborative model in other malaria prevention projects.

In Ghana, malaria is a major problem for the country’s overall health. Over 40% of outpatient illnesses and visits in health care facilities are contributed to malaria as well as a third of all admissions. The World Health Organization attributed around 14,000 annual childhood deaths in Ghana to malaria as well. The goal is to reduce the impact of malaria in Ghana by 75% by the year 2015.

The program worked to put at least one net in every dwelling place as well as educate health care workers on proper malaria management and prevention. Areas of focus were especially on women who are pregnant and health care facility management of malaria care. The program has so far trained 21,000 health care workers in over 2,000 health care facilities. The ProMPT project officially ended in March,but Ghana plans to continue the efforts began in the prevention of malaria.

– Amanda Kloeppel

Source: Science Codex
Photo: Ghana Health Nest


For some who remain in poverty, the opportunity to enter more developed nations like the United Kingdom could positively impact the lives of their families for generations. Recently, however, the government of the United Kingdom has announced that they will soon begin to raise visa fees for those from high risk countries. Citizens of India, Ghana, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Sri Lanka will have to pay a £3,000 cash bond ($4,625 USD), almost double people renewing a visa from within the U.K. pay.

In 2011, Prime Minister David Cameron initiated a per capita cash bond system across the board for immigrants applying for visas for additional members of their families. The reasoning behind the change was to ensure that income levels of sponsors were high enough, which was supposed to mean fewer people applying for residency in the U.K. become a burden to taxpayers later. Ideally, the bonds are also intended to deter overstaying and recover funds if the immigrants use public services.

An unnamed government official has said that the countries were chosen based on their “risk of abuse” of the immigration system. For instance, a recent report from the Daily Mail revealed that U.K. colleges and universities had reported 106,698 warnings to United Kingdom Border Agency for the 2011-2012 school year alone. Such abuses of the system included losing their sponsorship from the host school or dropping out altogether, both of which may be grounds for deportation on a student visa. However, barely one in 1,000 reported cases results in deportation, allowing over 100,000 people to remain in the country under false pretenses. Nevertheless, Cameron’s overall goal is to have the United Kingdom’s net annual migration down to 100,000 people by 2015.

Despite the abuses, the fact remains that such a change would adversely affect those from poor backgrounds. Such a high price for entering the UK will bar many from doing so, regardless of whether or not they are highly skilled or educated.

– Samantha Mauney
Source: The Sun, The Daily Mail, UKBA, NDTV
Photo: The Asians


Rice farming in Botanga, Ghana, has seen an increase in productivity due to an agricultural project funded by the USAID.  The Agricultural Development and Value Chain Enhancement (ADVANCE) program started two years ago to help farmers who use the lands of the Botanga Irrigation Scheme. The program was designed to increase productivity.

Marketing companies and produce buyers were brought into the project to help the rice farmers grow and cultivate improved rice varieties. Currently around 600 farmers are farming the land and many of them have benefited from the ADVANCE project. The rice cultivated is used mainly for cereal and vegetables. The project brought in combine harvesters that have improved rice harvesting and helped to lower some of the post-harvest losses in Botanga. Rice farmers were educated on better farming techniques. They were shown how to create nurseries and replant with adequate spacing to ensure better yields for future crops. The ADVANCE project also helped improve the business side of rice farming.  Farmers were offered support in selling crops and provided information and expert knowledge on controlling pests and disease.

Food insecurity is a major issue across all developing nations and Ghana is no exception. The USAID-ADVANCE project hoped to improve food security and increase the incomes of households of rice farmers in the Botanga region.  A value-chain method was developed to allow farmers access to all parts of the production process such as input dealers, seed suppliers, and produce buyers.  The method starts first with identifying a buyer and demand for the product to ensure crops can be sold. Premium Foods and AMSIG Resources were two buyers linked to the rice farmers. The buyers then developed contracts with the farmers that provide support, weed control, seeds, and an agreed upon price to buy the rice from the farmers.

Since the ADVANCE program began, 29,000 low income farmers are being supported. These farmers grow maize, rice, and soybeans. They are getting the help they need to grow successful crops and are being paid a fair market price for their produce. 269 demonstration sites have also been set up to show farmers new technology and how to best utilize it.  The introduction of infrastructure and technology have helped Botanga rice farmers improve their lifestyles. The project also falls in line with President Obama’s Feed the Future initiative.

– Amanda Kloeppel
Source: GhanaWeb

Ghana NGO Seeks to End Poverty through Education
The Campaign For Female Education (CAMFED), a non-governmental organization in Ghana that seeks to remedy the challenges that girls face in completing their education, is benefiting from a large grant from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development. The project is called “Accountable Grants” and allocates several million dollars to young females in the country’s poorest districts.

The support would cover food rations for girls living in hostels, schooling expenses and fees, and textbooks. The Education Program Manager for CAMFED, Cyril Yabepone, has said that poverty remains a significant factor in the retention of young girls. This is especially true in the country’s northern region.

The £9.5million grant (an equivalent of almost 14.5 million USD) allows for CAMFED to expand to a total of thirty districts across the country and provide support for 20,000 girls who previously risked losing their education due to their family’s inability to pay. It would also provide training for the teachers of the affected girls, and provide them (the grant beneficiaries) with mentoring to ensure their success.

The country’s leaders, in order to ensure the success of the program as a whole, are calling on parents, teachers, administrators, and tribal leaders to support it. As one government official summarizes, “education is the panacea for development.”

– Samantha Mauney

Source: Ghana Business News
Photo: The Peace Blog

africa nation economic growth

Africa promises a bright new future. Population projections show that in the next 25 years Africa will more than recover its population losses from the ’80s and ’90s. At the same time, investment companies see Africa as having some of the world’s most promising opportunities for sharp economic growth.

1. South Africa is the leading economy in the continent. South Africa plays the role of the continent’s economic powerhouse, by providing the continent’s other countries with goods and services, as well as investments. South Africa has a stake in seeing the standard of living rise in its potential trading partners and that this will continue to stimulate economic growth in the continent.

2. Nigeria has a large population base and a thriving petroleum export business. Nigeria is consolidating political reform, as exemplified by two peaceful transfers of power within the past decade. Nigeria also has demonstrated its prowess in mobile telecommunications technology.

3. Angola is growing rapidly due to oil exports. Angola’s economy is vulnerable because it lacks diversity but for the time being it is rapidly expanding its infrastructure as part of a controversial “infrastructure for oil” trade agreement with China, which critics believe benefits the Chinese more than the Angolans.

4.  Ghana is “one of the fastest growing economies in the world.” Ghana’s economic growth is based primarily on its oil production, but  political and economic reforms that were in place nearly two decades before oil was discovered in 2007, play a major role in the country’s long-term economic prospects and sustainability, even though Ghana’s rate of growth will not remain at its current astronomical levels.

5. Ethiopia represents a huge market that can drive economic growth and integration in the Horn of Africa region. Ethiopia’s economic growth has been fueled by hydroelectric power, which enables it to export electricity to neighboring countries. Ethiopia has also benefited from large-scale government investment in agriculture, industrialization, and infrastructure.

-Essee Oruma

Source: Christian Science Monitor

Cassava Beer_opt
When people think about Africa, breathtaking savannas teaming with migratory wildlife is generally the first thought that comes to mind. What doesn’t come to mind, however, is a robust micro-brewing industry that utilizes the fermentation properties of the locally sourced cassava plant. In an attempt to challenge previously held notions regarding beer brewing in Africa, production of Impala brand cassava beer is helping to usher in new economic opportunities for Ghanaian farmers.

Thanks to the investment of brewer SABMiller, Impala beer – brewed from the cassava plant – was recently launched in Ghana. How does cassava beer help economic development in Africa? Until recently, cassava farming had been dismissed as an economic failure due to the high costs associated with transferring and processing the root-like product.

Enter innovative DATCO engineers and their ingenious development of a mobile cassava processing unit that enables cassava harvesting to be economically feasible. So for those rural cassava farmers previously hampered by transportation constraints, the new processing units and subsequent production of cassava beer will help to bolster demand for their crops, leading to greater economic gains.

In regards to SABMiller’s investment in cassava beer and the economic benefits to local farmers, Accra Brewery Director Adjoba Kyiamah noted that though more than 70% of Ghanaian farms, most of which grow cassava, are 3 hectares or smaller, there is a current annual surplus of around 40%.

The economic possibilities that stem from both the production and sales of Impala brand cassava beer are nothing less that astonishing, and underpins the business sustainability currently lacking from many developing countries. Remarked SABMiller Director Mark Bowman, “The idea here then is to try and create a win-win proposition, where we have a strong group of farmers contracted to producing grains for us of whatever form.”

Brian Turner

Source: How we Made it in Africa
Photo: Hanna Clark Steinman

Israel's Early Childhood Development Education Program
Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation (MASHAV) recently completed training forty Ghanaian teachers in an early childhood development course. Thanks to the Embassy of Israel, Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) and the Ghana Education Service (GES), over a hundred teachers have now been trained to teach preschool and kindergarten in Ghana.

The extensive program lasted for two weeks and focused on early childhood education. Teachers left the program with a higher knowledge of children’s learning principles, the needs of young children, what curriculum to teach, and appropriate games. By giving special attention to young students, Ghana hopes to build a better foundation for its future workforce and overall societal well being.

This partnership between Israel and Ghana will likely produce hundreds more early education teachers, something for which Ghana is desperate. Not only will more teachers be trained in Israel, but those who completed the program will go on to spread their new knowledge to other teachers in Ghana, thus creating a web of well-educated preschool and kindergarten teachers throughout the country.

The Early Childhood Development Education program is now in its fourth year in Kumasi and its second year in Accra. Both countries expect to have a long relationship as they continue to see positive results in Ghana’s early education system.

– Mary Penn

Source: GBN
Photo: Flickr