Ghana: why joining efforts will help improve disaster risk reduction efforts
It's no mystery that UN agencies in the country are not always aware of the overlaps in their work with different government counterparts. If we are committed to delivering the 2030 Agenda, we need integrated policy support at the country level. This is exactly what we aimed to provide at the data group in UN Ghana when we discovered that the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Food Programme (WFP) were offering potentially complementary types of support to the government.
In the case of UNDP, the team is providing support to the National Disaster Management Organization (NADMO) to establish a scientific and people-centered disaster early warning system with critical data and information flows under the Community Resilience through Early Warning (CREW) project. The World Food Programme is testing weekly market price data collection by market enumerators, using mobile technologies innovations with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA). This project is helping to cut down the collection times while providing information in real time. With the support of FAO, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture launched an E-Agriculture programme that provides affordable and efficient agricultural service delivery through the internet.
Although these interventions aimed to provide farmers and government with access to more timely information, they had not been tested with local communities. We knew that two heads (in this case, three) think better than one so we partnered up on agricultural disaster information, e.g., the Fall Armyworm (FAW) that had been infesting farms in different regions at great cost to Ghana and where timely reporting, diagnosis and treatment is essential.
Start small, test and learn as you go along
Our UN-government teams came together to think about the most feasible approach to bringing the existing work of MoFA’s Agricultural Extension Agents (AEAs) and the disaster volunteer groups (DVGs) from NADMO to work with local farming communities.
Rather than come up with yet another new app or solution, we went for the most pragmatic solution: to see if it was possible to integrate relevant areas of MoFA’s E-Agriculture and NADMO’s EOC/CREW systems. More precisely, the focus was on testing the introduction of a few new variables into the National Farmer Database, an existing application of MoFA. This app is used by the agricultural extension agents. The goal was to join up efforts on the ground by allowing the disaster volunteer groups to use the app and report on agriculture related disasters.
By collaborating and sharing data, particularly at the local level, farming communities could benefit from a joined-up response.
Critical to adapt app to realities in the field
While the developers worked on integrating the new variables into the app and giving the DVGs access, we visited the two proposed pilot districts (Akatsi and Techiman, where UN agencies are already providing support) with the government to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the existing information flows. Once the app was ready, the joint team went back to the field, this time to test the app. We engaged the Regional IT and Emergency Operation Center (EOC) managers. The joint NADMO-MoFA team and we also met with technical staff at the district level to pitch the revamped app.
The disaster volunteers and the extension agents received training on how to use the app. They also learned how to install pheromone traps and read catches of Fall Armyworms on the traps to send the information to the app, with the geolocation of the farms preloaded. We all also went to the market centers to get information on food prices and compare it with what is available through the portal setup with the support of WFP.
Inspiration can be found everywhere, including on Silo Fighters
The most challenging piece of the puzzle for us was figuring out the sustainability of the business/delivery model and the need to look at how services can be delivered more sustainably, including through e-platforms. At the moment, information on the integrated app will be provided for free given equity considerations. Connectivity is typically paid for by the project concerned as many government entities struggle to pay for IT and connectivity in the field, but this is not sustainable in the long run. In comparison, there is a somewhat similar private sector alternative (app by ESOKO in collaboration with Vodafone) which charges for its service (a nominal price of Ghc2/month) to support cost recovery although it is free in some other countries where the provider spreads the cost over the value chain. As a next step, government partners will continue to test the app beyond the initial pilot and explore how to provide this service sustainably. The second concern we had was how to make joined-up efforts and interoperability of systems the default. While Ghana has a government interoperability framework (GIF) in place, it was not widely known or applied
Last but certainly not least, we want to thank our colleagues in Guatemala for sharing their data initiatives on Silo Fighters a few months ago! As the UN data group, we were inspired by their “Busting silos in statistical capacity in Guatemala” blog post which shed light on data initiatives and how to make a difference by bringing different comparative advantages, solutions and engagements together!