In Ghana, Returnees Rebuild their Lives and Feed their Communities

In Ghana, Returnees Rebuild their Lives and Feed their Communities

Bono - In 2019, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) partnered with BOK Africa Concern, a Ghana-based NGO, to develop community reintegration projects in the Bono and Bono East regions of Ghana. These regions are among those that have recorded the highest rate of return of migrants stranded in Libya since 2017. Through the partnership, eight unique projects bringing together returnees and community members were developed and implemented in 2020 amid COVID-19, today providing livelihood opportunities for almost 600 people.

After living in Libya for five years, Justice returned to Ghana in 2018 with IOM’s support. A native of the Tuobodom Community in the Techiman District of the Bono East Region, he was a barber before he decided to leave Ghana in search for new opportunities.

“Life was hard, and I needed to take care of my family. My friend told me about opportunities in Europe. He encouraged me to come over,” Justice explains.

However, not everything went as planned and Justice ended up staying in Libya in conditions which he describes as “hell”. Fortunately, he was able to safely return home.

“Most households in Bono and Bono East have a migration story,” explains Florian Braendli, Project Manager at IOM Ghana. “In these regions, migration is primarily driven by a lack of economic opportunities, especially for youth,” he adds. Globally, one of the main drivers of migration is a lack of economic opportunities. The main regions of return in Ghana, including Bono East, are not an exception.

Aware of these dynamics, IOM and its partners launched various community reintegration projects for returnees like Justice to re-establish themselves and to contribute to the sustainable development of their communities.

Rebuilding one’s life after a difficult migration experience can be overwhelming, especially when the community’s socio-economic situation is fragile. Therefore, IOM implements community-based reintegration projects to ensure that returning migrants and community members work hand in hand for the benefit of everyone.

The projects are conceptualised to create jobs and economic opportunities for youths which simultaneously is expected to reduce the risks of irregular migration.

This approach focuses on collaboration between returnees and community members, as it has proven to increase the communities’ absorption capacity of their returning members, and to build cohesion within the communities as it facilitates interaction and draws on individual expertise. 

“We were encouraged to form groups, and I was lucky to become part of a farming collective,” Justice says. “We are five men; two are returnees from Libya, and the other two are members of the community who were going through tough economic situations. We developed a business plan and decided to farm tomatoes and cabbage. Today, we are cultivating two out of the four acres allocated to us. Hopefully, after the first harvest, we will have enough resources to expand and cultivate all acres,” he adds.

Additionally, IOM and its partners embarked on a project to help increase the knowledge on environmentally sustainable methods. Justice and his team participated in one of five trainings on bio-entomology organised by BOK Africa Concern across the Bono and Bono East Regions, teaching the farmers how to manage biological pest control.

Justice is hopeful. “We learnt modern farming methods including the production of pesticides and herbicides on a natural basis. Our farm looks beautiful. The group farming has helped us collectively achieve much more than we could have achieved individually.”

“The training helps the participating farmers to become independent from industrially produced agro-chemicals and increases their revenue, while producing healthy food in harmony with nature,” explains Benson Obeng-Savio Boateng, Executive Director of BOK Africa Concern.

Agriculture is one of the main areas of income in the Bono and Bono East regions, and the reason for the choice of business for this and a series of other reintegration projects.

A similar example is the establishment of a cassava processing factory in Mesidan, to produce gari, a staple dish across West Africa. Cassava is the main cash crop produced in the region. Although Mesidan was already engaged in Gari processing, the conditions were often unhygienic, processes inefficient and equipment inadequate. The IOM supported project thus sought to modernise their Gari processing activity and to encourage the youthful returnees and potential migrants to be part of the value chain.

The Chief and the local assembly members were instrumental in the implementation of the project. As their contribution, the community provided one acre of land and was responsible for communal and skilled labour, including clearing of the land and construction work.

The factory was completed and handed over to the community on 6 June 2020 and includes a workshop structure with office, storage space, wet area, and washing troughs; four grating and straining machines; a mechanized borehole with water tower; 12 sieves, four aluminium fryers, and two weighing scales; and a simple dual bathhouse. The hygienic conditions of the production have been improved immensely in comparison to previous practices.

The factory directly employs three people who manage the facility, and 70 others (15 returnees, 23 men, 47 women) indirectly benefit from an income as they work to peel, wash, grind, sieve, press, fry, weigh, pack and mill the cassava, as well as market the finished product.

At full capacity, the community can produce up to 70 bags a week (in comparison to 14 bags previously), thus a 400% increase. The gari processing factory is expected to allow the youthful population, both men and women, including returnees, to find a livelihood opportunity at any point of the Gari value chain from engaging in farming, production or marketing, and increase their income levels.

“The strong ownership and interest demonstrated by the local community during the implementation period has been outstanding. The projects are providing the opportunity to impact these communities positively, creating jobs and social cohesion,” stresses Benson Savio-Boateng.

With the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country, the challenges and vulnerabilities of youths and migrants, especially in rural areas, have increased.  

“It was therefore crucial to continue the implementation of the projects under observation of COVID-19 prevention and protection protocols, and adapting to the challenges. Amid the immediate COVID-19 response and together with our partners, IOM has run information sessions on prevention and protection against the virus alongside community activities. Now, we continue to promote safe migration and work to ensure no one is left behind in the national COVID-19 response, including migrants,” explains Florian Braendli.

Since the beginning of the projects in January 2020, around 600 people have been directly involved (210 men, 405 women) across all eight projects, out of which 159 were returnees.

The eight projects in the Bono and Bono East regions are part of the “Assistance to Ghanaian returnees and potential migrants” project (December 2018-July 2020), funded by the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ), through the Ghanaian-German Centre for Jobs, Migration and Reintegration (GGC). Sustainable and holistic reintegration through community-based projects is key to all of IOM Ghana’s reintegration programmes including the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration and funded by the European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa.