Meet Mussah* (not his real name), a 66-year-old farmer residing in Pusiga, a border community in the Upper East Region of Ghana. Mussah’s life took a remarkable turn when he became a member of a Livelihood Project implemented in his community by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Ghana – the fenced garden initiative. Mussah tells us his journey of transformation, from struggling to make ends meet to becoming a successful and self-sufficient farmer through the innovative practices of the community gardening project.

“I have over 12 years of experience in farming, and as you can see, I am currently ploughing the land to turn over the soil, to bring fresh nutrients to the surface to get ready for the rains and plant some cabbage. In the past, I have planted pepper, corn, onions, groundnut etc. so I know when to plant what crop to give the most yield for money,” said Mussah.

Mussah working on his garden. Photo: IOM Ghana/Angela Bortey

IOM Ghana, in collaboration with STAR Ghana Foundation, commenced the implementation of the Community Livelihoods Enhancement Project in September 2022 in three border communities; Pusiga, Kulungugu and Paga, in Ghana’s Upper East Region. Disturbances in neighbouring Burkina Faso, following attacks by violent extremists and non-state armed groups, have resulted in the influx of displaced persons into the northern parts of Ghana. As a consequence, border communities in those areas have become vulnerable to the potential infiltration and exploitation by violent extremist organizations owing to their historical socio-economic vulnerabilities, including rising youth unemployment and limited access to basic social services. The situation is further compounded by the activities of violent extremist groups in the Sahel region.

In response to these challenges in the north, IOM carried out a survey to understand the security perception and vulnerabilities of selected communities, including Pusiga, Kulungugu and Paga. Town hall meetings were organized in each community to discuss and validate the findings and recommendations of the survey. Dialogue platforms were established in the communities to help build trust and improve the relationship between the community members and local authorities and security services). The dialogue platforms also serve as a mechanism to work on some of the survey recommendations.

In consultation with community members and district assemblies, interventions that address the needs of the communities were identified: fenced gardens, mechanized boreholes and water pumps to support dry-season farming; drought-resistant improved seedlings and fertilizer, as well as agri-based skills training.

“We came up with the idea of the fenced gardens initiative, which together with the boreholes and water pumps, help especially our women and youth to have access to income generating activities all year round,” said Monica Mbatiig, a Dialogue Platform member in Pusiga.

Members of the dialogue platfrom in Pusiga. Photo: IOM Ghana/Angela Bortey

It is expected that the livelihood support will lead to improved resilience and reduce the vulnerability of the communities to exploitation by violent extremist organizations.

“This project has not only empowered me as a farmer. It has also shown me that there are positive paths to success, inspiring me and others to resist the temptation of violent extremists," said Mussah. “Thanks to the fenced garden, my life as a farmer has been completely transformed. I no longer worry about struggling to make ends meet. The increased income from my thriving garden has provided stability for my family and allowed me to even add a side hustle of rearing and selling domestic livestock.”

The fenced gardens will directly reach 90 participants (30 per community) and in-directly, about 500 beneficiaries. In Pusiga, the average garden size per participant is about 25 square kilometres.

“When I saw the fenced land, I was dumfounded. The fencing has been a game-changer for me. At first, we used wood, but cows are huge and can just push it over. We had to go into the bush to cut down trees to build the fence, else the cows would destroy the crops. Almost every week, I had to go into the bush looking for wood to fence the garden instead of using my time to weed or do something productive on the farm.”

Before joining the project, Mussah said, he had faced numerous challenges in his farming endeavours. Limited land availability, intrusion of donkeys, cows and goats, coupled with unpredictable weather patterns, and access to water all year round, made it difficult for him to cultivate crops efficiently. His income was meagre, and providing for his family was an everyday struggle.

“The materials used now for fencing are sturdy wire mesh and durable metal poles. This has provided a reliable boundary that protects my crops from unwanted intruders coming to harvest where they have not planted. This fencing not only secures my investments but also helps me implement better crop management practices. I can now strategically control livestock grazing on the farm because we need the cow dung as fertilizers, prevent crop damage from roaming animals, and create a more organized farming system. And it spares me time from going into the bush to cut down trees. It's a simple, yet essential tool that enhances the overall productivity and efficiency of my farm."

The newly fenced garden benefits the whole community. Photo: IOM Ghana/Angela Bortey

Mussah shared that he has already felt very profound impacts as he no longer relies on external inputs such as chemical fertilizers. Through the trainings he received through the project, he now uses organic farming practices, cultivates healthier crops contributing to improved food security for his family and the wider community. Thanks to the mechanized borehole and sustainable irrigation methods, he also has access to water all year round to sustain his farm, regardless of changing rainfall patterns which northern Ghana experiences due to climate change.

“When I was told that boreholes were added, I couldn’t believe it. Because all these things are exactly what we need as farmers in this part of Ghana! The mechanized boreholes have revolutionized my farming operations. Now, with reliable and consistent water supply, I no longer worry about the unpredictability of rainfall. These boreholes have become my lifeline, enabling me to irrigate my crops efficiently and maintain optimal moisture levels throughout the year. The access to water will also expand my farming possibilities, allowing me to cultivate high-value crops - and with this, all year round, whether rain or shine, I dey inside [*I can still farm]. In fact, this project has really really empowered me to farm with confidence and secure a more prosperous future. Thank you, IOM!"

Water from the newly constructed borehole. Photo: IOM Ghana/Angela Bortey

Mussah's success story exemplifies the power of innovative agricultural practices in empowering farmers and fostering resilient communities.

The project was made possible as part of the United Nations Trust Fund on Human Security (UNTHS) funded "Enhancing Community Resilience and Social Cohesion amongst Select Border Communities in Northern Ghana" project, and the "Enhancing border community stabilization along the northern land borders of Ghana” project funded by the Government of Japan.

SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities