Macondo Manika

For the first few months of this year, nothing happened (my fault) and then in what seemed like a blink of an eye, I had a grant approved, my community was building and I just placed orders on a couple mills. But let me back up a little. Although haphazard, there was a process.

A year ago now I conducted three separate needs assessments with three different groups in Macondo. It was to find out what community members felt the community needed. One group was all men, one mixed (predominantly men) and the third, women only. I used a simple matrix where each ‘need’ is pitted against the other in pairs and all individuals in the group vote on which of the two is more important to them. In the end, it becomes clear which ‘needs’ were deemed most important. There was a clear trend for all three groups what was desired more. A tractor as number one came as no surprise. Number two was a dam and third was a grinding mill.

A tractor was completely out of the question as the cost of one is well beyond the capacity of a Peace Corps grant. But even if it was not, it is a project I would be hesitant to partake in despite the real need for tractors in the Northern region. My boss from the project I am assigned to once called the Northern region the “tractor graveyard of Ghana.” And he is right – this is where tractors come to die. They do not seem to last for a mixture of reasons: the dust and intense sun wears them down faster, correct repair parts are difficult to come by (some brands are specialized and require same brand parts), poor maintenance, qualified mechanics are few and far between, funds for repairs are not prioritized. My counterpart also told me that if a machine is owned by a company or cooperative, it takes longer to fix because repair funds are not so willingly released but that if it were privately owned, the owner would get it fixed as soon as possible. And this makes sense – if a tractor is privately owned, the farmer is most likely a service provider to all the surrounding farmers and the tractor is a huge part of his livelihood; to miss out on a season of plowing would significantly affect his income. A loan from anywhere would most likely be worth it. A company, or an organization can afford to have one tractor out of commission every now and then.

As for the dam, that was swiftly benched when, during a meeting with the Macondo elders to discuss these priorities, it came out that where the dam would go could potentially reignite land disputes. And that it would be an extremely complicated and a long process to get permission from the paramount chief of the area because he holds the rights to water catchments. As in, the rights are attached to the title, so when a new chief is enskinned, he may have different ideas as to who has access to that dam. And to secure Macnodo’s right to the dam would mean having to call chiefs from the surrounding areas to witness the creation of essentially, this easement. I do not think the Macondo elders felt confident the easement would have been granted to them either.

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The beginnings of the housing structure

So, it came down to the mill, or in Mampruli, manika. Macondo has one all-purpose mill that services the needs of the entire community for household consumption as well as the small businesses. This old mill clonks out pretty regularly, thus affecting every day life. Especially that of women. It is women who use the mill, so when it is not in operation, they (or one of their kids) have to walk to the next town over to get the maize for dinner ground or the local porridge that they sell the following morning. It is time consuming and sometimes, causes the loss of the day’s income. Also, the women in Macondo process rice for household consumption and sale. They travel to the district capital or a town fifteen minutes away by taxi to mill the rice and sell at market or to wholesale buyers. So, Macondo could really benefit from having another mill.

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Building the walls, layer by layer. Note the mud balls on the floor that get molded into place.

Now, I knew nothing about mills (still do not know that much). I had to do some serious research and talk to professionals. It was only when I did this did I realize I had completely missed a step. For one, it was only then it became clear to me that an ‘all-purpose mill’ really meant ‘all-purpose grinding mill’ and therefore does not include dehusking rice. Rice requires a completely different machine. When I figured this out, I wondered how I could have missed something so obvious. I wondered what other crucial information I did not have. This meant that now, depending on the cost of a grinding and rice mill, the grant might only be able to get one. If so, which one? If we could get both, should we? As in, would the mills actually be used?

The only thing that was dead certain was that these mills had to be fuel powered as Macondo is without electricity. This was not a problem as in a discussion with my supervisor, he told me that the electric mill operator in the town he lives, wishes he had a fuel powered one because the frequent power outages affected his operability. What a fuel operated mill meant however was that it would not have enough power to separate chaff from grain. This posed the problem of, would the Macondo women use these mills if they had to manually winnow? After my day of research, I knew I had to hold a meeting with the women of Macondo to ask them many questions.

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The walls and door frames are in place! We need cement, wood and zinc!

Turns out, manual winnowing is something they have to do with any grain anyway, so this was not a problem. And a rice mill would be worth it because they would not have to carry their rice to mills in any other village or town for whatever reason they process rice. And fortunately also, the costs of both an all purpose grinding mill and a rice mill, could be covered by a $5,000 Feed the Future grant!

There was only one remaining problem – the rainy season was fast approaching and the community contribution was to be building the mill housing structure BUT the grant was to cover the zinc roofing sheets and wood. On top of all this, I had booked a month long vacation months before, thinking that I would not be busy during the hot (and building!) season. I had originally hoped to have the building done in February but for whatever reasons (all my fault), it was now April and I did not even have the grant approved yet.

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Love the veranda addition.

Working with Peace Corps staff, including my most excellent APCD, the grant was approved a week before I returned from my vacation and funds were available in the week I returned! But before we had this confirmation, we had to take the risk of beginning to build the housing structure before the rains came. The building was to be done in the traditional way using mud bricks, which is then plastered over in cement to enforce durability – the way the rain falls in Northern Ghana is brutal and can destroy a mud structure in a few hours if not plastered and maintained well.

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The clouds overhead are a clear sign rainy season is upon us – they worked so fast!

I need to take a moment to give serious kudos to the building team. First off, while I was away, they built the walls of the structure (including the cement plaster), which was the most they could do until we got the grant to purchase roofing materials. I love that I was not needed to supervise or motivate! Second, as soon the grant came in, we got the rest of the needed materials and the crew got the roof up in a day. They were not wasting any time and instead motivated me to get the orders in for the mills!

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Beautiful

I am in Tamale and just paid the deposit for the mills and bought the engine. The mills are custom made machines and I cannot wait until they are in Macondo and operational. Watch this space!

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