The Miracle Middle
How might we make Ghana more food secure moving into 2050?
Lead Applicant Organization Name
International Development Enterprises (iDE)
Lead Applicant Organization Type
Large NGO (over 50 employees)
If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.
Website of Legally Registered Entity
How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?
Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?
Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?
Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?
Northern Ghana, consisting of Northern, Upper East, and Upper West provinces equal a total of 60,709 km^2
What country is your selected Place located in?
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
iDE began working in northern Ghana in 2010 promoting smallholder irrigation systems. In doing so, we learned we were only scratching the surface of addressing the systemic challenges in northern Ghana’s overall market ecosystem. In response, we began listening to the people in northern Ghana - farmers, market queens, business owners, subject matter experts, public and private stakeholders, and more. We launched a sanitation social enterprise, selling a user-designed latrine and creating an agricultural model based around joint venture serviced plots that derisk buyer contracts to smallholder farmers to provide empowering agronomic capacity building. We determined that significant interventions in the entire northern Ghanaian food system would be necessary to wholly improve farmers’ participation in and benefit from their local food system. In the process, we also found that there is a thriving entrepreneurial sector with the potential to lead this pivotal transformation. This is what makes this Place so compelling as we futurecast a thriving, inclusive food system by 2050.
Northern Ghana is a place of deep connection for our team. Our local leadership team has roots all over the country, and those not from the northern region have made intentional moves to be based out of the regional hub, Tamale, in order to more effectively affect systemic transformation directly in the north. Despite our ultimate aim to scale, our team is often found engaging closely with each individual toilet business owner, smallholder farmer, or sales agent, because that is simply the ethos of our organizations. We have gained in-depth market insights and learned directly from rural households’ about their aspirations, challenges, and what might work as a sustainable solution. While this may take heavy upfront investment, we hypothesize that by prioritizing these deep connections, we will be able to affect and scale systems change quicker and more effectively in the long run.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
Upon leaving Accra by car, you begin the 11 hour journey to Tamale. The road is crowded, potholed, marked with informal stalls - mostly run by women wearing babies and dressed in colorful fabrics - selling everything from mangoes, chickens, and old bicycle parts. The landscape is lush and the temperature is, in a word, hot. You stop for red red, a robust mixture of beans, plantains, and palm oil -- the color matches the earth. The restaurant owner lights up when you tell her you are headed for Tamale, but the smile quickly fades as she shares that while her family is from there, is hard for her to return to the north, “Everyone is so poor,” she says, “I go to the market and can barely find vegetables.” When you finally reach Tamale, you realize the “hot” you felt in Accra was not hot at all compared to the grueling heat you feel now.
Northern Ghana has historically been an isolated part of the country due to years of conflict between various tribes and colonizing actors. This, coupled with poor road infrastructure and a primarily Muslim North and Christian South, divides the country with significant physical, sociocultural, and economic barriers between the North and the South. As the South has modernized and become a thriving cultural hub in West Africa, the North has remained far removed from new investments and international attention.
Despite this, the rural north has transformative agricultural potential and, in fact, currently grows most of the food in Ghana with 75% of the population participating in agriculture in some way. As a patriarchal society, land is owned exclusively by men, who give their wife or wives portions of their land to maintain. Most families live on an average of $1.75 a day. While there is potential for two growing seasons, most Ghanaian farmers only farm during the wet season because they lack access to the water, training, and technologies to farm in the dry season.
Despite all this potential, northern Ghana is also the most food insecure region of Ghana. Vegetables such as leafy greens, onions, or tomatoes are either low quality or nonexistent. More nutritious and diverse foods are transported and traded between Accra and neighboring countries pass through the North, but don’t stop. As a result, the diets of Northern inhabitants consist of primarily staple foods: maize, millet, yams. These staples can be turned into a variety of dishes such as TZ and banku. They are filling and familiar. Past attempts to add more nutrition to this diet have garnered limited success - people eat what they know.
Northern Ghana can feel like the middle of nowhere until you step into the markets and city centers where commercial farmers, market queens, and traders thrive. You are reminded of the stalls you passed in Accra and sense the connection the market plays in connecting the North to the South. This is the center of transformation.
What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
Nestled deep in the center of Tamale behind a square of unassuming buildings is the main market. Against the brown backdrop of the town, the market is a sharp contrast of sensory overload - everything you could ever need is here if only you know where to go. However, upon deeper inspection, you’ll find that the greens available are wilted and overpriced. Baskets full of tiny, bruised tomatoes lay untouched in the sun. The colors that overwhelmed you upon entering the market slowly fade as you struggle to find enough options for a simple salad or stir fry.
In many respects, Ghana is a thriving emerging economy, home to one of the fastest growing populations in Africa. However, this growth is concentrated in the southern part of the country, and where southern Ghana lacks resources, they can much more accessibly import goods to meet demands. Outside of imported foods, most of the country’s food comes from the much more isolated north. The challenges facing northern Ghana’s food system in 2020 are related to every component of the food system. Each component is linked, and a failure in one area causes weakness in another.
Environmentally, the increasing impacts of climate change burden farmers with a growing need to invest in climate-smart technologies to protect their crops and produce a diverse offering. With extended periods of little to no rain and other climate-related risks incredibly high, farmers are too risk-averse to grow anything new or water-intensive. In 2050, our world will be even hotter and drier, and the population of Ghana will have grown substantially. If the existing food system of 2020 remains stagnant, it will fail to support the country of Ghana.
Diets in the north are known for being heavily starch-based, and the food culture contributes to the continuance of diets reliant of core Ghanaian dishes like fufu and “red red,” dishes made up of beans, cassava, and plantains. Particularly in the north, the culture of normalcy around rotating staple dishes made up of these base ingredients has caused a lack of demand for a diverse diet.
Economically, northern Ghana lacks a competitive business environment that fosters diversity, innovation, and growth. Small business looking to introduce a new food or technology face a high risk environment, as there is no government incentive or support to fall back on. Because most entrepreneurs cannot afford such high risks, new products are rarely introduced or available. In terms of policy, the interests of multiple stakeholders overlap across numerous seasonal and geographical areas; however, the necessary alignment of all of these interests, resources and capabilities in order for vegetable farmers to optimize their production leaves a small window for maximizing success on the farm.
By 2050, the challenge in policy is creating increased coordination among stakeholders, so governments and private stakeholders with influence can support more a more inclusive market ecosystem.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
Our vision in 2050 is to see a network of “Miracle Zones, which will be either physical or digital spaces of trade and collaboration among all stakeholders in the food system. From multinational firms to small-to-medium sized companies (SMEs), to smallholder farmers, to regional input retailers, to traders, to buyers, to the local government, Miracle Zones achieve transformative change by creating shared benefit among all stakeholders. These Miracle Zones specifically address the needs of what is now the "missing middle," and what in 2050 will be called the “Miracle Middle.” The Miracle Middle is made up of the economic class of the farmers, community leaders, small business owners, and community members who are all impacted by the food system in different ways. The Miracle Middle is the crux of the northern Ghanaian food system in 2050 - they are the ones driving the supply and demand of food, and the impact of their actions on the environment and policies are front and center in these Zones.
A central reason the Miracle Zone network could be established was that local leaders understood the importance of human-centric, participatory planning processes between community members and wider market actors, including coordination of production and sales and consideration of their communities’ demand for food and nutrition-related products for consumption. This culture of connection, coordination, and collaboration, paired with the urgent change required due to climate change, has expanded environmentally-beneficial farming methods, such as permaculture, biodynamic farming systems, or other forms of conservation agriculture. This culture has also fostered the integration of other cultures and food preferences in Ghana.
The result? By 2050, northern Ghana’s “Missing Middle” will be an idea of the past, replaced with the realization of the aspirations, possibilities, and passions of the “Miracle Middle.”
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
How might we make Ghana more food secure moving into 2050? For starters, we would transform northern Ghana into the epicenter of nutritious food production and consumption in Ghana by radically connecting people to inclusive and diverse markets.
This is the future iDE envisions 2050 in northern Ghana. In a food culture heavily reliant on starches, on water-scarce land that requires significant capital to farm non-drought resistant horticultural crops, in an economy that doesn’t incentivize or foster an inclusive environment for MSMEs, this challenge is daunting. The immediate need to feed the country’s people and to make nutritious foods accessible adds further urgency to the cause.
Our vision in 2050 is to see a network of “Miracle Zones, which will be either physical or digital spaces of trade and collaboration amongst all stakeholders in the food system. These Miracle Zones specifically address the needs of the “Miracle Middle,” the economic class made up of the farmers, community leaders, small business owners, and community members who are all impacted by the food system in different ways. The Miracle Middle is the crux of the northern Ghanaian food system in 2050 - they are the ones driving the supply and demand of food, and the impact of their actions on the environment and policies are front and center in these Zones. In other words, each Miracle Zone is locally-owned, one-stop relationship network that links producers, input companies, buyers and processing companies, financial institutions, as well as public and private extension agents. Farmers can come together and aggregate produce to sell at a higher wholesale price. Agricultural SMEs can come to sell their products and train farmers on how to use them. Local and national governments can leverage these Zones as central meeting locations to share news with the community and source opinions from them. Miracle Zones could also be comprised of anchor small commercial farms that manage an in-growing model with local smallholders, collection centers for produce aggregation and sale, community-managed multiple-use water systems, and entrepreneur-driven distribution networks, all of which provide a reliable framework for rural farming households to access inputs and technical assistance as well as to earn income through agricultural production and non-farm employment. The opportunities are endless, and even more so in the digital space. Ultimately, the challenge of broken linkages between actors in the food system is solved by creating centers to cultivate sustainable and inclusive market connection.
Central to the network of Miracle Zones is the belief that prosperity is possible by bringing together market actors across the formal and informal economies in order to facilitate and mediate mutually beneficial outcomes that are grounded in equitable economic exchange. This is coordinated and led by governmental policies that incentivize increased market linkages and the local business economy. Crucially, this marketing is demand-driven due to a careful emphasis on facilitating negotiated purchasing agreements between Miracle Zones and targeted regional, national, and export-oriented buyers within the market. As a result, investment into the region has been rapidly accelerating in the last decade, because the “Miracle Middle” have de-risked investment decisions related to inputs and technology supply chain extension, purchasing channels extension, and non-farm enterprise and employment creation. Just as important, each Miracle Zone also coordinates local distribution of a portion of overall production to ensure low-income families, especially pregnant/lactating women and children under five, can access a diversified diet of affordable, nutritious foods grown in their area.
From multinational firms to small-to-medium sized companies (SMEs), to smallholder farmers, to regional input retailers, to traders, to buyers, to the local government, Miracle Zones achieve transformative change by creating shared benefit amongst all stakeholders. With improved policies that foster investment into reliable road networks and local business activity, even the most remote parts of northern Ghana will be linked to city and town centers, encouraging business and trade to become more accessible and affordable. The cost of improved agricultural inputs and climate-smart technologies will decrease due to lower cost of access, and the profit potential to be made on goods sold is increased, due to minimized cost of transportation. Imports and innovations accessible to the south are organically spread to the north, and in parallel, new varieties of crops grown in the north are aggregated and transferred to the south.
A key reason the Miracle Zone network could be established was that local leaders - predominantly young women and men that cared about their families and communities - understood the importance of human-centric, participatory planning processes between community members and wider market actors, including coordination of on-farm production and sales and planning and consideration of their local communities’ demand for food and other food/nutrition-related products for home consumption. They also leveraged their respective Miracle Zone as as a forum to promote behavior change and capacity building in effective food and nutrition security utilization as well as enhanced homestead food production (of particular benefit to women and landless households). Homestead-level food production and sales planning was coupled with activities promoting best practices in food consumption and utilization.
One way in which technology plays a key role in Miracle Zones is by using innovative technologies to service the needs of the Miracle Middle, such as leveraging blockchain to track transactions and ensure digital Miracle Zones are trusted and equitable. Foremost, blockchain technology provides a decentralized platform that recorded the transaction histories of farmers and small businesses within each zone, tied reliably to each person’s identity. It also materially improves the traceability of agricultural products grown in the North, enhancing confidence for buyers and consumers. Blockchain also provides an open platform for both suppliers and buyers to negotiate for reasonable prices of their goods. Buyers are able to make direct mobile payments to suppliers, eliminating the need for low-value-adding intermediaries and brokers. Most importantly, the transaction histories generated through the use of the technology enable farmers and entrepreneurs to better demonstrate their credit worthiness in order to secure loans, negotiate deals, and provide verified crop insurance claims in the case of climate-related losses.
The data gained through these transactions are then pulled and leveraged to engage in more sophisticated conversations between the Miracle Middle and policymakers, breaking down the barriers that once existed in 2020 blocking farming communities from having a voice in their services and regulations available to their community, including business policies and governmental support.
In 2050, the culture of connection, coordination, and collaboration, paired with the urgent change required due to climate change, farmers have a heightened awareness of and training in environmentally-beneficial farming methods, such as permaculture, biodynamic farming systems, or other forms of conservation agriculture. The culture and market simply demands this of them as food grown any other way has long been removed from the market.
This culture has also fostered the integration of other cultures and food preferences in Ghana. Restaurants touting Ghanaian food will be common in Western cities, and similarly, Ghanaian food will be influenced by Italian, Chinese, Indian, and American cultures. The demand for a more diverse range of locally-grown, nutritious foods will have increased, but robust tracking systems will ensure farmers are producing to meet demand with buying contracts signed at the outset of production season. Despite changes in climate, SMEs are cropping up to service the changing climate-smart technology needs of farmers, and their ongoing coordination through Miracle Zones allows needs to be quickly communicated and serviced.
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