Roller Coaster Rides & How I May Become Poultry Farmer Of The Year…

21 Nov


This week was a roller coaster ride of ups and downs for me.  I came into the week on a high from playing football out in Nchanchina last weekend (UP), but on Monday I was the only person in the office because everyone took the day off in preparation for the Muslim holiday of Ada Ida on Tuesday.  To make matters worse,  it was a sweltering hot and the power was out more most of the day so there was no relief from the ceiling fan, which left me hot and grumpy (DOWN).

The holiday on Tuesday was relaxing and the atmosphere in town was great for everyone, with the  exception of the numerous cows and goats that were to be sacrificed.  People were dressed up in their finest and many of the children were covered in glitter like the girl in the picture above (UP). 

Wednesday was another depressingly quiet day in the office (DOWN), but I had a great meetings with a couple of strong women leaders in the community in the afternoon and evening that were really inspiring (UP).

On Thursday most of the staff were back from Tamale and the field for a special staff meeting that had been called to kick start our preparations for Farmer’s Day, which is coming up on December 3rd.  Almost everyone in the district farms and Farmer’s Day is a big event. 

People had expected the Director to arrive the previous evening, but it turned out that he had not left until that morning, so everyone had to wait around until noon for him to arrive before the meeting could start (DOWN).  When he did arrive, he was very frustrated at the lack of progress that had been made while he was away.  This left me a great opening to initiate a coaching discussion I’d been waiting to have with him.  Based on the strength of our relationship and because my time is getting short, I decided to risk giving him some very direct feedback.  It paid off and we have an amazing discussion (UP).

But right after it ended, we began the staff meeting and Director was immediately back to old habits: dominating the conversation, asking for feedback and then ignoring responses, answering his cell phone in front of the meeting, scuttling staff’s plans with new Farmer Day’s tasks…  I sucked back my frustration and decided to call it a day (DOWN).

I started off Friday a bit discouraged, but in the afternoon I found an opportunity to have a follow-up coaching chat and we reviewed yesterday’s meeting in light of the coaching items we had identified.  My feedback was even more direct this time, but once again he responded very positively.  We talked about how hard it is to form new habits and we came up with a few strategies to help, including better engaging his Deputy Director to provide feedback (UP).

At the end of the day, I was working on my computer in my Director’s office and he was sitting quietly thinking.  He broke the silence to ask me “If you were Director, what is the one thing you would focus on?”  I have come to know my Director pretty well and I instantly knew with this question that our coaching conversations are taking root.  Under my Director’s leadership, this new office has achieved a lot already (the district and this office are only 2 years old).  If continues to self reflect and he is successful in establishing the new habits we have identified, I think amazing things will result (WAY UP)!

My Director has strengths and weaknesses, as we all do.  Although I have been focusing on his weak points, I want to make it clear that I have deep respect for him.  I have been amazed at how how open he is to feedback and how willing he has been to self reflect.  I have learnt a lot from him and I wish we could turn the tables and have him observe my leadership style back home and offer me his feedback.  During one of our discussions this week when I was worried I was being too blunt, he shared this African proverb with me: when you are hoeing a row on your field, it takes a second person standing at the end to help you make sure the row is straight.

In between coaching session and staff meetings this week, I found time to research dry season farming, which is becoming a big focus of the office.  I discovered this chart in a document on dry season farming by Ilja van Kinderen of Delft University of Technology:


As I arrived in the district in late August and will leave in mid December, I will miss the worst of the ‘hungry season’ that characterize the roller coaster of yearly life for farmer’s in northern Ghana.  Hopefully our MoFA led initiatives such as dry season farming will help to lessen the hunger peaks.

Finally, what’s this about me possibly becoming the Poultry Farmer of the Year?  Well I have been put on the Awards Committee for our district Farmer’s Day celebration.  There are about twenty awards given out in categories such as Best Farmer, Best Women Farmer, Best Maize Farmer, Best Fisherman, etc…  Our Agriculture Extension Agents (AEAs) are supposed to nominate farmers from their various operational areas for awards.  As no poultry farmers have yet been nominated, I figure I will buy that nasty rooster who wakes me up in the morning, nominate myself, and then kill two birds with one award!

6 Responses to “Roller Coaster Rides & How I May Become Poultry Farmer Of The Year…”

  1. Harish Raisinghani November 21, 2010 at 7:47 pm #

    Great post Mark! Patience is indeed a great virtue…

    I wish you good luck in pursuing the Poultry Farmer of the Year award 🙂

  2. Penny Heaslip November 21, 2010 at 8:11 pm #


    Your post was very respectful. You have made an impact on the Director and hopefully he will modify his behavior in the future so that the individuals he works with will feel empowered. I feel hopeful for this community of farmers. Interesting how your skill set has really helped move the community forward. When do you get home? P.

  3. Sarah Grant November 21, 2010 at 9:53 pm #

    Awesome post Mark! It also accomplishes two birds with one stone:
    1. Gives people great insight into the typical rollercoaster of life and work with moFA, EWB, in Ghana, etc.
    2. Gives people a good idea of what change you are trying to create within MoFA.

    Was hoping to see you while I spent a little time in Tamale. But glad to hear you’re doing well and spent valuable time in Kpandai instead. Looking forward to catching up when you pass through Toronto in December!

    Sarah G

  4. Michael November 22, 2010 at 4:48 pm #

    You’re… going to kill the nasty rooster with your award?

    I presume it’s some sort of heavy trophy, but it doesn’t sound like a very good idea at all.

    (Great post)

  5. Mikhaela November 23, 2010 at 7:27 am #

    Mark, just wanted to let you know I’ve been avidly following this blog and it is absolutely awesome! Thanks so much for the attentions to detail and the use of multi-media. I love the bicycle tour and the Radio Pandai segment. I’ve even used a few posts (like your visit to Kuapa Kokoo) for some of our Member Learning sessions here at Queen’s. Hopefully you continue to post once you’ve returned to Vancouver as well! Keep doing it for Dorothy!

    • markwjabbott November 24, 2010 at 8:06 pm #

      Thanks everye for your feedback. It really motivates me to keep putting work into my blog. 🙂

      Great suggestion about continuing to blog when I get home. I really believe there are as many or more opportunities to have impact through our work at home, so continuing to blog when I get back makes perfect sense!


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