l-Hassan Seidu arrived at North Carolina State University on Aug. 11, nearly half a world away from his home in Ghana. With him, he carried a bundle of numbers as well as the determination to figure out what the data might mean for improving the lot of rice farmers in one of his country’s poorest regions.
Al-Hassan is among thousands of international students and scholars who come to N.C. State each year to study alongside some of the world’s leading scientists.
An agricultural economist who teaches at a university in Tamale, Ghana, Al-Hassan spent the 2003-04 academic year with Dr. Larry Nelson, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ assistant dean for international programs, and Drs. Matt Holt and Mitch Renkow of the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.
For nearly two decades, N.C. State has had formal student exchanges with Ghanaian universities, but Al-Hassan was the first to come from the University for Development Studies, which serves four regions in northern Ghana.
His N.C. State stay was part of his quest to earn a Ph.D. from the University of Ghana. While Al-Hassan comes from a large family of relative privilege his grandfather is a tribal chief he is the first to pursue a Ph.D. His father is a farmer, and his mother sells peanuts outside a primary school.
Before coming to Raleigh, Al-Hassan surveyed 440 rice farmers in the Upper East region of Ghana. More than 90 percent of the region’s people live in poverty, and the illiteracy rate is high. The area, bordered to the east by Togo and the north by Burkina Faso, is heavily dependent on agriculture.
Al-Hassan turned to Nelson, also a statistics professor, for help in making sense of the data he’d gathered. He also took a short course in using statistics software and sat in on the university’s most recent Emerging Issues Forum, which focused on economic development issues. And he delivered a lecture for Encore, a continuing education program aimed at those ages 50 and older.
Much of his work was done independently, amid D.H. Hill’s towering stacks.
“This,” he said shortly before his return to Ghana, “has been my golden opportunity. I’m so happy to have had a chance to avail myself of the education facilities. … There are so many journals there that I didn’t have access to in Ghana.”
By the time he returned to Ghana in April, he had finished his dissertation, “Farm Specific Technical Efficiency, Resource Allocation and Employment: An Analysis of Smallholder Rice Farmers in the Upper East Region of Ghana,” and had prepared for ensuing exams at the University of Ghana.
In his dissertation, he considered how efficient 316 men and 124 women farmers growing rice on irrigated versus nonirrigated land were in using technology and resources such as land, credit and employees. In the region, he said, high levels of poverty and illiteracy combine with significant production risks, such as fire, drought, birds and plant diseases, to make it hard for farmers to succeed.
Among Al-Hassan’s findings:
• When it comes to technical efficiency the ability to produce from a given set of inputs there is no difference between men and women farmers. But those growing on irrigated land were more technically efficient than their counterparts raising rice on nonirrigated land.
• All four groups were relatively inefficient in figuring out the best combination of resources, such as land, capital, credit, fertilizer and draft animals to improve yields.
• Farmers using irrigation employed fewer people and managed those employees better. Women were more likely to hire non-family-members than men.
The recommendations he makes based on his research are sweeping: Farmers in the region need better formal and nonformal educational opportunities that allow them to understand and make the best use of modern agricultural technology. The region also needs an enhanced extension system focused on helping farmers, especially women, to better use labor, draft animals and capital to improve yields.
Al-Hassan also calls for improvements in the region’s physical infrastructure and its rural banking and credit support systems. And he encourages the government to steer away from employment policies skewed in favor of irrigators and men, noting that women and non-irrigators have an equally important role in creating jobs.
Al-Hassan’s research is, he said, the first study of resource efficiency among the Upper East Region’s farmers. The data he has gathered and analyzed should be useful to other scientists and decision makers interested in advancing the Upper East Region’s socioeconomic development.
And, he said, his experience at N.C. State will make him a better classroom teacher at the fledgling University for Development Studies. The university, established in 1992, focuses on preparing students to work in rural communities.
“In Ghana there is a saying, ‘I wish to always learn until I am in my grave,’” he said. “I hope that my teaching, learning and research and the personal relationships I have built here benefit my homeland.
“I’m running straight to take up the chalk in the classroom.”