Businesses, faith leaders and city government in Othello came together last year to bring a tractor, a tiller and other equipment to an impoverished village in Ghana so small that it does not appear on most maps.
Not far from a second successful harvest season after the revolutionary arrival of mechanized farming equipment in Assaasafofum, tribal leadership has already seen the pilot project bring change to the surrounding community.
But just as the donated equipment was meant to help the people of Assaasafofum help themselves, Dr. Kwesi Oesi-Bonsu says the fruits of the Shannon McKay farm – named after the then-mayor of Othello whose support for the project was instrumental – are going to help members of the community help themselves.
“We are turning it into microfinancing,” Osei-Bonsu said. “We loan (produce) to people in the community – they use it, sell it, make a little bit of profit, pay the farm, and they can also pay for their utilities.”
Over the years, Osei-Bonsu has developed relationships with faith and business leaders, and a sister city agreement between Othello and Wulensi, Ghana, where he was from, was established under the leadership of then-Mayor Shannon McKay. This arrangement made the donation of equipment tax-deductible for Roger Thieme, then owner of Evergreen Implement in Othello.
“I appreciate Roger's generosity so much – it is part of what God can do.” Osei-Bonsu said in an interview in 2017. “I met Roger about 15 years ago and I thank God that we were able to come together this year and make this materialize.”
In 2017, when the equipment arrived, they were tested on 10 acres of farmland, of which about half was dedicated to yams and half to maize. Before mechanized equipment, Osei-Bonsu said, it took 30 people to manage this plot of land, where they would slash and burn vegetation, make a little hole in the ground, drop a seed in, then take another step to repeat the process.
The equipment Thieme is supplying drastically changes that method and time it takes to plant and harvest their crops, and three workers can manage the farm, Osei-Bonsu said.
The donated equipment included a John Deere 55 HP tractor with a front-end loader and land-clearing attachments, an Imants PTO power-driven spader, a Rears PTO power-driven stock shredder, a two-row John Deere corn planter and a John Deere Gator utility vehicle loaded with a combination welder, generator and air compressor and a large tool box with standard and metric tools, as well as a supply of parts and consumables. Altogether, the donated equipment was valued at more than $130,000.
The farm has expanded this year to 15 acres, divided evenly between maize, eggplants and peppers. By the next dry season, Osei-Bonsu hopes to expand to 50 acres, with 100 acres planned for the future.
That expanded space could be used to grow cassava, often turned into tapioca flour, but which will be used by the Shannon McKay farm to produce animal feed and ethanol.
“Ethanol will be clean energy for the village, using ethanol for cooking instead of cutting down the trees,” Osei-Bonsu said.
Though the Shannon McKay farm isn't even a fifth of its projected size, it has already earned accolades for its produce, he said. “Every year, (the Ghana Agricultural Ministry) has an award for farmers, and we won the award for best maize farm in the area.”
The success of the project has not just been measured in produce, but in infrastructure for the surrounding community, as the farm project and its electrical needs have instigated the establishment of an electrical system in the area.
“We lobbied the government and by working very hard, in two months, we should be able to have electricity for the first time in 150 years,” Osei-Bonsu said, referring to the period of time since the British colonized Ghana, then known as the Gold Coast, in 1867.
Thankful for the support that Thieme, McKay, Pastor Bob Luhn of the Othello Church of the Nazarene and the City of Othello gave to fight severe poverty in a community halfway across the world, Osei-Bonsu continues to look for more ways to help his people help themselves.
Two years in, the future looks brighter. And as the old saying goes, the Shannon McKay farm owes its accomplishments to six inches of topsoil and the fact that it rains – and a couple of tons of John Deere.