Grow Further Answers a 30-Year Call

“I also try always to be of help to others, especially students.”

That’s how Alhassan Nuhu Jinbaani explains his mission in life: helping others. And agriculture is the path he’s chosen to pursue this mission.

As a lead researcher and agricultural economist at the CSIR-Savanna Agricultural Research Institute in northern Ghana, Jinbaani goes about his work helping others by helping Ghana’s farmers grow more food and achieve better incomes. Grow Further is now proud to partner with Jinbaani and CSIR-SARI in their work to deliver the world’s first commercial and popularly grown variety of the Bambara groundnut. It’s a potential superfood that can help address problems associated with both climate change and malnutrition.

In this series, we highlight the partners we’ve connected with to deliver innovative ways for smallholder farmers to improve food security and their livelihoods. Meet Alhassan Jinbaani and CSIR-SARI, recipients of one of our first grants.

Chasing a dream at the farm

In an interview with Grow Further, Jinbaani says he rose from humble beginnings to leading CSIR-SARI thanks in no small part to his mother and the valuable life lessons she gave him.

Lesson number one—investments in hard work eventually pay off.

“She took me to a cousin who was almost five years older than me to learn the shoe-shining business,” he explained. “I was with this cousin for a week. We fought. I thought that fighting with him was an opportunity for me not to pursue that activity my mother gave me.”

But his mother wouldn’t let him off quite that easily. “She gave me a loan,” he recalled. “I bought the equipment. Then the next day, I went to the market to shine people’s shoes. I was able to pay her the money back.”

Eyes on the prize

Jinbaani is intimately familiar with farming and growing food. “I come from a farming household,” he said. “My motivation mostly has to do with my mother…At a very young age, my mother made it so that I combine education and farming.”

Coincidentally, his shoe-shining business drew him closer to farming and agriculture. He quickly found that some of his best customers worked at Ghana’s agricultural development bank.

“The workers at that bank became my regular customers,” he recalled. “Anytime I went there to shine shoes, they would praise me. I would shine their shoes and they would pay me extra.” By interacting with these ag bankers Alhassan said his English skills improved.

He liked speaking with and learning from them so much that Jinbaani figured he should strive to work alongside them someday. “That gave me the motivation to learn agriculture.”

Jinbaani said that he sold chickens for a while to earn a living while pursuing education. The family farm was always in the picture, but schooling was just as important. “My journey also included helping my father on the farm occasionally during school holidays, besides the side hustles,” he said.

He focused on agriculture in high school. He earned a general certificate in agriculture and later completed undergraduate and graduate studies at the University for Development Studies near Tamale, close to CSIR-SARI headquarters. Jinbaani told Grow Further that he’s now in the final year of his PhD studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.

“I’ve also been trained in land restoration from the University of Iceland, together with the United Nations University in 2016,” he added. That program involved six months of intensive training, he said.

Though he worked at a rural bank for a time, Jinbaani said the banking world didn’t fit him. He continued chasing his dream of becoming an agricultural scientist. He’s now been involved with food research for more than 20 years.

“As a young man, I had always wanted to go into agriculture,” Jinbaani told us. “I told myself I will become an agricultural scientist, and it has come to pass.

Fighting a persistent enemy

Now at CSIR-SARI, Jinbaani and his colleagues helped the institute release some 75 improved varieties of crops to hundreds of thousands of smallholder farmers in northern Ghana.

He said when he took the job poverty and food insecurity were widespread in the region. They still are, but the situation has notably improved thanks to CSIR-SARI’s efforts.

”Our work over the years has also gone a long way to reducing food insecurity in northern Ghana.”

CSIR-SARI is a government-led research institute. The workers there are required to improve the lives of smallholder farmers, thereby tackling problems associated with poverty and food insecurity. Jinbaani added that the institute is required to protect the environment, as well.

“By law, we are mandated to come up with those technologies that will boost agricultural productivity amongst smallholder farmers,” he explained. “At the same time, we are also mandated by law to ensure that the technologies that we produce for smallholder farmers are also environmentally friendly and sustainable.”

Their work is ongoing. Jinbaani said a persistent problem they keep encountering is a lack of funding to work on improving all the crops he would like to.

Though they’ve released 75 enhanced varieties of multiple crops, including some common staples, Jinbaani told us that for years now CSIR-SARI has been prevented from focusing resources on one crop in particular—the Bambara groundnut.

Mostly grown by women, the Bambara groundnut resembles the chickpea. Packed with protein and micronutrients, this crop tolerates drought. Thus, it can help farmers adapt to climate change. It’s for these reasons that Jinbaani said he’s been looking to organize a research project to create a commercial variety of Bambara groundnut that farmers will happily grow.

This goal eluded him until he saw the opportunity to apply for a Grow Further grant.

“We believe that with funding from Grow Further, we will be able to come up with new and improved Bambara groundnut varieties that will be responsive to the needs of farmers,” he said.

We’re proud to be partnering with Alhassan Jinbaani and CSIR SARI. We will be watching their work on the Bambara groundnut closely as it has the potential to eventually touch the lives of millions of smallholder farmers.

“As a research institute, our work over the years has also gone a long way to reducing food insecurity in northern Ghana and improving incomes of smallholder farmers,” Jinbaani said. “There’s still more work to be done.”

 — Grow Further

Photo credits: Kwekwe Photography

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