Volunteer Stories

Dr. Dan McGrath


Farmer-to-Farmer in Ghana

“We did not know that these insects could be controlled. Now that we know, we will deal with them.” – Martin Azum, Ghanaian farmer

Name: Dr. Dan McGrath

Current title/profession: Professor Emeritus

Current hometown: Corvallis, Oregon 

Areas of expertise: Integrated Pest Management

Education: PhD, Oregon State University


Name of project: Farmer-to-Farmer in Ghana

Location of the project: Bawku West District, Ghana

Name of assignment: Implementation and Training in Integrated Pest Management

Duration of assignment: Two weeks

Organization that sent the volunteer: ACDI/VOCA

F2F Volunteer Finds Link between Hungry Ants and Hungry Farmers in Ghana

In northern Ghana, where nearly half the population lives in poverty amid the vast savanna, agriculture is an important part of the local economy for many people. In recent years, the introduction of mechanized farm equipment has led many farmers to consolidate their fields. Now, tractors and other machines can more effectively and efficiently till the land as there are no trees or separations between plots.

As farming practices and harvests improved, however, farmers noticed the emergence of a new and prolific pest: a species of voracious black ants with a taste for corn—a staple crop in northern Ghana. As the ants feasted, yields decreased, and farmers grew increasingly frustrated in their attempts to eradicate the colonies.

To help farmers find a solution to this problem, USDA Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) volunteer Dr. Dan McGrath, an entomologist from Oregon with 26 years of experience, arrived in Ghana in November 2016 and quickly assessed the importance of his mission. “Success or failure for farmers is measured in sacks of corn. Here, they pay their bills with corn. A family of four needs about 16 50-pound bags to make it through the year,” he explained.

In collaboration with local farmers, Dan and Simon Gaab, an agricultural officer from Ghana’s Ministry of Food and Agriculture, set to work to identify the species, test various baits, and discuss strategies for controlling the ants. After lengthy discussions and investigative work, Dan, Simon, and the farmers concluded that as trees were cut down to join farmers’ fields, black ants flourished in the hot, sunny landscape, while competing species died off as a result of the changed environment.

Dan and Simon proposed both planting more trees and the careful use of insecticide to re-balance the ecosystem, giving hope to farmers in the region. Martin Azum, a 56-year-old farmer and father, attended a clinic run by Dan and the USAID Agricultural Development and Value Chain Enhancement (ADVANCE) II project to learn more about the ant problem. “We did not know that these insects could be controlled. Now that we know, we will deal with them,” he noted.

Dan is planning a second visit to northern Ghana in 2017 through the F2F program. Now that he has identified the species, he will return to test different insecticides and work with farmers to plant trees in their fields, seeking a long-term solution to a persistent threat. Dan’s work is one piece of the broader F2F program, which sends American farmers and agribusiness professionals around the world for short-term technical assistance assignments in food security and agricultural processing, production and marketing. Since 2013, ACDI/VOCA has supported 275 volunteer assignments as part of our West Africa F2F program to promote sustainable economic growth, food security, and agricultural development worldwide.

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