Moving towards a Value Based Economy

How we apply systemic change in a traditional community, breaking the chains of poverty

Dagomba tradition and Gender Equity in a modern society

Tamale is the third largest city in Ghana. It is in the Northern Region. Though most of us see Ghana as one country, the diversity and the differences between the different regions is large. Northern region is the poorest area of Ghana, partially this is because of the life conditions. The sub-Sahara area is less fertile than most other areas in the country and is struck hard by climate change. It has been the home of people from the Dagomba tribe for many centuries.


Most Dagomba are Muslim, though mixed marriages with Christian members of the Dagomba tribe are not uncommon. The tribal bond is more important than the differences in religion. Dagomba consider each member of the tribe as family – families are large, but the bond goes beyond the bloodline of what we in the West call family. For instance; the wife of a best friend is called ‘my husband’ by the other best friend who is not actually married to her. More specific: if I would be a Dagomba man, I would call the wife of my best male friend ‘my husband’.


Though there are not too many Dagomba people living up to their own tradition, it holds some key elements the average Westerner (and African) could learn from and should be humbled by. For instance, family takes care of each other. Another important principle is that the man must provide food and protection for his family. There is no gender equity in the way that Westerners experience or value. We can be judgmental about that, but if you truly understand and live up to the tradition it doesn’t really matter.


In Dagomba tradition the group is more important than the individual. This starts with family. The man is not more important than the woman, nor is the woman more important than the man. They both have their specific role in the collective (family) and together they need to be sure that everyone in the family benefits from their individual actions and collaboration. Both man and woman must be submissive to the collective, each in a gender specific way. This is hard to understand from Western norms and – more important – extremely hard to live up to in an individualized economy.

How traditions extinct

For understandable reasons, there are not so many Dagomba people living up to their tradition. I was privileged to be able to speak my harsh truth with the Na Yaa, the Dagomba king about how members of the Dagomba tribe themselves scrutinize the tradition or abuse it for personal reasons and greed. It gained us his trust, respect and support. I could write a whole article on how the rules of modern society make it harshly impossible to live up to the tradition. Instead, I’ve chosen to find ways to give tradition a future in modern society, together with the people who honor and value it.


Unfortunately, the people living up to Dagomba tradition are either the poorest in society or the few who try to be honorable tribal (wo)men in a society that doesn’t seem to value the roots and origins of the tradition. The poorest don’t have any choice, tradition. They have no access to proper education and tradition is all they have. The wealthy traditional Dagomba are not enough to compensate or choose not to because it costs them a lot of money but doesn’t bring change.


Even those that do go to school do not learn the things an African should learn, especially in rural areas this is the case. A chief in Zambia – a former bank manager educated in the City of London – once said this in a way that summarizes this best. “We are still educating our people to become British clerks. But the Brits have gone, and we don’t need clerks”. What he meant is that people need to learn practical skills, not just to survive, but to be able to live in alignment with their context and tradition.


A farmer needs to learn how to take care of the land in a way that next generations also can benefit of it. A man needs to learn that masculinity is not depending on how much money (or wives and children) he has, but on how he serves his family best. Most people in rural areas are better off learning how to build a house, a road or fix a motorbike and how to grow their own food than to learn English from books in a school system that is of the 1970’s.


Of course, does tradition evolve over time but that is not what I see happening. It is being destroyed, from within and from outside. With that also the positive elements of Dagomba tradition are disappearing. What comes in place is not specifically positive. People learn how to take care of themselves, not of each other. People learn that the individual and self-expression are more important than the collective and collaboration. People learn that you need to grow and survive in a competitive world of scarcity and in a reality where you either win or lose.


I write specifically about the Dagomba tribe and their tradition because that is the context I have been working and living with for the last 7 years. Most of those years I am living in the Netherlands, but I have spent significant time with traditional Dagomba to understand the key values of their tradition very well. But what I write basically goes for all tribal communities; look for instance what happened with the Aboriginals, the native Americans and the tribes living in the Amazon.

Stop dreaming and face reality

So, these are the norms of modern society, a society where money and Ego rule. And where has this brought us in the West? Most countries in the so called ‘developed world – the US and Europe – are rich as a nation but struggling with the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. Most Western societies are struggling with tensions between freedom of self-expression and intolerance/extremism. And even in the richest countries in the world many people are struggling to survive instead of thriving to be alive. In the Netherlands, one of 10 richest countries in the world, over 10% of the population lives in poverty.


Instead of being too judgmental about this I (we) have chosen to find a way where we could have ‘best of both worlds’. Well, there is only one world, but there are many different realities we live in. Instead of trying to convince each other of our own truths, we are trying to find ways to create a common reality that benefits all. This might sound naïve or idealistic, but the reality is that every human being – without exception – is dreaming of such a world. So why not create it?!


Well, because it is not the easiest path to go and because it doesn’t leave space for compromise and opportunism. There is no space for denial of the harsh reality we have created as a collective and no space for self-denial of your/my own individual role as part of it. It requires authenticity, compassion, trust and hard work. It is much easier to close your eyes or walk the other way.

Core values each tradition holds

Basically, every society has agreements on how the members of that society should behave. There are written laws to create unity (union) and unwritten rules of engagement to create community (communion). Since money has become an important part of our lives, each society also must make specific agreements on what is fair in relation to income and divide.


Relationship is crucial in each society. In traditional societies relationship comes first. There are three basic principles we have derived from the Dagomba tradition to work with as a professional family:

  • Relationship towards the land
  • Relationship towards each other
  • Relationship towards money


The professional family consists of Dipaliya Women’s’ Association in Ghana and Leap into Life foundation in the Netherlands. Though the life conditions in Ghana are different from those in the Netherlands we apply our principles both in the women’s’ cooperative and in the foundation.


The land is not ours, but we are part of the land. Like a mother gives birth to a child, Earth gives birth to us. It is a living, intelligent being that provides us in everything we need to live; air to breathe, water to drink and food to eat. We must take care of the land in such a way that future generations will have benefit of the actions we take now. We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from future generations.


‘We’ is more important than ‘me’. What we are trying to achieve as a collective comes first and we expect each member of our working community to contribute and to make choices that benefit all. The common purpose that we have formulated is the center of our actions and what binds us in the collective. Each will have her/his benefit when we collaborate and support each other. Each of us has specific qualities and skills and everyone has a basic right to exist and be part of the community.


Money is the positive impact of our actions, rather than the purpose that drives us to act. Well-being of our community members is more important than individual wealth. We share resources, knowing that not all have – or should have – the same. A fair divide is more important than an equal divide; we must make sure that no one is left out and that there is ‘food on the table’ for all that contribute.

From a sharing family to a professional family that shares

The core principles that we have adopted as Leap into Life foundation have its origins in the Dagomba tradition. However, we also set boundaries that are not there in Dagomba tradition. We need to do this – and are trying to apply boundaries without excluding members – because we want our impact to grow and become ‘sustainable’. Starting with nothing and a large group of people who are living below poverty rate we are still depending on the kindness of others. But where we want to grow into is a community that can create its own resources, sufficient to have enough for all included and to build reserves for future investments from our own earnings. We want to break the ‘chains of poverty’ but are coming from a situation where poverty still is a significant part of our reality.


As I wrote above, sharing is very common in the Dagomba tradition, but in the professional family we choose to share only with those who share with us. This starts with giving. To use the reality of our farming activities as a metaphor: there are many people who want to help us with the harvest, because that is the moment of divide. But there are few who want to help us with the planting and the weeding because it takes much effort without a direct benefit. We share with those who help with the planting and the weeding.


This implies some changes that are not so easy to apply, firstly because it is new and, secondly, because we do not want to lose the basic principle of sharing but to divert it in a way that our sharing will lead to more (to share with a larger group).


We work with the traditional order of the chieftaincy, but we do not work with all chiefs. We have chosen to do ‘cherry picking’ and make a very specific selection of the chiefs and communities to work with. Too many chiefs are selling the land they should preserve for the community to make personal profit out of it. Too many chiefs choose to work with chemicals where we want to apply organic farming to create healthy land and communities. Too many chiefs believe they are the boss and above the traditional laws because they have the position of power. Too many people in government and business give them the example to act like this. But, again, instead of looking at the black sky at night and complain about the darkness of the night, we choose to focus on the shining stars that show a bright example and bring light.


We are trying to build structures that include the positive elements of the traditional order and rules of Dagomba chieftaincy and support individual growth and self-expression in a way that benefits the working community as a whole.

Wisdom and decision making in traditional groups

In every village you see them, some tree trunks in a circle under a tree or self-made couches solidly stabilized in the ground. These are used for community gatherings. In Dagomba tradition men and women gather in circles to discuss issues and practicalities in the community. It is in these circles that Dipaliya womens’ Association was born.


The (men and) women gather in circles to discuss, but also to help each other. Every week they come together, and each member contributes a small amount of money to the group. This money can be used to help one of the group members, for instance to buy seeds for farming or a new bowl for Sheabutter making. Amongst the men also work is shared. Traditional farmers help each other on the land. Today we sow the seeds on your land, tomorrow we do the weeding on his land. Others help each other with contracts, for instance in construction. For example; the constructor works with the plumber or electrician in his group to build a house for a client.


The traditional groups are well organized; not in the way we know from modern companies but not so differently either. Each group has a chair, a secretary and an organizer. The chair is chosen by the group for his/her wisdom and capacity to voice what is best for the group. The secretary often is the one people trust most with money and the organizer often is the person that is best in organizing the group to come together to perform a certain task.


There are checks and balances; they are simple and practical, and they do work. For instance, the money is saved in a box with a padlock. The treasure keeps the box in his/her house but doesn’t have the key to open it.


It is very interesting to see how decisions are made by the group. In the West one would talk about self-steering teams and consent-based decision making. These are unfamiliar words for the average Dagomba, but they practice it much better than the average team in a Western organization. Here, again, it is the tribal genetic code of community that enables decision making through what we would call the ‘wisdom of the crowd’.


In Dipaliya the women making Sheabutter receive an individual fee per kg Sheabutter made, they receive an individual bonus for high quality and a group bonus for high performance. Until recently both the individual bonus and the group bonus where paid out to the individual women. Together with the women leaders, Umar and I proposed to use the group bonus for the group instead of dividing it over the group members. One can imagine this is not an easy decision to be made. The decision is not ours to make and, though the money is small, it is a big decision to give up a Euro when you are living of less than 2 Euro a day.


The process was very interesting and educational for me to follow. It made me humble and respect the wisdom of tradition even more than I already did. Naturally when the Magajia (Leader of the group) made the proposal all hell broke loose. What followed was an infuriated discussion amongst the women. Some were in favor and immediately agreed, other where strongly against it and fought for the small money they perceived to be entitled to.


During the conversation one could see that the women were really listening to each other; even those who strongly disagreed with each other were able to let the other voice an opinion they did not share. During the meeting perspectives started to shift; some that were against the proposal turned in favor of it, others stayed strongly in their resistance.


At a certain moment ‘something’ happened. I do not know exactly how to give words to it, but it seemed like the whole energy of the conversation in the group changed. The leader voiced the arguments in favor and the arguments against the proposal and then expressed what she thought is best for us as a group. If we save the money, we will be able to buy the things we have been talking of that we need for such a long time. Though each of us must sacrifice, we will all benefit of it. Resistance still was there and there was some talking before the decision was made. Then came the moment that I still call magical.


The leader voiced the decision that each had to give up her claim to the collective group bonus for the benefit of the group. When she expressed it, the whole group nodded, even the women that were still against it. The decision had been made by the whole group and was accepted by each individual member. This is what a Westerner would call consent.


Where in most Western setting there still would be resistance or so called ‘pocket veto’s’ none of it was there. Everybody in the group could feel the shift that had been made. A decision had been made by the group and for the group. The leader voiced it as a channel, not because she is the boss. I still believe this was only possible because of that strong traditional sense of communion.

The price of leaving tradition behind

None of the 1.000 women in Dipaliya has gone to school. They can’t read or write, let alone speak English. Every day they and their families are struggling for basic human needs like water and food on the table; every day again. The families live of farming and of Sheabutter making. Sheabutter is important in many ways. It doesn’t only provide direct income for the women, providing them a certain amount of financial independence. It also brings dignity; Sheabutter making comes from a centuries old tradition. It gives the women status, in the community and in the family. It is their way to contribute to the family’s basic needs and it shows how women are important in the community and tradition of the tribe.


Most men in the families are illiterate as well. They have the obligation to provide the food for the family. But without proper education they will never find a job in modern society. To be honest it is also not something they are aspiring. An office job, often far from the family, is not the future most men and women – in the communities we work with – dream of. The men want to earn a decent living as farmers (plumber, electrician, carpenter, block maker, …) and the women want to upkeep their traditional role as leader of the family household. They want their families to stay together and they want togetherness in their communities. They are dreaming of a little bit more (financial) stability and a chance to break through the chains of poverty without giving up their tradition. Most men and women do not want to break up the family bond and the traditions of their tribe for the sake of money. And why should they?!


However, most educational and developmental aid programs do not bring an alternative other than a choice between either living a traditional life in poverty or to let go of their core values for the sake of – what we call – progress. But even with proper education their chances of a better future are very small. Over 50% of the population in Ghana Northern Region is under 35 years of age and unemployment is much larger than the average in Ghana. Even if one leaves the village to find a job in town (or abroad) those with a job are highly underpaid. Here you see the ‘shadows’ of the ‘free market’ and of modern business. It creates debt-based poverty in Ghana and modern slavery outside.


The tradition of community is the only thing that protects poor families from business(wo)men taking advantage of the difficult situation these families are already in. Without it, most are pushed deeper into poverty, having debts or jobs that they do not like and are underpaid.


The largest export product of Ghana Northern Region is cheap labor. Men building the soccer stations in Qatar and the hotels in Saudi Arabia in inhumane conditions. Men risking their lives to find wealth in Europe ending up as slaves in North Africa or – at the best – as street sellers and cleaners in Europe; women ending up in prostitution where they were promised a job in the household (in Arab countries African/Asian house-girls and nannies are often raped by the men in the families they work for).


The tradition of sharing is not only a way poor the poor to survive. (I have some rice, you have some tomatoes, she has some peppers; together we have a meal). It also is an important fundament to build upon, preventing negative expressions of self (Ego) to manifest and take over. Already one can see how the principle of community is abandoned – primarily by young people – and how it breaks communities down, creating separation and distrust.


Every parent whish for their child to have a better future with less poverty. The young people see examples of wealth on TV, in advertisements and with the Westerners who are in Ghana. Most of the youngsters want to copy what they see on TV; they want to drink Coca cola (Malt) instead of the local drinks; they want to spend their money rather to ‘top up’ the credit on their phone to use Facebook instead of sharing the little they have to pay for medication of a family member; they want to use the expensive soaps and perfumes made by the large (foreign) companies instead of the local ones; they want to use the chemicals in farming because it looks so easy; they do want the wealth, but are not willing to work for it nor capable to see how high the price is they are actually paying. Crime is increasing and without the bondage of community or without the man close to his family, gender equity is also declining.

People are more important than numbers

Despite all efforts to solve the major issues our global society and Africa are confronted with, we are not making the progress we should and can make. We went from 7 Millennium Development Goals to 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Despite billions and billions of Dollars/Euro’s ‘invested’ as developmental aid or ‘Fair Trade’, those at the so called ‘Bottom of the Pyramid’ do not really benefit of it. The chains of poverty are not broken and still for every Dollar/Euro that goes into Africa, more than 6 are taken out of it. Africa is the largest continent in the world and the richest in terms of natural and human resources. But most people are still living in poverty.


Nobody wants to be part of a losing team or contribute to something that does not seem to be working. That is one of the reasons why we see the UN, World Bank, NGO’s and Social Enterprises only show us numbers of success. But numbers can easily be manipulated, and numbers can lie.


According to reports and headlines in the news the percentage of people living below poverty rate has decreased. The reality is that the number of people living below poverty rate has increased with more than 5.000.000! More people than ever before are benefitting the global wealth and more people than ever before have access to clean drinking water. The reality is that still over 90% of the people in Nigeria do not have access to clean drinking water. NINETY PERCENT! Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa and one of the richest countries on the continent, together with South Africa. Over 15% of the global population is deprived access to a safe home and considered to be a refugee; that is about 1.500.000.000 human beings, men women and children. I can assure you that the exact number of people probably is even larger than the numbers in the statistics. There is a lot of ‘hidden poverty’.


These numbers represent people and it really frustrates me how the numbers seem to be more important than the humans they represent. In Europe I speak with policy makers and decision makers. They can hear my comment on the numbers and the policy, even if they disagree (which most do). But what is painful to me is that when I give small individual examples of what it means to the people I work (and live) with in the communities in Ghana, most close their ears and turn their heads.


Even those willing to listen and help are having difficulties to comprehend the reality the women and farmers from Dipaliya are living. A proposal needs to fit into an SDG or in a format; the standards are Western, often too complex to comprehend for the average Dagomba in our communities. But we work with poor, local people and engage with the limited reality they live in. The daily, practical issues Dipaliya is facing often does not fit in a single or a few SDG’s, they do not fit in a business plan by Western standards.


There are some major systemic defaults in the way we have organized modern society, developmental aid and international trade; there are some serious biases and blind spots in how we think of human (personal) development, community. progress/growth and impact. I can’t ‘solve’ the global challenges, nor can I change the biases in modern thinking or policies. But I can ‘fight’ for the people that I care for, though I can’t even solve their issues for them.

The wise fool

Seven years ago, I was invited by representatives of the Dagomba tribe and I accepted the invitation, not knowing it would bring me where I am now. I came with a story about education and a plan to bring Western managers/leaders to Africa to learn from the wisdom of Africa. Very soon it became clear to me that my story and program would not serve the communities I met in Ghana. I didn’t want to bring people from Europe to Ghana without the local people having benefit of it and I didn’t want to become a ‘helper’ of the poor, trying to solve their problems for them.


It took me 3 years to truly understand the specific dynamics and traditional values of the Dagomba tribe and to be able to see the global systemic patterns that are not part of their perception, though deeply influencing their reality. It took me another 3 years to fully understand what would serve best – how I could serve best.


With the capacities and network I have, I could have become a top consultant in change management, a business leader in innovation and technology, or a director of a large NGO or UN related organization. But life made a different choice for me and – though I am still struggling with that – I’d rather choose to follow what life is expecting of me instead of what I want to achieve and expect from life.


Some of those leaders have asked me why I am not one of those people like Otto Scharmer or Kate Raworth, writing books and travelling the world giving lectures on the change that the world needs. My answer in reply are always 3 questions: Who are the people holding their capacities that are really DOING the work they write about? Who does the nitty gritty work on small scale that brings the transformation on large scale they are writing and talking about? Who does the personal (inner) work and sacrifice that is needed to make those stories real?


Some say they admire me for my courage (most think I am a naïve fool) and some even say they envy the life I am living. But, to be honest, that doesn’t bring me much and doesn’t serve the work we are doing as Leap into Life and it doesn’t serve the communities in Ghana. Though my role is important, this is not about me. Though I am the one who is trying to bridge different realities that are not communicating, I am very much aware that I am not the only one and probably not always making the ‘right’ decisions.


Praise or judgment doesn’t help us, nor contributes to what we are trying to achieve. What matters to us is that people engage with their hearts and contribute with their heads and hands. Instead of convincing people to help us we are grateful for the people that work with us. It’s not help or support that is needed, it is concrete action that brings the progress we believe in. Fortunately people are stepping in and a growing number of people  is working with us.

Meet them where THEY are

“The white man knows best” Though hardly expressed, this is what most local Africans and most Westerners tend to believe. The poor in Northern Region see their leaders and the Westerners living in airconditioned houses, driving new cars, earning a lot of money, living in wealth. Most Westerners, with all good intentions, are trying to help the poor to think like us and become like us. It doesn’t help and never will.


A very popular saying in the communities I engage with in the West is: “You can catch a fish for someone, but it is better to teach the other how-to-fish”. This is a very limited and – I must say – stupid expression. What we are doing as Leap into Life is helping others to take care of the pond. If you know how to fish but are not learn how to take care of the pond, your (grand)children will not be able to fish anymore.


Future generations need to be able to benefit of what we are doing now. This brings me to the interpretation of impact. Impact is often defined in terms of how many people are exposed to an initiative end often expressed in short term objectives. We define impact in terms of generations. Yes, we have defined our objectives as “the amount of hearts we touch and the number of mouths we feed” but our purpose is to create a situation where there will be sustainable, incremental growth. But what is sustainable growth and how to achieve this?


First, the initiative needs to come from ‘within’. Earlier in this article I wrote about the desire of the communities, their leaders and the women. That is the starting point of all our activities in Ghana. Secondly, one must take the perceived reality serious. We work with traditional people in Ghana and use the tradition as an entry point for our activities. We work with governance systems within the chieftaincy, we strengthen the chiefs in applying their roles in such a way as it is meant by tradition. Thirdly, one must take life conditions seriously. When people are struggling to survive today. It doesn’t make much sense to talk about tomorrow. Our focus of attention is to resolve concrete issues that matter NOW. The purpose is to create a situation where the community will have more time, physical energy and mental space to work on aspects that matter for tomorrow. A fourth significant principle is that those in the community know best what is good for the community. The women from Dipaliya and the farmers in the communities are uneducated and illiterate; this doesn’t mean they are dumb or do not know what wise action is. They know best what is good for the community.


It is the life conditions that are determining and are preventing communities to grow beyond the trap of poverty. When most of your time is consumed in finding ways to feed your family today, it doesn’t leave much energy to make plans or work on solutions for tomorrow. When you see your leaders take community money or sell land for personal benefit and get away with it, it is hard not to follow that example. People know the traditional and economic value of the Shea tree, and yet it is hard not to chop it down when you need firewood for cooking. It is basically impossible not to use chemicals in farming, even when you know it is unhealthy and killing your land. Chemicals are ‘pushed’ into the country and severely subsidized. And the consequence of losing your crops is simply even worse than the consequence of consuming toxic food. And when you do not have enough money to provide in your basic needs for today, it doesn’t make sense to talk about saving money for tomorrow. Etc.


We use tradition as an entry point, but that doesn’t mean tradition can’t change. The key questions are, does it change for the good of the community? And: is the change in such a way that one can keep the positive elements tradition holds? Does the new include the good of the old?


I shared that we did ask the women to save their group bonus for investments for the whole group. I described the process of the meeting where that decision has been made, but it did take us 2 years to work towards that meeting and decision to be made. Sustainable change is not something that can be achieved in a 2-3 years project. We see it as a natural process that takes time (patience and effort), just like it takes the Shea tree about 15 tot 20 years to give its first Sheanuts.


We have been working with Dipaliya for 4 years now, the last year as a foundation called Leap into Life. What made me grateful and proud was that the women this year decided to give up their individual bonusses as their contribution to finance the Sheabutter production center we are going to build. It was a decision made by the women leaders and accepted by the groups. This is one of the small examples showing that systemic change is happening and that it is happening in a sustainable way.

Dream big, act small, get real

Leap into Life foundation its motto is “Moving towards a Value Based Economy”. We have a big dream; to create a local economy based on Sheabutter making and organic farming that includes the traditional values of the Dagomba tribe. As I described above, we come from far and we started with nothing. Our first steps were to create a shared dream (vision) and to create some basic stability. Our approach has been that of experiential learning (action learning); we started doing things to learn from our mistakes. Now we are at a stage that we are to implement our learning into a next stage of maturity.


After 3 years of experience with Sheabutter making in the traditional way for international clients and 3 years of small scale organic farming we are going to build a Sheabutter production center. The choice to focus on the Sheabutter making has been made by the communities after many conversations with the chiefs, elders, the women and their families. They want to speed up with the farming activities as well, but they also understand that we must choose, given the circumstances we are in now.


The Sheabutter production center we are to build in Sakuba village is going to bring a lot of change. Our major concern is to have this change take place in such a way that it doesn’t bring conflict within the communities and that the new rules we are going to apply are not replacing the traditional rules of community and engagement.


Many individuals and some institutions/organizations have trusted us by giving a lot of money to build the center. Though we still need more, we can start. We want to be accountable for the money and other resources that have been given to us by individuals and institutions in Western societies (Europe, the US and Argentina). We want the center to be commercially successful and realize that we need to apply regulations, administration procedures and financial management in ways that are unfamiliar for most working in the center. We want the center to be self-sustainable, the community to have ownership and the women to be able to run it themselves.  But the women and the community can’t run the center on their own and it will – most likely – take a minimum of 3-5 years before they can.


The center is going to be organic certified, which implies that we must engage with the Western standards of the certifying entity. The women need to be trained in how to work in a center and how to do that in such a way that the Sheabutter they produce qualifies as organic. We also must engage with local government to register the land and to have our building plans approved. Both are challenging. The certification will cost us several thousands of Euros and we need to find ways that working in the center strengthens the tradition of community collaboration and subscribes the traditional values of Sheabutter making as craft(wo)manship. For the necessary registrations we need to find ways how to deal with government procedures that are unfamiliar to the community and with government officials who want extras for their personal services.


For our accountability and financial sustainability, we need to apply administrative procedures and financial management procedures with which none in the communities are familiar. And we need to reorganize the women in small groups that will collaborate in the center instead of helping each other making Sheabutter from home.


We have continuous conversations with the women leaders and the chiefs on how to take our next small steps, given the big leap we are making as a working community. As important as the actions we take are the words we use. In our ‘business model’ we have taken some decisions that are not very common in Sheabutter production centers. Most centers are not community owned and are run in a Western way, making the women employers instead of co-owners. I’ll give a few examples on how we do things differently.

Concrete next steps – building and running a Sheabutter production center

We have chosen to honor the tradition of Sheabutter making in the way we organize the production process in the center. The women are going to work in groups of 20; each group will be working on a contract given to the collective. When a badge made by one of the groups doesn’t qualify as organic, we will hold the group accountable instead of the individual women. The traditional circle of the group needs to self-correct. We know this will work, because we have seen how it does now.


We specifically speak of the center as a “working community” and of Dipaliya as a “professional family”. This creates space to set boundaries where there are none in the Dagomba tribe. We do not replace the tradition by new rules; we set new rules that embed tradition and transcend at the same time. We keep the tradition of the smaller groups to come together on a weekly base to discuss the issues in their working community. The women understand that change is required, and we try to implement change that they can comprehend instead of the change we believe is needed. We ask the women to speak of collaboration and community, to share what their values are as a professional family and how this differs from being family only.


We choose to be more effective without having efficiency lead us. Most Sheabutter production centers have a kneading machine that can knead in 1 hour as much Sheabutter as it takes 20 women to knead in 6 to 8 hours. We have specifically chosen not to purchase a kneading machine. Instead of providing work for one operator, we want the women to spend those 6 to 8 hours together! It slows down the production process with 1 day. We have made this decision to keep the practice of community intact and to honor the craft(wo)manship of traditional Sheabutter making. Those 6 to 8 hours together give the women an extra opportunity to have conversations amongst each other while doing their work. Dipaliya Sheabutter is, and will be, traditional handcrafted Sheabutter.


Working in a center means that the women can’t do other things at home, things they are used to do and that are expected from them (taking care of the children and cooking). We take this in consideration with the working hours in the center and by building extra facilities like a place for prayer, extra sanitation and a safe space for the children to play and for the women to rest. We have made some other adjustments on the original building plan, based on the expressed needs by the women. We still need to find additional funding for those.


The construction work starts in Januari 2019, to be finished in July. In July 2019 we need the center to be turn key operational, including the finance management, logistics and administration processes. This means we need to employ people who can run those business aspects of the Sheabutter center. We want to select those who can work with the women in master-apprentice relationships to teach the women those necessary skills. We need to apply for additional funding; to guide the management in their role as trainer on-the-job and for the selected women to learn how to read and write and how to apply administrative skills.

To conclude

The next steps we are taking as Leap into Life and Dipaliya Womens’ Association are a giant leap forwards and will bring major change. The women are not so much aware of it, but the center will also change their position in the international Sheabutter chain. Making Sheabutter from home makes them vulnerable; almost every woman in West-Africa knows how to make Sheabutter from home. The women are now producing for a buyers-market; prices are low and determined by the buyers.


Organic certified Sheabutter, however, is scarce and the market is growing. We will be able to establish more and larger contracts for better prices. Even without one stone of the center in place, (international) buyers are approaching us. Our current clients have stated that they would like to purchase the full capacity of the center, which is 120.000kg a year minimum. This implies an increase of production by 30-40% in organic Sheabutter only. If we find funding for 3 additional engines for the grinding mills we could even multiply that production and have more women working in the center. For contracts in traditional (non-organic) Sheabutter we can involve other women than the ones who are producing now.


We have new challenges to resolve and it is not unlikely that we will make new mistakes to learn from. However, with the spirit within the communities, the qualities in the Leap into Life team and the professional guidance of professionals surrounding us, we are sure to overcome these.


You can still contribute for us to realize the center or support Leap into Life foundation with a donation:



Alain Volz, August 2018

Logo Leap into Life

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Omgaan met complexe vraagstukken – van óf-óf naar én-én

Bij complexe vraagstukken is de wijze waarop er naar de context gekeken wordt bepalend voor de kwaliteit van de ‘oplossingen’.

Migratie, bijvoorbeeld, kan je niet geisoleerd bekijken; het is een internationaal vraagstuk waar verschillende perspectieven spelen, maar niet samenkomen.

Zowel de levensomstandigheden, de levensopvattingen en levenskansen zijn heel anders in Afrika dan in Europa. Ghana, waar ik actief ben, is een hele andere samenleving dan Nederland, waar ik de meeste tijd van het jaar woon.

Er zijn dus verschillende werkelijkheden (perspectieven/overtuigingen) die tegelijk bestaan en elkaar soms lijken tegen te spreken. Om dát te kunnen beslechten, zijn interventies/oplossingen nodig die deze verschillende werkelijkheden omarmen en verbinden.

Dat vraagt een holistische blik met bijbehorende methoden voor analyse en interventies. Maar een model is zo goed als degene die het hanteert. Kennis van de modellen alleen is niet voldoende; er komt ook aardig wat ‘persoonlijk werk’ bij kijken.

Dat laatste geldt overigens – in wezen – voor elk transformatie proces. Veranderen is mensen werk en niet alleen aan de buitenkant.

Ik werk al 12 jaar met Spiral Dynamics en vind dat nog steeds een van de meest werkbare modellen om te werken met complexiteit en verschillende werkelijkheden; om spanningen/blokkades te vertalen van naar doorbraak/groei.

Wat wij doen als Leap into Life in Ghana en in Nederland is op maatschappelijk niveau in een hele specifieke context; we werken aan maarschappelijk vraagstukken die in beide landen spelen, maar onze projecten zijn met de allerarmsten in Noord Ghana die hele concrete uitdagingen hebben om dagelijks te overleven.

Het leren zit aan beide kanten; als stichting in Nederland proberen we een organistie te zijn die in termen van bedrijfsvoering en besluitvorming is ingericht om met verschillende werkelijkheden te functioneren; een Meshworks foundation dat opereert als een Conscious Company.

Niet alleen in de samenleving als geheel; ook in het bedrijfsleven in teams en bij ieder individu spelen waarden die elkaar lijken tegen te spreken. Ook hier kan Spiral Dynamics zeer waardevol zijn.

In plaats van elkaar te overtuigen van ons eigen gelijk is de opgave om de spannigen tussen de verschillende ‘waarheden’ te overbruggen en wegen te vinden voor ‘inclusieve oplossingen’.

In Nederland probeer ik mijn brood te verdienen door mensen, teams en organisaties te ondersteunen om de transformatie te maken van óf-óf naar én-én. Ontvankelijkheid voor ‘een andere opvatting dan de mijne’ speelt daarin een belangrijke rol. Dit vervolgens vertalen naar anders samenwerken is waar het meeste werk (en begeleiding) zit. Zelf werk ik het liefste ‘ervaringsgericht’ en zo dicht mogelijk tegen de werksituatie aan (action learning); met pilots waar ‘fouten’ mogen worden gemaakt en het leren van fouten is georganiseerd.

The proof of the pudding is the eating.

Website stichting Leap into Life

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Abandoning pesticides – a harsh reality

With ATMA Ghana, Umar and Alain have initiated organic farming in 3 communities in Ghana Northern Region. We started these projects because the farmers came to us saying they didn’t want to use the chemicals anymore, but didn’t know how to. “Neither do we, but let’s try” we said.
This is the 4th consecutive year we are planting crops on our lands. We are gaining experience and we are suffering severely.
It is not climate only that makes us suffer. Yes, we lost crops due to extreme drought, the rain coming 2 months later than it normally does and we have lost crops due to too much rain when it comes. The army worm has caused huge damage in Ghana, but our crops were safe due to our organic pesticides
Other farmers noticed, they also see how our land looks compared to theirs and still the step non-chemical farming is too large and too risky for most.
The (international) trade and regulations/procedures on certification of organic crops is a huge problem.
Coming back to the army worm. We had a cheap organic and local solution, Ghana government invested with World-bank money in chemical pesticides from Canada. Farmers could buy them at lower costs, but they were still more expensive than the local alternative. And the money that could be saved or used within the community is going to Canada, the World-bank and Government officials.
For a local farmer, chemical farming is cheap and convenient. You just plant your seeds – bought from a foreign company – put the chemicals en fertilizers – also from foreign companies, often as part of an agriculture aid program – on the land and you wait for harvest.
It works on the short term, but the price on the longer term is high. It is a business model for foreign aid programs and companies. No farmer can allow to lose crops, let alone think more than one season ahead.
Doing non-chemical farming we face issues related to finance. On the short term it is more expensive not to use chemicals; you need to weed and maintain the land which costs labor = money. We have a small shop where we sell organic fertilizers/pesticides, but we are not selling. The chemicals are cheaper; subsidized as developmental aid.
Secondly there is no (access to) market for non chemical farming. That is, unless you have the certification papers to ‘prove’ that you are not using chemicals. The international market requires certifications. But what farmer can afford the costs of certification?
Also most farmers do not have the literacy skills to apply for an organic certification and follow the administrative procedures and requirements. Unless you are working for a foreign owned company who has the certificates, unless you have access to the international organic market, it is slightly impossible for small scale local farmers to go organic.
We have tried to sell our crops to hotels and expats in the area, but they also want to see a certificate before they want to buy. It is a “catch 22” situation.
We are selling our crops on local markets for local prices; meaning we make a loss on each crop, every year again. We take our loss, though we do not have much, because we strongly believe in non chemical farming and we hope to survive long enough for us to bring the farming activities into Leap into Life foundation.
Not without reason, our current focus is on Sheabutter and realizing the Sheabutter production center. It is a crucial base for other future projects as Leap into Life foundation. We are moving towards a Value Based Economy with Shea and farming as key pillars. We are coming from a situation of pure, raw survival on a daily base for most in the communities we work with. Food on the table is priority 1; healthy food on the table comes second, if ever.
Stichting Leap into Life - projecten Ghana
Hopefully we’ll manage to survive long enough to keep up the land and bring the farming activities in Leap into Life.
You can learn more about Leap into Life foundation and our projects in Ghana here:
To conclude; an article about chemical farming in Ghana I wrote while there in 2016.
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React – Respond

Why reflection is a crucial part of Action Learning

I am of the generation that experienced the introduction of the computer, mobile phone, email and social media. My Master’s thesis on Ahold as a Learning Organization was written on my first computer, a large grey-green machine. Before I had that computer I was writing my papers on a typewriter, using white ink to correct spelling. Sometimes I had to rewrite whole pages because I’d changed the structure of a chapter or paragraph. Having a computer saved me much time and effort; time I could use for other things. The computer has made my life easier in that perspective.

Working at Twynstra Gudde, the largest Dutch independent consultancy company, I build a reputation with Competency based Human Resource Management (HRM). Together with colleagues I wrote a book on Competency based HRM that became a standard work in the Netherlands and we wrote the chapter on Competency based HRM in a standard HR toolkit book used on most Dutch universities. The computer and email made some aspects in the process of writing much easier and faster.

Everybody in the company knew me as “Mr Competency Management”. I introduced the theme when not too many had yet heard of it and it became popular because of collaboration with my colleagues and clients. For 10 years I was able to deepen my knowledge, skills and competence as expert and to share it with colleagues/clients in assignments and with a broader audience in articles, training and as speaker on stage.

Human Resource Management is a profession and Competency Based Human Resource Management is a specific expertise. However both, in general, are considered as something one could also do without having the specific training or experience. When Competency based HRM became popular and became a ‘cash cow’ colleagues of mine who were trained in complete different areas took up assignments in this field of practice. One consequence of this was that I, more often than I liked, became involved in assignments at a stage that already a lot of ‘damage’ had been done. A part of my work became to repair mistakes of others. I was doing that on the side of my own assignments.

Competency and competence

At that time I was working about 60-70hrs a week; also in writing the articles and in further development of the expertise. The topic of ‘clearing other peoples mess’ was addressed in my performance appraisal and it was heard by my management. I did not have a mobile phone yet and my managers suggested I should have one. At that time a mobile phone was only for partners in the company and I was a medior/senior consultant. It would be useful because colleagues could reach me by phone for consultation. I was already spending an hour an evening replying emails other than those that were functional for my own projects and rejected the idea to be available in daytime as well. In hindsight this looks rather strange, because nowadays I use my mobile phone quite a lot and not only for calling.

In the early days of email and mobiles I did not only see the advantages of it. I also felt and addressed a few peculiarities of these new technologies; peculiarities that I did not experience as positive. My workload increased because of them and I noticed that people started to spend less time for conversation. Email is a one way medium and I noticed that most people expected to receive an answer on their mail within very short notice after them pressing the send button. I also saw email correspondence getting out of hand and turning into disputes, simply because there was no time taken to ask “what do you mean?” Email introduced a lot of space for interpretation and diminished the time taken to check those interpretations with purpose to de-escalate exchanges that seemed to get out of hand because of misinterpretation.

Internet Bully

Both technologies have brought elements that make professional life easier; they are contributing largely to a significant improvement of efficiency. At the same time, with the pressure on efficiency and the convenience of texting, the level of communication went downwards. Instead of looking up from their desk and speak with each other, people sharing a desk were emailing each other. Emails were not only about work, but also about something as lunch. A colleague of mine and I always made fun of these “are you joining for lunch?” emails by saying “In the old days we used to speak with each other at the office, now we do not want to be disturbed by those talking.” I was in my early 30s at that time.

Another time consuming e-HRM tool was the introduction of intranet. Where we used to have support staff for certain tasks. I now had to complete these tasks myself using the intranet tool. It took me an average of 4 extra hours a week in my already packed agenda. And it confused me.

This long introduction on how technology entered my professional life brings me to current times. I do not know if what I write above is recognizable for others my age. I do see that with introduction of social media and e-HRM tools these patterns have increased intensely. The pressure on speed, efficiency and quick reply has grown and now it is not only email or voicemail that need attention.

When I travel I see a lot of people staring at their cellphones, checking their Facebook messages, Instagram accounts, scrolling through Twitter, LinkedIn etc. What I also see is that there is a strong decrease of genuine contact between people. The algorithms of Facebook and LinkedIn are set to confirm what people believe and create virtual flocks of like minded and increasing gaps between different opinions.

Social Media tree

Texting is not the same as talking. It is interesting to see how fewer of my friends call me to ask me how I am doing, partly because they think they know because they follow my Facebook or other social media accounts. But Facebook is not my life; it is just a small part of it.

I also notice that the quality of conversation is decreasing; the span of attention is low, there is little listening and instead of responding many conversations are a rapid flow of reactions. Don’t get me wrong, internet, email and social media do have enriched our lives and I could not do my work without it. But the ‘dark sides’ of it in terms of decreasing social cohesion, lack of time for reflection and the addictive element of them is hardly discussed and young people are not educated how to use the tools without losing, well basically, without losing themselves. It has a deep impact on human to human relationships with negative consequences for society.

This time of rapid change, fast business and global connectedness asks for specific skills that are not part of traditional learning programs. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF) social emotional skills are critical components of 21st century skill framework but not a core focus in today’s curriculum. WEF has identifies 16 skills most needed for students to learn (see figure). Besides 6 foundation literacies, competencies as communication and collaboration have become increasingly important. Among the 6 most significant character qualities are curiosity, adaptability and social/cultural awareness.

WEF 21st century skills

Looking at the top 10 skills defined in the WEF “Future of jobs” report one can see a shift towards inter-relational skills. I notice a huge paradox here; in my opinion social media is actually creating a decrease of the skills mentioned and technology will not teach people these skills. Yes, one can design a computer simulation program, but human beings are irrational and unpredictable. A machine can come close to reality, but it can’t replace real time human to human communication.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is an intergovernmental economic organization with 35 member countries. Its mission is to promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world (source; OECD website). This organization also refers to oral communications, written communications, teamwork/diversity and diversity as 4 of the 11 most crucial skills for 21st century employers and leaders. Two other interesting skills mentioned there are ethics/social responsibility and creativity/innovation. I could mention a few other reports from acknowledged institutes, but most mention the same or similar skills.

Those skills are not learned when the people we communicate/collaborate with are people who have the same view, opinions or background. As an expert in group dynamics I know that even without social media confirming what I already know and believe it is difficult to teach and learn those skills. Most people have the tendency to mix with like minded and selection processes by companies do not filter these biases.

WEF future of jobs skills

One can read a book or go to a course, but these skills can best be learned in real life situations. And even then it is quite difficult to change the tendency to mingle beyond ‘people like us’. It needs practice, practice, and practice. And even then the experience of this practice will only be integrated when time is taken for reflection. And it requires honesty towards one self and one’s own biases.

My point is that pressure on efficiency and speed in jobs and society, in combination with the pressure of the bleeps and notifications from social media push people deeper into reactive behavior where capacities to respond are required. But what is the difference between reaction and response?

A reaction is unconscious behavior in which we focus our energy towards the world around us in an attempt to protect ourselves or to attack someone else. A reaction actually is an act with the purpose to control or eliminate the cause of unpleasant experiences.

The process of reacting is actually a very subtle one; most people don’t even notice that they are reacting. And it is a violent act that comes from feelings as blame, accusation and revenge. Something is done to us, at least that is what we believe. In reality this is not the case.

Buddhism knows a principle called “Second arrow”. In my understanding this is a synonym for reaction. But the teaching of Buddhism is that there is no first arrow. The irony is one is reacting to something that is not actually there, but perceived a real. You are literally chasing a ghost of your own mind, a fantasy.

React and Respond

A response is a conscious choice to experience the unpleasant feeling we are sensing and to transform the information it brings into constructive action. Instead of pushing that unpleasant feeling away, one takes responsibility for it and literally feels the emotion. The hard part of responding is not only the feeling part, but also to be able to recognize the negative label we unconsciously give to the sensation and the ‘story’ we have built around it blaming the other as the cause of that negative sensation.

To respond instead to react is not easy, not something one can learn as a trick. It is a practice that, for most people, takes years to comprehend, let alone to become competent. We have the strong tendency to embrace emotions we label as pleasant (joy, happiness, love) and to reject emotions we label as unpleasant (anger, fear, pain). And we have the tendency to take ownership of the feelings we like and to judge others for things we feel and dislike. Those are subtle processes most people go through unconsciously on a daily base.

A practice in Shambhala Buddhism is one called “Basic Goodness”. The teaching is that Basic Goodness does not push and does not pull. I will be honest with you; I have been trying to integrate this practice in my daily life and I am more often than I’d like not very good at it. But at least I see myself fail. And that is just as important to me as I want to master this this practice. Because if I see myself fail, I can always try again. If I am not aware, I will make the same mistake over and over without even knowing it.

Now I am not saying that everyone should become a Buddhist or practice Basic Goodness. But what is important is that we – looking at the qualities needed for success in business and school – learn to acknowledge our own reactive patterns and practice to change those into responsive behavior. Another point that I am trying to make here is that, though these skills are acknowledged as crucial, business and society are taking us away from practicing them. That is where a big gap is between what is needed and what is stimulated. It is this gap that creates more tensions; within people, between people and in groups (teams) and society.

White Tara Alain

An alternative for a spiritual practice like Basic Goodness is Action Learning; at least when it is framed and facilitated in a proper way. Unfortunately most meditation practitioners are ‘enlightened’ on their meditation cushion and end up in (their car towards) work full of tensions because of traffic or what others ‘do to them’. And unfortunately most of these skills needed to respond instead of to react are taught in classrooms and not on the job. Most Action Learning programs on the job focus on more technical skills, not the social skills. I do not believe this is effective and can be done differently.

To conclude I will give a small practice one can easily apply in any situation without other people noticing it and without too much knowledge of social psychology. You can do this at work in a meeting, in your car or in public transport or in basically any common situation on ordinary life when tensions arise.

When you feel tension rising, do not look outwards to find the cause of that tension. Just be with it and notice it. Then ask yourself “when did I feel this tension before?” to see if you can discover a pattern. If you have not yet pushed the sensation outwards you can look at the ‘story’ your mind has made of what is causing this sensation. You will notice that the sensation might first grow stronger, but if you can hold it, it will relax. Once you get more advanced in this practice you can look at patterns from your early childhood that have imprinted these stories in your mind. The latter is transformative, it is much cheaper than going to the psychologist and very effective.

If you want to learn more about these forms of Action Learning you can go on the internet or buy a book in the shop. If you want to work with it in your professional life or with your team I am happy to support you as individual coach or a team facilitator. By no means I am an enlightened teacher that has surpassed all these patterns, but as an experienced practitioner/student I can relate and facilitate.


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Why it is unwise to discuss climate change

and why it is wise to act like it is real and caused by human behavior

Climate change is a popular topic in a sense that is currently is under a lot of attention. It is also a topic on which one can find a huge range of information from many different perspectives. Despite the attention and the information one can find, for many climate change is an abstract concept. It is something not everybody thinks of on a daily base and those who do seem to be more in dispute than in dialogue.

The key questions on climate change are:

  • “Is climate change a reality or a phantasy?”
  • “Is climate change caused (or accelerated) by human behavior?”

Most people do not have an opinion at all about climate change OR they have a very strong opinion about it. It seems to be hard to find something in between, a more balanced perspective that goes beyond the two key questions above. For every research paper that shows that climate change is reality and accelerated by human behavior, one can find a publication that proposes that the impact of human behavior on climate change is minimal to zero. For every newspaper article that expresses why it is important to take climate change serious, one can find an article that propagates climate change is a hoax. There are governments combining their actions to have a positive impact on climate change as well as governments that withdraw from these initiatives. And if you want to spoil the good atmosphere at a party, it can be very effective to bring climate change up as topic of conversation.

For many people climate change is abstract and something far away from their own perception of reality. But every time there is a major disaster like a serious drought affecting food crops or a hurricane destroying houses and infrastructure, the topic of climate change comes up, causing serious discussions and intense disputes. The discussions don’t help the average person to understand; it doesn’t make anything concrete at all. It confuses, irritates and enables people to find information that supports their opinion (downloading) or encourages people avoid the whole ‘issue’ of climate change (ignoring).

In this article I will explain why the whole discussion about climate change is irrelevant and obsolete. At the same time I will share why ignorance isn’t a proper thing to do, but very unwise instead.

Let’s assume we do not know anything about climate change and that we do not have an opinion at all about climate change. If we can postpone our judgments and if we can ignore all the information, four options remain:

  1. Climate change is a reality
  2. Climate change is a hoax
  3. Climate change is caused by human behavior
  4. The impact of human behavior on climate change irrelevant, to zero

The 4 options seem to hold 2 opposites; A: climate change is either ‘real’ or ‘fake’ and B: climate change is caused by human behavior or it is not. But let’s translate these into a more workable construct. ‘Real or hoax’ and caused by human versus not caused by human are two of a kind. What is relevant is: should we do something or not?!? A much better quadrant to approach this question with is one holding two questions:

  • Is climate change caused by human behavior or is it not?
  • Should we take actions on climate change or not?

The image below shows these questions in a 2 by 2 table we can work with.

Climate Change - quadrant empty

Now, let’s look at this table from a rational perspective to find what is wise action. We can choose to do something or we can choose to do nothing. When we are able to keep our open mind installed and to ignore all the information, all four possibilities have an equal chance to be real. That means that – no matter if climate change is real or not – we have a 50% chance to do the right thing and a 50% chance to make a mistake.

It would be a wise decision not to do anything about climate change if it would not be caused by human behavior. But if climate change is not caused by human behavior and we do take a lot of effort to change our behavior, one could say that would be unwise. When climate change is accelerated by human behavior, it would be very wise to take action. Not taking action would increase the negative effects with consequences we do not know; it would be very unwise.

Climate Change - quadrant percentage

More interesting than the discussion above it would be to look at the consequences of making the right or wrong decision. What are they? We will look at this in a few steps.

When we decide to take climate change seriously and to act accordingly, we will have to transform our societies in many different ways; we have to change the way we live and work together. The whole cycle of how we produce food and goods should be transformed; we should change individual consumption patterns of food and materials; we should rethink a whole economy without fossil fuels and reinvent our use of water, land and resources. We should be very creative and we would have to spend billions in money.

But what if we take something seriously that is not real and never will be? In that case we have spent billions of money; we will have used many resources and hours of creative thinking on something where we could have spent all that time, money and resources on better things. If we succeed to transform our economies and our patterns of behavior we might have created a whole new economy and society, but the costs of it would have been far too extreme. We have spent our money, time and efforts to ‘heal’ something that didn’t need healing.

When we do nothing and the impact of human behavior on climate change is limited to zero, we are good. We can continue with what we are familiar with and continue to improve what we are good at now. All models for economy and society we have now are functional and – though with ups and downs – the global economy will continue to grow in the long term. Next generations will live in more prosperity and harmony, just like this generation lives in more peace and prosperity than the ones before us. We didn’t waste money, time, creativity and resources on things where it could have been used in a better way. We haven’t gone through the tensions come along with a process of transformation and we haven’t changed something that didn’t need change.

But what if we do nothing and climate change is caused by human behavior? Tensions will rise to an extreme on social, economic and ecologic level. There will be an increase of heavy droughts and heavy rains destroying our food crops. The intensity and frequency of natural disasters such as hurricanes and tsunamis will increase causing much more destruction than we have ever seen. There will be wars over territory and over clean water and air. The amount of people on a drift, leaving their homes to find a safe place for survival will explode causing more tensions between groups and nations. Many species and many people – if not all will – die. And, with today’s technology and interconnection, it is not very unlikely that we will destroy all life on Earth; maybe even Earth.

Climate Change - quadrant images

If you would be a decision maker and want to act wisely, there is a choice. Basically we are all making decisions and we are all making choices. It doesn’t matter if you are a member of the ‘elite’ and have the position to make choices that affect many, or if you are a ‘common’ member of society, making decisions that only affect your own life and that of your family. The impact is different – yes – but numbers count as well and one small action can have huge impact. We all know stories of a little boy raising awareness on national level for a rare disease by polishing nails or of a little girl ending up on the front cover of Time magazine by telling her personal story of life in a country far away from our homes. It is not about them reaching the headlines in media, they had impact and brought (a movement for) change.

Most of us do have children and most parents want their child to have a bright future; we want our children to have a life as that is good as our own or better than we ever had. If we would replace “climate change” for “my child”, would you accept a 25% chance for your child to die? Would you even allow yourself choosing for something that will cause a certain death of your child of you had any other option? Wouldn’t you do everything that is in your possibilities to prevent that from happening? Most parents would. Even if the alternative doesn’t give any guarantee for a better result, most parents would choose for ANY other option than the one that of certain death. This is a reason why people in deprived areas and war-zones risk their children’s lives to send them on a dangerous trip to the unknown. There is hope that the alternative and unknown is better than the chance-less situation of the known. Even if the child doesn’t survive, the parent at least has tried everything in her/his possibilities to have saved it’s life.

If you are a business person with responsibility for the continuity of the company you work in, would you accept a 50% chance of certain failure with a 25% chance of certain bankruptcy? Good governance includes scenario planning and risk management, and most companies rather prevent risks than take them. When you would be in the boardroom and would have to make a choice from 4 options and one of these options is a certain elimination of the company and its business; what would you do? Most successful business(wo)men would make decisions to prevent that scenario ever becoming reality. The scenario leading to sure bankruptcy would be a definite ‘no go area’. If there are alternatives to choose from, the manager who chooses for liquidation will be blamed and shamed for bad governance. If there are options to choose from they must be taken seriously and explored. Even when they fail, at least everything has been tried to prevent.

Yet with climate change this all seems to be different. The logic in the examples above doesn’t seem to count. That is actually very strange. We do accept a 50% failure in our decisions and we do accept a 25% chance of certain death. But the stakes are much higher at the same time. We are not talking about the possibility of one or few children dying, but of billions and maybe all. We are not talking of one company going bankrupt, but of whole societies collapsing and maybe even destruction of Earth. And yet we accept 50% failure. It is gambling, not governance, nor making a smart individual decision.

Climate Change - quadrant earth

The matrix I present shows we have a 50% chance to make a proper decision. The decision is either to act or not to act. The worst thing that can happen when we act is that we have transformed a world (economy, society) that didn’t need transforming. Yes, we have spent a lot of time, thinking, resources and money that we could have spent otherwise, but the future for our children is bright and the opportunities for business have changed, but are still there. The worst thing that can happen if we do not act is destruction and death. Even if you are one of the few who would survive, life will never be the same as it was before and, for sure, it will not be better than it was before.

This is why the only logical thing to do is to invest in society and in economy as if climate change IS real and IS caused by human behavior. Any other choice would be illogical and – I even dare to say – unethical. This is why the whole discussion doesn’t matter. There are no prizes for predicting the weather forecast, the only wise thing we can do is bring an umbrella just in case it might rain.

It might be easier not to anything and to rely on the 50% chance you have – to gamble – that all will be well or the ‘issues’ will be solved by others. It will be much more effective to do that (one little) thing you can do.

But what can one do? That, of course, is depending on where you are and what position in society you are in. But that you can do something is for sure. I will not give a list of tips here, you can find many on the internet. And it doesn’t need to be big, as long as it comes from certain awareness. Some decide to eat less meat, others not to let the tap running while brushing their teeth. Some decide to reduce their consumption and to buy less in the store (how many pair of shoes can you wear at the same time and how many do you need?) others decide to buy organic. A ‘tipping point’ can only be reached by a group of many, all doing a small thing.

No transformation has ever started from the top by those in ruling positions; it has always come from ordinary people like you and me doing simple or extraordinary things. Governments search for new ways of governance because citizens pressure them to; companies invest in ‘greener’ and ‘more sustainable’ products and in ‘fair trade’ because consumers pressure them to. You are that citizen, you are that consumer, and you have that capacity for change.

In this context, leadership isn’t about position or power. Leadership is to take lead by example, to take responsibility by action. Words don’t count and talking about climate change doesn’t do us well. Let’s do something!

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Leap into Life – Deel Economie en Projecten 2017/2018

Stichting Leap into LifeConcept logo Stichting Leap into Life Nederland

Stichting Leap into Life zet zich in voor een Deel Economie. Delen is een principe dat in traditioneel Afrika meer gebruikelijk is dan in moderne Westerse samenlevingen. Wij werken met klassieke waarden van de Dagomba stam in noord Ghana én met moderne, holistische principes voor samenwerken en bedrijfsvoering.

In Ghana werken we met vrouwen en boeren die in extreme armoede leven. In plaats hen te leren hoe ze anders moeten omgaan met geld en hun traditionele waarden, ondersteunen we ondernemerschap dat de Dagomba traditie van delen en gemeenschap versterkt. We brengen waardigheid en welvaart vanuit traditie. Momenteel Werken we aan twee projecten; “Buy a Brick” en “Share with a Sister”.

Een deeleconomie vraagt van mensen de bereidheid om te leren en het vermogen om het aangeleerde los te durven laten. In Nederland vertalen we onze ervaringen in Ghana door op een eigen, specifieke manier samen te werken met onze partners en donateurs. Daarnaast delen we de ervaringen en principes van onze deeleconomie – het business model – via lezingen, coaching en training.

Buy a Brick

IMG_3694Dagomba vrouwen leren al generaties lang om Sheaboter te maken. Sheaboter is een basis ingrediënt dat in cosmetishce crèmes zit en in chocolade. Wij werken met Dipaliya Womens’ Association, een groep van 1.000 vrouwen die ambachtelijke Sheaboter maken. Dankzij dit werk hebben de vrouwen economische zelfstandigheid en eten voor hun gezin. We hebben een aantal investeringen kunnen doen die het inkomen van de vrouwen verviervoudigd heeft.

IMG_3491Op dit moment bouwen we een Sheaboter centrum in Sakuba. Het gebouw is nog niet af en we komen geld tekort om de bouw af te ronden. Met een eigen gebouw kunnen we het netto inkomen van de vrouwen nog eens vergroten. Minstens zo belangrijk is dat we met een eigen centrum veel effectiever de gemeenschap bijeen kunnen brengen voor overleg en opleiding.
Voor € 2,– kan je een baksteen kopen. Deze wordt ook lokaal gemaakt. Met jouw bijdrage help je ons niet alleen om het centrum af te bouwen; je geeft enkele gezinnen de gelegenheid om inkomen te verdienen met werk dat ten goede komt aan de hele gemeenschap.

Share with a Sister

Woba 02
Dagomba hebben een traditie als akkerbouwers en veehouders. De relatie met het land is belangrijk; Dagomba geloven traditioneel niet in bezit van land, maar in beheer van land voor de volgende generaties. Een traditionele Dagomba chief is geen eigenaar van het land, maar beheerder namens de gemeenschap.

Mede als gevolg van Westerse invloeden zijn veel landbouw projecten gebaseerd op het gebruik van chemicaliën. Boeren wordt geleerd om met kunstmest en chemicaliën te werken. Resistente zaden moeten ze kopen van een Westers bedrijf. Het zorgt voor oogsten die weinig inspanning vragen van de boer, maar het land wél uitput. Ieder jaar neemt de vruchtbaarheid van het land af.

Wij hebben een organic seedbank opgezet met lokale zaden en zijn een landbouw project gestart waarin we boeren leren om lokale, natuurlijke pesticiden en in Ghana geproduceerde, biologische mest te gebruiken. Zo brengen we traditionele kennis terug in de gemeenschap en leren we boeren om het land te verzorgen met oog voor de volgende generaties.


Voor jouw donatie van € 250,– krijgt een Dagomba vrouw in Ghana een stuk land, oorspronkelijke zaden, biologische mest en biologische pesticiden. Haar wordt geleerd hoe deze te gebruiken en de opbrengst van het land is voor haar. Jouw donatie is éénmalig, het gebruik van het land door de vrouw die je hiermee steunt is voor langere tijd. Zij kan daarmee haar gezin voeden of de oogst verkopen op de lokale markt.

We registreren het land en de gebruikers; jij ontvangt een certificaat met daarop de gegevens van de vrouw die van jouw geld een eigen bestaan kan opbouwen en de GPS coördinaten van het land dat met jouw bijdrage aan haar is gegeven.

Alain Volz


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Leap into Life – a new business model for a Sharing Economy

Based on traditional values of the Dagomba tribe in Ghana Northern Region and 21st century Holistic principles we are developing a Sharing Economy called Leap into Life. The last 2 years we have been working from grass root level in Ghana and The Netherlands on the design of an informal economy where people and planet are more important than profit.

Key principles Leap into Life Business Model

The Leap into Life Sharing Economy is to preserve traditional values in Ghana by creating life conditions for a flourishing local economy; to create resilient communities. In Ghana we have been working with a Cooperative called Dipaliya Womens’ Association to create an informal economy where 1.000 women at the ‘Bottom of the Pyramid’ benefit from. The Social Economy System in Ghana is based on the family sharing tradition of the Dagomba tribe.

Dagomba family sharing - informal economy

With Dipaliya Womens’ Association and members of the local traditional Dagomba community we have started initiatives to create a local economy based on traditional local principles that is resilient to grow into 21st century; we stimulate local entrepreneurship. Focus of our activities is in production of traditional handcrafted Sheabutter and in organic farming.

LiL - creating life conditions for local entrepreneurship

In the Netherlands we are applying the principles developed in Ghana by the way we collaborate and do business. We use other principles for economy and business than those common in Western society. Instead of doing trade only we share resources and money. We also provide in lectures and consulting/coaching in how to apply the principles of sharing in business. We do individual coaching and support teams to become more congruent and resilient with engaged team members. Payment is not always in money; it can also be done by sharing.

Concept logo Stichting Leap into Life Nederland

A foundation is setup in The Netherlands to catalyze Sharing Economy initiatives in The Netherlands and to strengthen the Sharing Economy in Ghana. The purpose in The Netherlands is to help create more engaged communities.

LiL - towards engaged and resilient communities

In the Leap into Life Sharing Economy there IS actual money flowing round; we do not only share as an alternative for money. However we apply totally different principles for money and have completely different rules for cash-flow than those common in global economy. Money is shared. This is more common, but declining in African tradition. But for a Westerner this is a complete different mentality that needs to be ‘learned’. That is not about technology, but about consciousness and willingness.

Leap into Life - action learning and sense making

We have developed purpose and principles of our Sharing Economy by using Chaordic Design (Dee Hock), Spiral Dynamics integral (Dr. Don Beck) and Theory U (Otto Scharmer/Peter Senge). Some key elements in the Leap into Life Sharing Economy are:

  • WE is more important than ME
  • Employment is more important than efficiency
  • Prosperity is more important than profit
  • People are more important than money
  • Planet is more important than wealth
  • Abundance is there but the divide is not fair.

LiL - Key principles for a Sharing Economy

Though we work on a local scale in Ghana and The Netherlands, we are bending and changing the rules for economy and business on a larger scale. Actually by working on grass root level in both countries and by working bottom up we are very effective to reduce the pain of global issues as global warming; poverty and migration; and exclusion by social and economic divide.

Dynamics and effects of Global Economy

Alain Volz

Social Economy Entrepreneur – Leap into Life Foundation

Posted in Africa, Business, Dagomba tribe, leap into life, meshworks, sharing economy, Social Entrepreneurship, Spiral Dynamics integral, Theory U | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

7 Vragen voor de Nederlandse samenleving

Over ongeveer 2 maanden zijn er verkiezingen voor de Tweede Kamer. Voor mezelf heb ik 7 vragen opgesteld die ik belangrijk vind voor Nederland. Ik deel ze graag. 
Een oplettende lezer herkent de kleurcodes van Spiral Dynamics:
1. Wat verbind ons als natie en in historie? 

– Hoe is Nederland ontstaan, wat is onze verbinding met het land waarop we staan, en welke waarden zijn in de loop der eeuwen daaruit voortgekomen?

2. Wat wordt gevraagd van iemand die hier woont? 

– Hoe hebben mensen ons land opgebouwd, wat is de rol daarin geweest van migranten en nieuwe groepen?

– Wat moet iemand nu doen (en laten) om een bijdrage te leveren aan de welvaart en het welzijn van Nederland?

– Welk gedrag kan wél en wat kan níet? Wat dwingt respect en gezag af in onze samenleving? 
3. Wat zijn de belangrijkste regels waar iedereen zich aan dient te houden? 

– Hoe maken we afspraken, waarover, hoe zien we toe op naleving daarvan, en hoe sanctioneren wij? 

– Wat zijn de pijlers van onze samenleving in termen van bestuur en recht; welke instanties zijn daarin bepalend, met welke rol? 
4. Welke mogelijkheden bieden wij aan inwoners om succesvol te zijn in de samenleving? 

– Hoe zorgen we er voor dat mensen bijdragen aan de samenleving; wat maakt iemand succesvol? 

– Wat vraagt de samenleving van mensen van verschillende achtergrond en/of verschillend opleidingsniveau en welke kansen wordt hen geboden?
5. Hoe zorgen we voor een goede balans tussen welvaart en welzijn? 

– Hoe zorgen we voor een eerlijke verdeling van de welvaart; op grond van welke criteria? 

– Hoe gaan we met elkaar om als buren, hoe gaan we om met de ‘zwakkeren’ in de samenleving, hoe zorgen we dat de stem van de minderheid gehoord blijft en hoe vangen we mensen op die buiten de samenleving dreigen te vallen?
6. Hoe zorgen we ervoor dat de diversiteit die Nederland kent tot haar recht komt in beleid dat ten gunste is van de samenleving als geheel, zonder mensen of groepen uit te sluiten? 

– Welke processen, procedures, netwerken en relaties zijn cruciaal voor de samenleving als geheel; hoe daar sturing in te geven in onzekere tijd?

– Welke subculturen kent Nederland, wat kenmerkt hen, en hoe zijn hun onderlinge verhoudingen? Hoe gaan eigen identiteit en eenheid samen? 
7. Hoe doen we dit als speler in een internationaal krachtenveld waar Nederland sterk mee verbonden is? 

– Welke unieke kwaliteiten heeft Nederland als Natie, wie zijn onze belangrijkste medestanders, en waar liggen onze mogelijkheden; hoe komt dat tot uiting in beleid/functies, resultaten, en internationale rankings?

– Welke rol wordt van Nederland gevraagd door de wereld/aarde, de internationale handel en de geopolitiek; hoe komt dat tot uiting in beleid/functies, resultaten, en internationale rankings?


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License to kill

Introducing Organic Farming in Ghana, Northern Region.

During my first visit to Ghana I saw, traveling through rural Northern Region, many pieces of land burning. In my naivety I asked if the burning was because of drought. I then learned that it is usual practice among farmers to burn the land after harvesting. “Why?” I asked. The answer wasn’t a direct one, “because it is tradition.” I did some research on the advantages and disadvantages of the burning of land for agriculture. Below are some things I found.

Agricultural burning (slash and burn) is carried out to clear the land for planting, and control pests, disease and weeds. There are few advantages to burn the land. Burning reduces pest invasions after planting. The reason is that the weeds that may have attracted the pests are killed. Weed seeds are also destroyed and do not rejuvenate. The ashes from the residues are rich in potassium and calcium; this adds value to the soil and benefits the crop.

However these advantages don’t weigh up to the disadvantages of agricultural burning. It’s true that burning kills pests and disease-causing organisms in the soil. But it kills the beneficial and important organisms too. This reduces the biological activity in the soil. The consequences of slash-and-burn techniques for ecosystems are almost always destructive.

Though burning crop residues and grasses is an organic practice, it is not safe. Farmers must be cautious with this practice. Burning damages soil and eventually ruins it. When soil is left bare after burning, there can be a lot of soil erosion. Also, burning residues and grass releases a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which contributes to global warming.

The principal vulnerability is the nutrient-poor soil, pervasive in most areas of Ghana Northern Region. When biomass is extracted even for one harvest of wood or charcoal, the residual soil value is heavily diminished for further growth of any type of vegetation.

The nutrients that are released after burning are usually washed away or leached by rain, or eroded by wind. Soil declines in productivity after burning because its nutrients are depleted. Because of this, the ancient farmers who practiced slash and burn had to leave the land for five to 25, even up to 40 years before they could farm the land again.

Using fire to get rid of agricultural debris causes special problems because noncombustible and toxic materials are often burned along with the vegetation. This includes tires (used as fire accelerants) and plastics. Burning toxic materials can release very harmful emissions.

I didn’t take any pictures of the land burning, but on the picture below you can see the black landscape it leaves behind, smoking after the fire has tempered.

Village with burning of the land

The practice of burning crop residues and grass should not be encouraged. There are much better alternatives, but they are more labor intensive than the burning of the land. One is to spread crop residues on the land. Spreading residues in the field stops weeds by a combination of shading and smothering. The residues also stop the sun from drying out the ground. This keeps water in the soil so it’s available for crops.

Mulching improves the soil by attracting and feeding earthworms and other living organisms. The organisms “till” the soil, and their feces are among the best fertilizers and soil conditioners. So, spreading mulch or crop residues instead of burning them should be encouraged. It builds the soil, and improves its structure and fertility.

Farmers can make holes in the residue layer and plant their crops. Or they can simply spread organic mulch by hand around plants after they emerge. The crops get nutrients from the decaying leaves.

When we went to Zabzugu last year, a friend of us wanted to show us his store there. The store was full of chemical pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Instead of receiving our admiration, both Umar and I frowned and looked at the store with some disapproving look. “Why?” our friend asked. “Oh, we are against chemicals” Umar replied. Our friend didn’t really understand.

I asked him why he was selling the chemicals; “it is poison, don’t you know that?” “Yes, but it is good business.” he said. “So you know it is poison and that you are killing the land and your people by selling it, but you still sell it because it is good business?” His reply was “But I have a license …” I couldn’t stop myself and said to him: “So you have a license. Does that make it less worse what you are doing? You are still killing your land and your people! But because you have ‘a license to kill’ it is okay?”

We discovered that there were no alternatives in Zabzugu area for the chemicals sold there, so we asked our friend if he didn’t want to become the first in the area to start selling organic products. It could also make him good business and at least he was selling something positive; something that would not kill his people nor the land, but would actually do something good for them.

Chemical shop

Not only in Zabzugu, but actually in whole of Northern Ghana chemical farming is the usual practice. There are hardly any alternatives, nor organic seeds or crops for sale. One of the farmers we are currently working with is a brother who I met two years ago. At that time I asked Umar what was wrong with his brother and advised him to go to hospital with him. In hospital they found out that he was actually ill and the farmer himself believes it came from spraying his land with Glyphosate based pesticides. This is not illogical, because the spraying does not happen with the protection required to do it safely. (Also see my writing on Glyphosate).

Most aid programs in Ghana are chemical based and the World Health Organization doesn’t oppose to chemical based farming. There are two possible reasons I’d like to address: 1. Chemical based farming can lead to quick short term positive effects and 2. The fertilizer market is a multi-Billion market – primarily for Western companies – of which organic fertilizers occupy only a few Million.

Last year the farmer who became ill due to chemical farming came to us, sharing that he wanted to stop using chemicals, but didn’t know how. He was desperate and asked us for advice and help. This was how we started to get involved in organic farming.

We did field research in Ghana and the Netherlands and I did some research on chemical/organic pesticides (See the article on Glyphosate) and chemical/organic fertilizers.

A chemical fertilizer is defined as any inorganic material of wholly or partially synthetic origin that is added to soil to sustain plant growth. Organic fertilizers are substances that are derived from the remains or byproducts of natural organisms which contain the essential nutrients for plant growth.

There are few advantages of using chemical fertilizers and I will mention those below. However our conclusion still is that use of organic fertilizers is much more sustainable. We believe that organic farming actually is the only realistic option for the future of farming in Ghana Northern Region in the long term. If you wish to live in harmony with nature and make a lasting improvement in your own patch of earth for generations to come, organic fertilizers outweigh chemicals by far.

“When you view soil as a living organism, (it is and we should), you can easily see why it might matter what type of fertilizer we choose to use: Chemical fertilizers, in effect, “kill” the soil while organic fertilizers improve and sustain the soil.” ( )

One of the distinct advantages of chemical fertilizers over organic fertilizers is that chemical fertilizers are rich equally in all three essential nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. In the short term one needs more bags of organic fertilizer than one needs bags of chemical fertilizers to bring the necessary nutrients into the soil. However there is a large risk of adding too much when using chemical fertilizers and, when using organic fertilizer, in the long term one needs to add less and less fertilizer because the fertility of the soil is growing in a natural way.

One of the main disadvantages of chemical fertilizers is that, in contrast to organic fertilizers, several chemical fertilizers have high acid content like sulfuric acid and hydrochloric acid. This high acid content results in the destruction of the nitrogen-fixing bacteria, which is helpful in supplying the nitrogen to a growing plant. In contrast, organic fertilizers support the growth of nitrogen-fixing bacteria.

A few rarely known disadvantages of chemical fertilizers are that chemical fertilizers encourage plant disease and that they produce fruits and vegetables with lower nutritional value and less flavor. Citrus grown with large amounts of soluble nitrogen has lower vitamin C than those grown with organic fertilizers. Corn grown with the soluble nitrogen of chemical fertilizers contains less protein.

Organic fertilizers have many advantages. With organic fertilizers soil crusting is reduced. Organics may improve water movement into the soil and, in time, add structure to the soil. Organics feed beneficial microbes, thereby making the soil easier to work.

Chemical fertilizers and organic fertilizers - advantages and disadvantages

Organic farming in general is more labor intensive than using chemical pesticides and fertilizers while farming. This is also a reason why chemicals are so popular in Ghana Northern Region. One needs to sow only once and after there is little work needed to maintain the crops because the chemicals do all the work. But, as one can imagine, the price to be paid in the long term is high. Recurrent drought in Ghana Northern Region severely affects agricultural activities and is worsening; soil erosion is increasing rapidly; water pollution has serious impact on farmer’s health; and supplies of potable water are inadequate and decreasing rapidly.

But we had more practical reasons to get involved into organic farming.First of all several farmers in different communities approached us with the question how to return to farming without the use of chemicals. We also realized that the food we are eating ourselves most likely is produced using chemicals. We wanted to produce, eat, and supply our communities with food that makes our people more resilient and less prone to diseases such as cancer, strokes, and skin disorders.

We were also thinking of the future generations in the region. With the land becoming less and less fertile and the increase of large scale (chemical based) farming next generations will not have a better future than the current one. This also is one of the reasons why more and more young people move away from the area and try to find a better future in Accra or abroad.

ATMA Farm - weeding the land

Chemicals might be cheaper in the short run, but on the longer term it actually is more expensive for many reasons. Organic fertilizers ensure that the farms remain fertile for decades and a farmer who practices organic farming for many years will require far less fertilizer, because his soil is already rich in essential nutrients. And chemicals contaminate the land and the water, which is a major cause for diseases, poverty and the extinction of a number of plant, animal, and insect species. Organic fertilizers are easily bio-degradable and do not cause environmental pollution.

And finally an important reason for us to start organic farming is that it creates employment within our local communities. Since we don’t use chemicals, weeds and grasses are also growing on our land. It needs to be removed at least twice during the growing period of the crops. That is labor intensive because we have it done by hand. It costs us some money and some food, but it also provides a growing group of farmers income, food and skills.LiL Purpose and Principles - june 2015

Leap into Life is about preserving nature, tradition and at the same time building a future for next generations by introducing change mechanisms and social dynamics that strengthen the communities to become more resilient in the 21st century. The production of organic fertilizers and pesticides brings employment into our communities; because the land needs extra attention and weeding, more farmers have work and farmers have more work; the organic seeds we have found and some of the technologies we use are original and local; and the seeds and crops we produce can be shared to provide healthy food to a growing group of people and/or to scale up the practice of organic farming in the region.

“License to kill” is becoming a well-known term in the region and is used by a growing number of communities to address their desire for more long term solutions that bring both health and wealth for their community members.

So how did we start with organic farming and where are we now? Our first priority was to find proper seeds. The land wouldn’t be so much of a problem for us, since we are well connected and deeply integrated in the traditional Dagomba communities. That actually also ‘saved’ us with the seeds. There wasn’t a place where we could find proper organic seeds, meaning seeds with an official certification as organic. I tried finding them, using my international network of experts. But even within the diverse group of people I know in Ghana who are involved in sustainable landscape development, organic farming or community development I couldn’t find the seeds for the crops we wanted to grow. We wanted to start with mais (corn), but the seeds we did find were either grown with chemicals or were treated with chemicals, probably GMO. The latter is extraordinary because Ghanaian government officially has banned GMO seeds and GMO crops from Ghana. But they are here and used by both local farmers and international companies.

Chemical seeds Pannar

We did find the organic seeds by going deep into the rural areas, there were the farmers are very remote from external influences and are too poor to purchase seeds or chemicals for fertilization or pest control. We did find the seeds we wanted, organic mais, though without a certificate.

Our first plot of land was a small plot of 6 acres close to Tamale. It was offered to us by the farmer who we had helped when he was ill and who had come to us with the question to help him getting off the chemicals. We planted mais, but the crops failed. Not because of the organic techniques or because of pests/insects; it was the effect of Global Warming that made them fail. The rain came 3 weeks later than it normally does and I learned through research that it was partially caused by El-Nino, the change in current in the oceans that brings extreme drought to Africa. Eastern Africa (Somalia/Kenia), Central Africa (Sudan), Southern Africa (Zimbabwe and South Africa) and the Savannah area (Ghana Northern Region) are according to analysts the most affected by this year’s El-Nino. (

A second sowing also failed because of the same reason. Since water is scarce and we do not have any form of irrigation available, we are completely depending on Mother Nature and natural rainfall. This time there was too little and it came too late for our first attempts as organic farmers.

It didn’t stop us, on the contrary. In agreement with local chiefs and in collaboration with several farmer communities in Yendi area we ‘knocked down’ around 40 acres of land to start farming on a new plot. The land there is more fertile than where we first started and the rain started to come. On this plot we have planted mais again and that is growing now to become a good harvest. The 6 acres near Tamale we are now using as a ‘practice field’ to gain experience with new crops. Currently we have black eyed beans, soybeans and tigernuts growing there. Again we are using seeds from remote areas of which we are sure that they haven’t been affected by chemicals. Though our first sowing of black eyed beans failed – this time due to extreme heavy rainfall that washed away the whole field – the crops there are now growing well and can be harvested soon.

On both plots we work with local community farmers and we do that in a specific way that is aligned with the ancient traditions of farming and the Dagomba tradition of Family Sharing. We have given the farmers some of ‘our’ land and provided them with seeds, manure and pesticides to work with. The harvest is theirs to keep and in return they help us to maintain the land where our crops are growing. That is the basis from where we work with most communities – the sharing principle is important to us – but not sufficient to cover for all the work that needs to be done. We also pay for the work in food and with cash money.

The local farmers in Tamale area were curious to see how we preserve and plough our land in a different way. Instead of burning the failed crops we had left them there as manure to feed the land. We also waited a bit longer than the other farmers with sowing, which gave them the opportunity to see the difference in fertility between our land and theirs. The difference already is significant; some farmers approached us to ask if they could use our land for their crops.

The farmers that are helping us on the larger plot had automatically concluded that we were going to use chemicals on the land. Normally a plot of the size we have – or any size above 3 acres – is used for chemical farming, so they were assuming that we were going to do that too. When they learned that we were going to use a different approach, they were surprised and curious. Now they are inspired by our approach and very happy with our presence there. We not only provide extra work, food and resources. We also help them to rediscover older techniques for pest control they can also apply to their own land.

We use organic manure and Neem based pesticides; partly purchased from our business partner in organic products, partly hand made from Neem leafs and Neem seeds from the trees that grow there in abundance. We have been trying to setup an infrastructure for the collection of Neem seeds that provides the women direct income for each bowl of Neem seeds they bring to our office and are still working on improvement of that. It is not running as we would like to, partly because the women are unfamiliar with the qualities and value of the Neem seeds.

We have learned how to make manure from cow feces, rice shells and a mixture of other local ingredients and we apply that in combination with certified organic manure. A few weeks ago we had some trouble with insects eating the roots of our mais (corn) and cutting our crops down. Fortunately we found a traditional natural medicine (a leaf powder) that kills the insects and protects the crops and the land for more than one season.

guide to nutrient value of organic materials

We expect to have good harvest on all our current plots. But we also expect to have inspired others for organic farming. Since there are hardly organic seeds available we have decided to provide them ourselves. We are sharing not only our gained experience with the communities; we will also provide those who want to farm without chemicals in the seeds, pesticides and fertilizers. We are preparing to open a small store in Tamale and we have found several people in the communities who want to sell the products in their region. Ghana northern Region has a short time where farming is possible, it is very seasonable, so we expect to start slow and small with the objective to expand our activities next season.

In future we also want to grow vegetable crops, but irrigation – or better: access to water – is a serious problem for all farmers in Northern Region. In order to be able to grow vegetables we need a borehole and a form of irrigation that makes us less depending on natural rainfall.

Our next step is to expand the growing of organic tigernuts. Experts from Louis Bolk Agro Eco will be visiting Tamale soon and will be joining us to the communities we have chosen to work with for that project. We are excited about the invitation to become part of the tigernut program and thrilled by how we see the farmers and communities grow in health and wealth. We have thrown a little stone in the lake and are grateful to see the circles it has created expanding.


Alain Volz

Tamale, August 2016


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Glyphosate; what is it and how harmless or harmful is it?

Results of my research on Glyphosate

In preparation of an article on farming in Ghana, Northern region – with the name “License to kill” and to be published yet – I got quite deeply into research on Glyphosate, the basic ingredient of practically all chemical pesticides.Glyphosate in food chain e1424980143336As many of you know, I am not without prejudice on the use of chemicals in farming and of processed food in general. However, I tried to look at the different perspectives, including those of the producers of chemical pesticides and advocates for chemical based farming.

It is interesting to find that in March 2015 the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic in humans” (category 2A, see below) and that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in November 2015 concluded that “the substance (Glyphosate) is unlikely to be genotoxic (i.e. damaging to DNA) or to pose a carcinogenic threat to humans.

Glyphosate is widely used in farming all over the globe and there is a huge market for seeds and crops that have been altered (Genetically Modified or Genetically Engineered) to be resistant of Glyphosate. With these seeds and crops, the pesticide will kill everything except for the crops. But in most cases the crops/seeds either hold the toxic in it or have been produced in such a way that they can’t reproduce.

Not only Monsanto, but also companies like Bayern, Dow Chemicals, Wienco, Pfizer and others use Glyphosate in their pesticides and other farming products. The conclusion of the EFSA brings a huge question mark with me, knowing that Bayer is preparing to buy Monsanto.

Before my research my logical thinking was: “Why use Glyphosate; it is a chemical; a toxic that kills weeds and animals eating the farmer’s crops. It is poison that kills, so why should one use it on food crops or in food? And how can it be harmless for us humans, when it kills other organisms?” I still prefer to eat food that is not intoxicated by any form of chemicals or poison.

Glyphosate - europes-top-5-glyphosate-pesticide-toxic-countries-21728434

Below I give a summary of the reports I have found. To be honest, it has shocked me and only made my belief stronger that organic farming is the most plausible future for humanity to survive and to overcome global issues as food security, hunger and disease.

I’ve also found articles on the relationship between the use of chemicals in farming and the increasing rate of arsenic in rice. Especially rice is vulnerable for intoxication. Especially rice grown in areas where cotton is planted is highly toxic. It would be too much to take these reports into this article, but I couldn’t leave mentioning it here.

Brown rice is more toxic than cleaned white rice. Wash your rice carefully with at least 6 cups of water before cooking. And don’t use the water you washed the rice in for the cooking of it.

This article might be difficult to read because it contains a lot of information and harsh conclusions.

Draw your own conclusions.

Tamale, July 2016


Glyphosate; what is it and how harmless or harmful is it?


Glyphosate is a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide and crop desiccant. It is an organophosphorus compound, specifically a phosphonate. It is used to kill weeds, especially annual broadleaf weeds and grasses that compete with crops.

It was discovered to be an herbicide by Monsanto chemist John E. Franz in 1970. Monsanto brought it to market in 1974 under the trade name Roundup, and Monsanto’s last commercially relevant United States patent expired in 2000.

Glyphosate - chemical formula

In March 2015 the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic in humans” (category 2A) based on epidemiological studies, animal studies, and in vitro studies.

Original WHO publication:

In November 2015, the European Food Safety Authority published an updated assessment report on glyphosate, concluding that “the substance is unlikely to be genotoxic (i.e. damaging to DNA) or to pose a carcinogenic threat to humans.

Original EFSA publication:

Monsanto website:

 What is Glyphosate?

All Roundup® brand herbicides contain glyphosate as an active ingredient. Roundup® brand herbicides were developed to control a wide variety of weeds. A majority of Roundup brand herbicides contain three components – the active ingredient glyphosate, water and a soap-like surfactant blend. Glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide, meaning that care must be taken to protect desirable plants and vegetation from contact with the herbicide. Apart from the three ingredients identified, some Roundup brand formulations may have additional active ingredient(s). In addition, there are many glyphosate-based products with other brand names, both from Monsanto and other manufacturers.

Is Glyphosate Safe?

Glyphosate inhibits an enzyme that is essential to plant growth; this enzyme is not found in humans or other animals, contributing to the low risk to human health. Comprehensive toxicological studies in animals have demonstrated that glyphosate does not cause cancer, birth defects, DNA damage, nervous system effects, immune system effects, endocrine disruption or reproductive problems. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classified the carcinogenicity potential of glyphosate as Category E: “evidence of non-carcinogenicity for humans.”

EPA, which reviews extensive toxicological and environmental data before registering an active ingredient, classifies glyphosate as “practically non-toxic.” That is the most favorable acute toxicity category possible based on single–exposure oral, dermal and inhalation studies. In addition to studies with the active ingredient of herbicide products, regulatory agencies also require specific toxicological studies with the full formulation.Glyphosate - Monsanto website

National Pesticide Information Center on Glyphosate:

Glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide, meaning it will kill most plants. It prevents the plants from making certain proteins that are needed for plant growth. Glyphosate stops a specific enzyme pathway, the shikimic acid pathway. The shikimic acid pathway is necessary for plants and some microorganisms.

How might I be exposed to glyphosate?

You can be exposed to glyphosate if you get it on your skin, in your eyes or breathe it in when you are using it. You might swallow some glyphosate if you eat or smoke after applying it without washing your hands first. You may also be exposed if you touch plants that are still wet with spray.

US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health:

Human poisoning with this herbicide is not with the active ingredient alone but with complex and variable mixtures. Therefore, it is difficult to separate the toxicity of glyphosate from that of the formulation as a whole or to determine the contribution of surfactants to overall toxicity. Experimental studies suggest that the toxicity of the surfactant, polyoxyethyleneamine (POEA), is greater than the toxicity of glyphosate alone and commercial formulations alone.

Elizabeth Grossman – National Geographic:

It’s probably in your garage and on your lawn. And it’s used on nearly every acre of corn and soy. But what risks does it pose?

Chemical pesticide - Glyphosate (Wynco)

An international agency declared glyphosate, the primary ingredient in the popular product Roundup,  a “probable human carcinogen.” The weed killer also has made recent headlines for its widespread use on genetically modified seeds and research that links it to antibiotics resistance and hormone disruption. Several national governments are planning to restrict its use, and some school districts are talking about banning it.

Its use skyrocketed after seeds were genetically engineered to tolerate the chemical. Because these seeds produce plants that are not killed by glyphosate, farmers can apply the weed killer to entire fields without worrying about destroying crops.

USGS researchers found glyphosate in the majority of rivers, streams, ditches, and wastewater treatment plant outfalls tested. Glyphosate also was found in about 70 percent of rainfall samples. It attaches pretty firmly to soil particles that are swept off farm fields then stay in the atmosphere for a relatively long time until they dissolve off into water.

Since about 2005, pre-harvest use of glyphosate results in very high residues in food crops. Traces were found in 90 percent of 300 soybean samples.

Glyphosate - GMO Soybeans

Despite its widespread use, USGS hydrologist Paul Capel said there is “a dearth of information” on what happens to it once it is used.

Glyphosate is not included in the U.S. government’s testing of food for pesticide residues or the monitoring of chemicals in human blood and tissues. As a result, there is no information on how much people are exposed to from using it in their yards, living near farms or eating foods from treated fields.

UN’s International Agency for Research on Cancer declared in March 2015 that glyphosate probably raises the risk of cancer in people exposed. The UN agency based its decision on human, animal, and cell studies, says National Cancer Institute scientist emeritus, Aaron Blair who chaired the IARC review committee. The studies found glyphosate in farmworkers’ blood and urine, chromosomal damage in cells, increased risks of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in some people exposed, and tumor formation in some animal studies.

One study suggests that glyphosate may affect pathogens such as Salmonella in ways that can contribute to antibiotic resistance. Other recent research suggests it can interfere with hormones.

The EPA is reviewing its approved uses of glyphosate and expects to release a preliminary assessment of the human health risk later this year. This is expected to include new restrictions.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka, alarmed by suspected links to human kidney disease, has banned it. Brazil is considering a similar move. Mexico and the Netherlands have imposed new restrictions, and Canada has just begun a process to consider new rules.

Dr. Mercola – Roundup and Glyphosate Toxicity Have Been Grossly Underestimated

A study, published in the journal Ecotoxicology, (2013 March; 22(2): 251–262) found that glyphosate is toxic to water fleas (Daphnia magna) at minuscule levels that are well within the levels expected to be found in the environment.

According to regulators, glyphosate is thought to be practically nontoxic to aquatic invertebrates. The water flea is a widely accepted model for environmental toxicity, so this study throws serious doubt on glyphosate’s classification as environmentally safe. The original publication can be found here:

Back in Feb. of 2012, the journal Archives of Toxicology published a shocking study showing that Roundup is toxic to human DNA even when diluted to concentrations 450-fold lower than used in agricultural applications.

(Archives of Toxicology 2012 May;86(5):805-13 –

This effect could not have been anticipated from the known toxicological effects of glyphosate alone. The likely explanation is that the surfactant polyoxyethyleneamine within Roundup dramatically enhances the absorption of glyphosate into exposed human cells and tissue,” Sayer Ji writes:

“If this is true, it speaks to a fundamental problem associated with toxicological risk assessments of agrichemicals (and novel manmade chemicals in general), namely, these assessments do not take into account the reality of synergistic toxicologies, i.e. the amplification of harm associated with multiple chemical exposures occurring simultaneously.”

Glyphosate - spraying II

A study published in Scientific American (June 23, 2009) found that liver, embryonic and placental cell lines exposed to various herbicide formulations for 24 hours at doses as low as 1 part per million (ppm), had adverse effects. The original article “Weed-Whacking Herbicide Proves Deadly to Human Cells“ can be found here:

Perhaps most disturbing of all, the researchers claim that cell damage and even cell death can occur at the residual levels found on Roundup-treated crops, as well as lawns and gardens where Roundup is applied for weed control. They also suspect that:

“Roundup might cause pregniony problems by interfering with hormone production, possibly leading to abnormal fetal development, low birth weights or miscarriages.”

Miscarriages, fertility problems and abnormal fetal development are all problems that are skyrocketing in Argentina, where many are exposed to massive spraying of herbicides. More than 18 million hectares in Argentina are covered by genetically engineered soy, on which more than 300 million liters of pesticides are sprayed. In the village of Malvinas Argentinas, which is surrounded by soy plantations, the rate of miscarriage is 100 times the national average, courtesy of glyphosate.

But even if you don’t live in an agricultural area where you might be exposed to Roundup directly, you’re still getting it through your diet if you’re eating non-organic foods.

The EPA standard for glyphosate in American water supplies is 0.7 ppm. In Europe, the maximum allowable level in water is 0.2 ppm. Organ damage in animals has occurred at levels as low as 0.1 ppm, and in the study on cell lines discussed above, liver, embryonic and placental cell lines were adversely affected at doses as low as 1 ppm. The fact that genetically modified corn can contain as much as 13 ppm of glyphosate has staggering implications for Americans who eat an average of 193 pounds of genetically engineered foods each year! (Source Environmental Working Group October 15, 2012)

A German study, published in 2013, looked at glyphosate’s role in the rise of toxic botulism in cattle. This used to be extremely rare, but the incidence has become increasingly common over the past 10-15 years. ( –  US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health)

As for its effects on humans, the Samsel – Seneff study, published in the journal Entropy in April 2013, suggests that glyphosate may actually be the most important factor in the development of a wide variety of chronic diseases, specifically because your gut bacteria are a key component of glyphosate’s mechanism of harm.

Dr. Stephanie Seneff has been conducting research at MIT for over three decades. She also has an undergraduate degree in biology from MIT and a minor in food and nutrition. The report argues that glyphosate residues, found in most commonly consumed foods in the Western diet courtesy of GE sugar, corn, soy and wheat, “enhance the damaging effects of other food-borne chemical residues and toxins in the environment to disrupt normal body functions and induce disease.” (Original article: Entropy 2013, 15(4), 1416-1463 –

Glyphosate and autism

Glyphosate causes extreme disruption of the microbe’s function and lifecycle. What’s worse, glyphosate preferentially affects beneficial bacteria, allowing pathogens to overgrow and take over. At that point, your body also has to contend with the toxins produced by the pathogens. Once the chronic inflammation sets in, you’re well on your way toward chronic and potentially debilitating disease.

Dr. Seneff identified two key problems in autism that are unrelated to the brain yet clearly associated with the condition—both of which are linked with glyphosate exposure; 1:) gut dysbiosis and 2:) Disrupted sulfur metabolism / sulfur and sulfate deficiency.

Certain microbes in your body actually break down glyphosate, which is a good thing. However, a byproduct of this action is ammonia, and children with autism tend to have significantly higher levels of ammonia in their blood than the general population. This also is the case for those with Alzheimer’s disease. In your brain, ammonia causes encephalitis, i.e. brain inflammation.

Former US Navy staff scientist Dr. Nancy Swanson has meticulously collected statistics on glyphosate usage and various diseases and conditions, including autism. A more perfect match-up between the rise in glyphosate usage and incidence of autism is hard to imagine. To access her published articles and reports, please visit Sustainable Pulse, a European website dedicated to exposing the hazards of genetically engineered foods.

As discussed above, glyphosate has a number of devastating biological effects. So much so that it may very well be one of the most important factors in the development of a wide variety of modern diseases and conditions, including autism.

Glyphosate and Alzheimers-GMOIt’s important to understand that the glyphosate sprayed on conventional and genetically engineered crops actually becomes systemic throughout the plant, so it cannot be washed off. It’s inside the plant.

The answer, of course, is to avoid processed foods of all kinds, as they’re virtually guaranteed to contain genetically engineered ingredients, and center your diet around whole, organic foods as toxic pesticides are not permitted in organic farming.

Last but not least, do not confuse the “natural” label with organic standards.

People generally tend to believe that the word “natural” refers to foods grown “in a natural way,” which really amounts to organic farming methods, or close to it; sans harsh chemicals, and most definitely not something that has been genetically engineered. Unfortunately, that’s not what the “natural” label represents at all. In fact, the “natural” label is unregulated, and companies can define it as they please. The natural label is not based on any standards and is frequently misused by sellers of GE products.

Growers and manufacturers of organic products bearing the USDA seal, on the other hand, have to meet the strictest standards of any of the currently available organic labels. In order to qualify as organic, a product must be grown and processed using organic farming methods that recycle resources and promote biodiversity. Crops must be grown without synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes, petroleum-based fertilizers, or sewage sludge-based fertilizers.

Caroline Cox. Journal of Pesticide Reform, Volume 15, Number 3, Fall 1995.

In animal studies, feeding of glyphosate for three months caused reduced weight gain, diarrhea, and salivary gland lesions. Lifetime feeding of glyphosate caused excess growth and death of liver cells, cataracts and lens degeneration, and increases in the frequency of thyroid, pancreas, and liver tumors.

Glyphosate-containing products have caused genetic damage in human blood cells, fruit flies, and onion cells.

Glyphosate causes reduced sperm counts in male rats, a lengthened estrous cycle in female rats, and an increase in fetal loss together with a decrease in birth weights in their offspring.

It is striking that laboratory studies have identified adverse effects of glyphosate or glyphosate-containing products in all standard categories of toxicological testing.

Two serious cases of fraud have occurred in laboratories conducting toxicology and residue testing for glyphosate and glyphosate-containing products.

Glyphosate in urine and organs

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