Mendham Man Assists Cashew Farmers In Ghana With Peace Corps
By Kerry Breen
Dan Mayer of Mendham has been positioned overseas in Ghana for 22 months. When he first registered for the Peace Corps, he had no idea where he would be going, but hoped that he would be able to do some good there, wherever it might be.
“It has been extremely rewarding,” said Mayer. “The culture is very interesting and I honestly believe Ghanaians are some of the friendliest people in the world. I feel included in the community, and not like an outsider, which I am grateful for.”
When Mayer first registered in 2012, there were no choosing assignments, which is a feature that has been added to the Peace Corps recently. While volunteers can now choose the area where they wish to serve, and even select specific jobs at those posts, Mayer only signed up and hoped for the best. Although Ghana was “not on my radar” at the time, he was glad to receive the assignment and has enjoyed his time there.
Mayer’s primary project has been working on agroforestry projects, usually focusing on cashews, since they are the main crop in the area. It is an extremely strenuous, seasonal farming activity that requires many different kinds of input, according to Mayer, who has focused his service on assisting cashew farmers and improving their livelihoods.
He first partnered with a project called the Village Bicycle Project, which helped import mountain bikes that had been donated to the farmers. Automobiles are in short supply in Ghana, and it is extremely difficult to transport sacks of cashews that weigh up to 70 kilograms. The mountain bikes help travel the several kilometers that the farmers need to traverse; they are also used by the children of the farmers to help them get to school on time.
Mayer worked with another project to help improve the schools in the area as well, which helped bring textbooks to the schools in the area. Mayer was able to help bring English textbooks to five schools in his community and the neighboring village.
Mayer also helped organize a cashew farmer group. They started by doing beekeeping, which would produce honey, which could be used as income during the cashew’s off-season, so the farmers would have increased income. The bees also helped pollinate the flowers of the cashew trees, which increased their yield.
Mayer has seen this group grow and evolve during his time there, as new as it is. The group then utilized what Mayer calls a “Microfinance type banking scheme,” called Village Savings and Loans, which helped them independently raise capital and loan each other money. This allowed villagers to take out loans, which had been difficult for them because the country has poor banking infrastructure, and again, the lack of transportation would make travel difficult.
He also helped process cashew apples, a by-product of the cashew plants which is just normally thrown away. The group partnered with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture to secure a juice pressing machine to make cashew-apple juice. Mayer drafted a grant proposal to construct a cashew nut and cashew apple processing center for the community.
Mayer has also been involved in several other projects, such as a national spelling bee, jam demonstrations and soap making, to name a few. Although he returns home in December, he will continue to spend the next few months in a transitional role, showing the community that “they can do incredible things on their own.”
Mayer was inspired to join the Peace Corps by his friends and mentors, Tanya Sulikowski and Jon Wagar. The three met through their involvement in the Mendham Schiff Natural Lands Trust, which Mayer was a part of throughout high school and college. Wagar was a Peace Corps volunteer from 1994 to 1997, working in Guatemala, and shared his inspirational stories with Mayer. Sulikowski taught him valuable life lessons, which he still uses daily.
“I’m grateful for all that Tanya and Jon shared with me,” said Mayer, crediting them as his major inspiration for joining the Peace Corps. The two continue to do work at Duke Farms in Hillsborough.
Mayer also credits his alma mater, Paul Smith’s College in the Adirondacks, as a major factor in shaping who he is today. He graduated in 2013, with a bachelor degree in fisheries and wildlife science. After he returns from Ghana, he hopes to put that degree to use in working for a federal agency such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Park Service.
“I did, and still do, feel a strong obligation to do whatever I can to have a positive impact on the world,” said Mayer. “I would love to continue working in the Peace Corps, or any other form of public service.”