Monday, April 9, 2012

I go farm!

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My village is in one of the most productive food growing regions in Ghana. The country's largest outdoor produce market is in a nearby city and serves buyers from all over Ghana as well as neighboring countries. Most of the villagers where I live are farmers. On arriving and hearing the phrase, "I go farm", in my mind I imagined the person heading to their residence, but it means exactly, "I am going to work my land."

Today is the Monday after Easter and is a part of a four day holiday that starts on Good Friday. School is out. This morning the caretaker and her family announced, "I go farm!" Since it had rained through much of the night, the morning was cool, with moisture still in the air and an overcast sky, it was the perfect day to "go farm" with them. It didn't take long for me to know that did not sound like a good idea to them: we must walk far; it is going to rain; it is hot; it will be very late when we return; maybe next time. Not wanting to push the issue, I put down my cutlass and wished them a productive day. After grading some school papers, cleaning my room, and just puttering around, I decided to head out on my own and see who was farming.

There are two dirt roads heading up the hills into the local farm land, one I had hiked before. So with my backpack, camera and plenty of water, I took the other road out of town headed to "farm." About twenty minutes into the journey, I joined the group you see in the picture. They are not on a holiday, walk about, but headed out "to farm", carrying containers of water on their heads, babies on their backs and the basic all around farming tool, the cutlass. I certainly amused them, first of all by just being there and most of all by my bad "Twi", the local language. When they headed off on a small side trail, I continued on the main trail for another two hours.

Most of the farms are small plots of land, worked entirely by hand with mostly a cutlass and a sturdy tool that looks like a cross between an axe and a large hoe. A sharp cutlass is needed to farm as the "bush" is a ready invader and can quickly take over cleared area. During my four hours I did not see a large number of farmers, but each time I stopped, I could hear the slash of a working cutlass.

Some farmers were harvesting cashews, a difficult task as they must wait till the cashew drops from the tree, pick it up, pinch off the nut pod that is just below the fruit and place in a bucket. From there the nut pod is dried in the sun, sold to a local buyer, and either exported or processed in Ghana. About 6 more steps are necessary, some by hand, before they are ready for consumption. Thus the price, even in Ghana.

Other farmers were planting peppers (red hot), maze and cassavas. The trees along the trail were full of mangoes, avocados, papayas, and some other fruit I did not recognize, many marked with a red piece of cloth indicating not for sharing.

Fours hours later, the time and water had gone quickly, met more residents of the village, saw and learned some new things, but did not use my cutlass or "go farm." Maybe next time.

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