Friday, October 26, 2012

My life depends on good harvest - groundnut farmer

Afa Alhassan being assisted by mom and auntie to dry his nuts

EACH year between August and October, one can see chains of women carrying sacks and pans filled with freshly harvested groundnuts and walking along dusty or muddy paths in villages in Northern Ghana.
It is that period of the year when groundnut farmers harvest their groundnuts, which were planted earlier in the year.
Groundnut or peanut happens to be one of the most farmed food crops in Northern Ghana due to its health, culinary and economic values.
In 2011, the Ministry of Food Agriculture (MoFA) indicated that the total output of groundnut produced in the three regions of the north accounted for about 80 percent of the nation’s total groundnut production.
In a recent trip to Zokuga, a farming community in the Savelugu/Nanton district of the Northern Region, I met with a 44-year old farmer who has been cultivating groundnut since childhood.

It was midday and Afa Mohammed Alhassan as he is called was busily drying groundnut he had harvested from his 10-acre farm. He was being supported by his mother, Mma Salamatu and auntie, Mma Maata.
In the interaction that followed, he mentioned that although he farms both maize and groundnut, it was the latter that was so dear to his heart.
Afa Alhassan speaking to me
“I focus much of my attention on farming groundnut because it is through this that I get enough income to take care of my family,” he said, adding that his favourite variety is ‘abaen’.
Afa Alhassan was unequivocal in stating that his life as a groundnut farmer depended on good harvest.
“When harvest is good, I can get about seven bags of groundnuts from an acre and this happens only once a while,” he stated.
At the time, a bag of groundnut was selling between GH¢50 to GH¢70 and this in an incentive to Afa Alhassan.
“When prices are good, it helps us farmers to reap what we have sown,” he said with a smile.
I asked him what were the factors that can account for a good harvest and he mentioned good rains as paramount.
He noted that having a good harvest depended also on planting at the right time, adding that to plant one needs to mobilise the seeds and get the land prepared.
Unlike maize and other crops, groundnut does not depend heavily on fertilizer and this, in the estimation of Afa Alhassan, is one thing that makes farming groundnut conducive for the rural poor.
In spite of this, he thinks that groundnut farmers, like other farmers, need some support from government and other organisations.
“When the season arrives and there are no tractors to prepare the land, then it could affect planting,” he said.
Afa Alhassan said the lack of equipment for harvesting and shelling groundnuts makes the work of harvesting groundnut a bit laborious.
During harvest, he and other farmers use either their hands or hoes to uproot the vines from the ground, depending on the texture of the soil.
“When the ground is still wet, we can use our hands, but if it is dry, we have to use hoes,” he said.
He said after the vines are uprooted, he employs the services of some women to separate the nuts from the vines, assemble them in heaps and transport them in pans and in sacks to his house.
It is then that another process begins as the nuts have to be dried for a period of time, before being shelled, separated from the kennels and packed into sacks.
“It is a painstaking process,” he said.
Of course, Afa Alhassan is also concerned about getting the needed technologies to increase yield.
“If we can get help to enable us get better yields, it would help us a lot because our lives depend on it,” he noted.
Like many other rural men, Afa Alhassan has two wives and four children, but is not satisfied.
“I want to have more children,” he intimated, adding that “Three of the children are for my first wife and so my second wife would also be delivering two more.”
He admitted that taking care of his four children, together with his mother and other extended family, is quite a challenge, especially in keeping his children in school.
Three of them, Zakaria, Alhassan and Memunatu attend the Zokuga nursery and primary school.
“Sometimes, the teachers ask us to pay some dues and buy some items for the children and I try to get it for them,” he said.
Afa Alhassan's children are in school
“They tell us that education is good, but I am yet to feel it because none of my children has gone far with their education,” Afa Alhassan said, with a sense of uncertainty.
“Have you not heard of family planning,” I asked him and his response was expected: “I have heard of it, but I want to have more children because I do not know which one of them would prosper in future.”
Efforts to explain that family planning is about planning child birth would however not sink.
Well, it appears that Afa Alhassan’s 44-years of farming has shaped his idea of life and what he considers the most important is how to get a good harvest each farming season.
(This article was also published in the Daily Graphic - Oct. 22, 2012, p.23)

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