The "Working in Ghana" Project

Traditional Farmer

[Mr. Bolga has farmed in Northern Ghana for the past 29 of his 45 years. He lives in a traditional earthen house with two wives, three of his five sons, his mother, and three other close relatives. He tills about 7 acres, an inheritance from his father. Never having attended school, he neither reads nor writes. When Philip Awekeya approached Mr. Bolga for the interview, he was weeding a groundnut (peanut) field. They conversed under a tree on the farm, in the Gurune language.]

I started working life as the child of a traditional village farmer and grew up to be a farmer in this village. I had no opportunity to go to school because my late father never saw the need to send me.

Every day is a busy day for me, except when I am not well or there is a funeral in the village that I am obliged to attend. I start each day's work at 5:30 by opening the gate of the livestock pen, followed by the chicken coops, and then taking out the goats to tether them on the un-farmed lands so they can forage. When I finish with the little jobs in the house, I take my hoe and leave for the farm. I start around 7:00 to weed the millet or groundnut (peanut) fields. My two wives join me later in the day. I work mostly with my wives and not with any of my sons for a simple reason. I do not want to repeat the mistakes of my father. I have sent my first four sons to school. My last son (age 10) takes care of my seven cattle and four sheep. Most of the time the boys are away at school. Hence I am forced to work on the farms with their mothers.

I rarely have any confrontation with my wives. We sell part of the farm produce to support the children at school. For this reason I simply have to treat the wives with respect so we can live in peace and support each other.

I enjoy farming. But at times I regret being a farmer in this part of the country. Nature is often against us. The rains do not fall at the right time. They either come too late, or too early, followed by a long spell of drought, or by too much more rain which leads to flooding and low crop production.

We also face the problem of finding a ready and good market for our dry season products. For instance, we do not get a good price for our tomatoes and onions. We just suffer for the Accra market women, who gain large profits at our expense. They pay us too low a price for our products and then sell at a high price in the cities down south.

In spite of our long suffering, the government has not taken any concrete steps to pay us guaranteed prices for our products: tomatoes, onions, and rice. Help is needed to alleviate our economic plight so that we can catch up with the cash crop farmers who raise cocoa and coffee in southern Ghana.

Being a farmer in this country seems to be a punishment. No one seems to recognize our important role in the development of the state. Unlike government workers in Ghana who enjoy free medical care, we farmers work tirelessly to earn income for the state, and our health needs are not met. There is nothing we can do to pull ourselves out of poverty, because many odds face us.

Most of us lack modern farm implements. We rely on the hoe and compost manure. The problem of finance accounts in part for our annual low crop production. We are unable to purchase fertilizers and insecticides for our farms and our animals. But our low production does not mean that we are not hard-working. Rather, we are not given the right incentives. Since most of us are dissatisfied with our rewards, we think there is no need to go into cash crop production. We content ourselves with producing simple traditional food crops like millet, groundnuts and beans.

As a village farmer, I do not belong to any organized union. There have been several attempts by the few literate farmers to form us into a tomato growers association but they have failed. Many times the leaders just spend the small contributions we make in the form of union dues. Hence the activities of the union die anytime union dues are used by the young literate farmers for their own purposes.

The only money I earn comes from the sale of my farm products. To meet the family's health needs I have to get money through the sale of my animals, poultry or farm produce. I do not receive assistance from any source and therefore depend solely on the efforts of my wives and myself.

Though I do not earn very much, I am among the few farmers in the village who have cattle, sheep and goats and also produce sufficient food to last through the two seasons of the year. I was able to provide moderate accommodation by roofing three rooms of my house with iron sheets. I am among the few well-to-do farmers in the village and feel proud about my position. In this village I am one of the opinion leaders though I never went to school, and am unable to read and write. Because I am seen as a successful man in the locality, my views are sought for major decisions to be taken with regard to the developmental interests of the village.

Whatever your educational background, what matters most is your work attitude. To be recognized by your fellows, you have to be a dedicated, honest worker and also to take an active interest in the social activities of your community. To me, being illiterate does not imply that you should be resigned to failure. You should continue to persevere on your farm. You must also learn to be moderate and not waste the proceeds of selling farm produce by drinking pito (a local alcoholic drink). Instead the money should be used to care for members of the family. Every man who is bent on succeeding must work long hours and spend his income wisely so as to gain maximum benefits from his labor.