The "Working in Ghana" Project

Soil Surveyor

[Mr. Bilijo has worked in the Ministry of Agriculture for 20 years as a soil surveyor, a job he took up after completing agricultural college. He is 45 years old, married, with six children ranging in age from 6 to 17. His wife has just learned the seamstress profession to bring another source of income to the household. He was recently assigned to Accra; the family lives in a nearby suburb. English and Twi were both spoken by Mr. Bilijo and Stephen Obiri-Yeboah when they conversed in the double room where Mr. Bilijo lives with his family.]

To be employed as a soil surveyor, one should possess at least a certificate from an agricultural college in Ghana. That is, after completing the ordinary level of the General Certificate of Education, one should attend an agriculture college or obtain a diploma or degree in agricultural science from a university.

I completed my studies in an agricultural college in the 1970's. My father encouraged me to work with the Ghana Survey Department. I therefore submitted my application through one of my uncles who was an officer at the Ministry of Education in Accra. I was asked to go for my testimonial which I did without hesitation from the principal of the agricultural college where I studied. I attended an interview and then was employed as a soil surveyor. I work on the soil. If the government wants to undertake a farm project under its Ministry of Agriculture programs, we go to the proposed land to examine the type of soil available. This enables us to advise the government on the soil conditions and to suggest what type of crops would grow well on that land. After conducting the various tests we also know whether irrigation would be desirable. The work is basically a rural program, hence we move around the country.

Besides the government sector, individuals and various communities who want to cultivate crops also contact our office to have the soil tested. We make recommendations as to whether the crop being considered would grow well on the land. Mostly, it is people who want to undertake cash crop plantation like cocoa and coffee who come to us for such assistance.

We also work for the town and country planning officers who demarcate lands for building purposes. After we have conducted the necessary tests on the area, they will know what areas have relatively fertile soils to support crop cultivation and what areas are infertile. They assign the latter areas for building of houses and industries. Foreign investors also consult us when planning to cultivate some crops, such as pineapples.

We hire local laborers on a temporary basis to do the digging and other tedious duties. We had our own laborers but there was high cost of transport and other allowances. I supervise the excavation and collect the appropriate samples for test at the laboratory.

I feel proud of my work as a soil surveyor and of course as a technical officer. Africa is an agricultural continent. Agriculture depends on the soil which means that we are the component in the sector which the entire continent depends on. The work is such that we come into contact with different kinds of people from different races, which is a no mean achievement. People of all social ranks approach us in a respectful way because our work is essential to the Ghanaian economy. I become very happy when people of various ages come to me for advice concerning their intended projects. The work has indeed put me in a recognized position in the society. We are really the farmer's friend and hence an asset to the nation.

However, the work is mainly restricted to the bush. We spend only a few days--mainly weekends and leave periods--in the towns or cities where we reside. Despite this I would recommend the job to anyone who desires to join. During my employment interview I was asked about the long stay in the bush, so I was prepared for such situations.

I go to work at eight o'clock in the morning and stop after two o'clock in the afternoon. The work becomes very difficult if the land is devoid of trees for shade. Hence we stop work when the sun becomes very hot. Also, during days of heavy rainfall we don't go to the field.

The tools used include the surveyor's chain, chaining arrows, ranging poles, tape for measurements, cross staff or optical square, ink staff made of wood and other accessories. Others include the cutlass and auger. The chain is used for measuring horizontal distances. The ranging poles, which can be made of wood or metal with alternate bands of red and white or black and white, are used for marking stations.

The arrow, which is a metal object about 0.5 meter long, is used to mark the ends of the chains or tapes. The cross staff is used to take perpendicular distances from the chain line (i.e., offsets). The recording accessories, which include field notebook, pencil, pens, eraser, etc., are used to record the various information on the field. The auger is used to detect the type of rocks in a soil sample.

Previously we were given special boots, bush attire and other materials like mosquito nets but now we buy them ourselves. The Department has Land Rover vehicles that we take to the bush where there are roads.

Though this equipment goes a long way to help us, there is room for improvement, for better services to be rendered. I think that we should be given guns to defend ourselves from wild animals when the need arises. Once in the Northern Region, we were attacked by a lion and had only the basic tools to defend ourselves.

Lack of boots, mosquito nets, uniforms, and other basic tools actually poses a threat to our strength. (He cited an instance of a snake having bitten someone in the Eastern Region.) In the rural areas also we are given some token amount for accommodation; the amount varies with one's rank. This minimum amount does not afford us proper accommodations, and that affects our health.

I believe that no matter the age of the supervisor who is the senior technical officer (normally a diploma holder, and therefore potentially younger than those he supervises), due respect should be given to him. I therefore work cordially with my supervisor. When I became sick in 1992, he wrote a report saying that I should be allowed to work in Accra for some time to regain my strength. He visits me and I also visit him.

I move freely and cordially with all my co-workers, both those of the same rank and those below. The relationship between us makes our stay in the rural areas enjoyable because out there, there is no wife or children to play with--only the co-workers.

Even though I am an officer, I normally assist my subordinates when the need arises. In most cases I help in digging and other minor duties which should be done by the (local) temporarily-employed workers. This habit has enabled me to get full accommodation from the laborers plus foodstuffs for my family when I return on the weekends. The laborers actually like me.

People, both fellow church members and others, consult me privately when they are embarking on projects. This assistance normally takes place on Saturdays when I am expected to rest. I have been receiving gifts from money to foodstuffs from the good ones.

We belong to the Trade Union Congress (T.U.C.). The workers in the agriculture sector have formed the General Agriculture Workers (GAW) of which I am an officer. I like the union because it is the only way we can channel our problems to the government. We meet occasionally to share ideas that can enhance productivity. This collective body also offers us the chance to acquire scholarships to study abroad.

In spite of the essential role we play in the economy, our pay is not encouraging at all. Under the consolidated pay system, all allowances like accommodation, transport and the like have been incorporated into one's salary, which is heavily taxed. My take home pay is only around 30,000 cedis (then, about $60) a month.

I enjoy 28 days plus four days traveling leave annually and one week casual leave. I used to collect leave claims of about 28,000 cedis ($56) annually but that is not coming now. I also have sick leave, and all my medical expenses are paid by the Department of Agriculture if I go to a government hospital. My children, too, are entitled to such medical care.

From laborer to technical officer rank, the workers are promoted at intervals of three years. But from the technical officer rank upwards, the officer has to attend an interview in addition to having completed three years' service. Recently the promotion has not been encouraging at all.

The work has a negative effect on my family and Christian life also. My long stays away from home affect the rearing of my children, especially my sons. A man should train his male children but because of my job, my wife has to take up all these responsibilities. When we go to rural areas, where churches are not available, my worship becomes disjointed. But the effect is not all that severe as my family and I have adapted to the condition.