C’est la saison des semences…

I woke up one morning to a new sound in the village. I was not woken up by a prideful rooster singing at full lung capacity. I wasn’t hearing the famous mix of laughing and crying that is constantly produced by the mass of children in the community. Nope, I was awoken by a constant, soft, and relaxing sound. I was awoken by rain.

The rain had finally come. Farmers could start planting. The few tractors in Komoayili could be started again. Ploughing. Sowing. Weeding. Lunch at the farm. Hoes on the shoulder. Men on bicycles, wearing hats to protect themselves against the harsh Ghanaian sun. Everyone yelling Na pooné? (how is the farm?), to which people invariably answer Naaa! (fine!). Life had taken a new turn, a new twist. The rain had come.

On the way to the farm!

This gave me an opportunity. Since it was the weekend, after convincing my new friends that I was strong enough to work the land, I was able to go to the farm. There I was able to witness firsthand the elusive technology adoption process that I will be trying to understand, and possibly even influence, over the next three months in my small corner of Northern Ghana.

On Saturday I was able to witness broadcasting of groundnuts seeds. Broadcasting consists of taking handful of seeds and throwing them in various directions while walking the full area of the field. Then, the field is ploughed by a tractor to sow the fields into the ground. It’s fast, it’s satisfying, and you get a big farm. You also waste a lot of seeds since most of them won’t germinate from the planting at uneven depths and the damage from the tractor, and the seeds that aren’t planted deep enough suffer from the attacks of various animals and pests.

We planted many bowls of seeds like this!

On Sunday I row planted groundnut seeds. The process is simple. The head farmer walks around with a stick and makes holes at constant spacing and depth in his field along straight lines. Then children, myself, and the occasional adult follows and drops a seed in a hole, kicks soil on top of it with bare feet, and repeat. Repeat, repeat, repeat. For many hours. It’s hard work and you feel like you’ve planted less seeds then the farmer who is broadcasting. You also use less seeds, have an easier field to maintain for the rest of the season which will need less chemical inputs since they can be applied appropriately on rows, you plant more densely, and more seeds will germinate.

Why do farmers still use broadcasting you ask? I don’t know, why do people eat junk food, start school projects at the last minute, or don’t exercise and wait to get sick in Canada?

Back at the office and armed with my new farming experience, I still asked the question to my coworkers. I had very meaningful talks with intelligent, articulate, and passionate Agricultural Extension Agents.

Une photo de moi, à la requête de ma chère maman!

Some said that farmers don’t see their farming activities as a business. Hence, it’s very difficult for them to do a cost-benefit analysis and analyze the final profit of their farm. Even if the bigger broadcasted farm has more yields the profit is much lower. Others said that farmers prefer to have a bigger farm instead of reducing the land size since it’s more satisfying and brings more social status. Finally some mentioned that with appropriate technology like tractors to sow or money to hire more labour, everyone would row plant. All mentioned that educating and training illiterate farmers on these issues is a challenge and that they were understaffed.

I had a long conversation with Mr. Abanga, an Extension Agent, about tech adoption, Ghana, my purpose, and life in general. Pointing at the primary school in the distance, he mentioned that technology adoption should start at that level, to educate the next generation of Ghanaians. The idea, the seed, the dream to always learn more and doing things better should be sowed in these young minds. I also realized that I’m only in Ghana for a very short time. I’ll be gone before the groundnuts I planted will be harvested. I’m not here forever. Earlier in the week I was a little frustrated that I wouldn’t be able to drastically change the Ministry of Food and Agriculture in my short stay. I won’t be able to make the myriad of NGO projects always distracting the staff more efficient and have a more holistic approach. But I will plant seeds. I will plant seeds of change, ideas, and I will row-plant them to give them the best opportunity to germinate.

And finally... my small friends at the farm!

Many ideas have been planted in my mind from very brilliant, caring, and passionate Ghanaians at work and in my community Komoyaili who have very generously invested in me. I’ll try my best to take care of these precious gifts and make them create the most beautiful garden possible in Canada. I guess a farming season can last a lifetime….

10 thoughts on “C’est la saison des semences…

  1. Yo homie!
    I’ve been coming up with many of the same answers you’ve mentioned here on row planting, but I have two comments/questions (which maybe you can email me back about).
    1- The issue of social status of owning a large farm for broadcasting hasn’t really come up in Chereponi. I’m not sure why this is, but I’ve noticed that land size hasn’t had so much of an effect on planting process here! It has more boiled down to a combination of three interwoven barriers: increased labor, lack of understanding on why they would benefit from the increased labor, and a lack of finances to support the increased labor. So I was wondering for those who row plant who are they in Karaga (i think that’s where you are), because here in Chereponi they are the already resourceful farmers? I ask this because it seems technology adoption and existing resources for a farmer have a positive correlation in my research so far, and i have many theories on why this is!
    2 – Has the topic of soil conservation as an appropriate/promoted technology come up in Karaga? Because you mentioned the use of tractors being something that the farmers need there, but here some have the option but choose bullocks plowing because the tillage isn’t so deep thus the soil is conserved, and fertility prolonged.

    • Dolla Dolla Bill, it’s great to hear from you my friend!

      We really do need to chat, my mobile is broken, but an awesome co-worker of mine is buying one in Tamale for me this weekend. Chat on Monday or Tuesday about tech adoption?

      So here are some, probably incomplete answers, to your very good questions!

      1- First of all, yup I’m based in Karaga! I’ve actually witnessed these different planting processes in the community I’m living in though, it’s called Komoayili. After talking to Extension Agents AND some farmers who speak English in the village apparently most people, or even everyone, are aware that row-planting is a better practice than broadcasting. The issue, as you’ve mentioned, is the increase need for labour when row-planting is used. Farmers say that they don’t have the resources to do it (monetary and human capital) for the size of their field. The farmers say it’s “too much work” and the Extension Agents say “that the farmers are lazy”. At that point though, the solution usually prescribed by the Extension Agent is to reduce the field size. This does not seem to be an option that is very popular, at least amongst the farmers who are still broadcasting… From what I’ve seen, the farmers that are more educated (ex. the Assembly Man at the village) tend to follow the best farming practices available. I’ll definitely keep on the lookout for more data on the correlation between assets and good farming practices though (which I’m guessing are probably a positive feedback loop of some sort).

      2- I’ve had a few chats about soil conservation with Extension Agents, but nothing about bullock vs. tractor ploughing. Apparently here everybody would love to automate their farm as much as possible, if they had tractors that could sow the field, they’d love to use them! The issue of soil quality has come up though. People mention that the soil is tired and that costly fertilizer is needed to have a good yield. Some projects currently being piloted include using inoculants to increase soil productivity with ground nuts and soybeans. The projects have supposedly been showcased via demonstration plots, but the inoculants aren’t available here… From my understanding, other projects include crop rotation to increase the nitrogen content of the soil.

      Anyways, that’s a little long, but I’d love to chat some more soon!

      Have a great weekend my friend,

      Marc-André

  2. Great post Marc Andre!

    The point that the agricultural worker made about education and “sowing seeds in young minds” reminds me of something that was discussed at regional retreat last year; that education reform may have a larger impact than the programs EWB is executing currently. I wonder if it’s something that EWB could tackle…

    • Hey Joe, thanks a lot for reading and your pretty ballin’ question!

      On the public agriculture team here in Ghana we currently are doing some work with Agricultural Colleges, from which the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) hires Extension Agents. The idea is to add entrepreneurship skills to the curriculum so that, even though MoFA does not hire most of the graduates, it would be possible for them to start their own business. Daniela Corsetti is currently working on this initiative and there is some discussion surrounding scaling up this project in the upcoming months/ year. Another JF, Bailey Greenspon is working with an organization called Network for Integrated Youth Action which is concerned with developing leadership skills with high school kids. Her main project currently is to help support the planning and the executing an epic conference for some of them. So we are currently doing some work in education.

      You’re asking a very good question though, that I’ve also been thinking about a lot. Why not expand our work in the field even further, if we are able to have some traction?

      When I see small children in the village not going to school (even though there is a primary school right beside it) and then I compare the lack of opportunities that they will have in their lives compared to the ten University of Development Studies students doing a two-month research project in Kmoayili, my community for their degree my heart does tell me that we should invest heavily in education. On the other hand, even for graduates, I feel like employment opportunities are scarce in Ghana, and improving the livelihoods of farmers might be the best approach to improve the lives of as many people as possible.

      I think it’s a very fair question to ask though, and I’d be really interested to hear what thoughts came out of the discussion at regional retreat. Keep me posted Joe!

      Marc-André

  3. Merci pour la photo…..
    Un changement part toujours d’une petite idée qui doit germer et faire lentement son chemin…
    Je suis certaine que ton séjour au Ghana va être fructueux!

    xoxoxo

  4. Great post Marc-André, thanks for sharing your farming experience with us! This is a GREAT example of different practices and why (or why not) people use them. So interesting! I hope this has helped you with your work – any great ideas on how to promote these practices to a bigger number of farmers?🙂
    Keep it up champ, keep writing too!

    • Thanks Erin!

      Going to the farm with people from the community has actually been the best way for me to learn about actual field realities so far. Every time I go, I end up learning about a new farming practice that we, at MoFA, are trying to promote or change!

      Promoting these technologies is definitely the million-dollar question here haha! I think that by simply increasing the amount of time Extension Agents spend in the field directly interacting with farmers, practices like row-planting could definitely be improved.

      This weekend I also learned again that the bigger picture is somewhat more complicated than simply promoting the right technology though. Row-planting takes longer than broadcasting; hence it took two days instead of one for the Assembly Man to plant one of his fields using this practice instead of broadcasting. Turns out though that only the first half of the land germinated, since it was planted on the day it rained the other portion, planted the next day, had to be completely replanted later since the seeds did not germinate. Thankfully the Assembly Man has many seeds and was able to replant the field, but I’m starting to realize that many underlying issues control the adoption of technologies…!

      It’s definitely something to keep in mind while searching to improve tech adoption!

      Have a great day Erin and thanks for the comment,

      Marc-André

  5. Beautifully articulated Marc-André! I will pray that the rains are easy on Northern Ghana this year. My sponsored brother’s family has lost their crops the past few years due to flooding. I’m sure this is an issue you will learn more about while you’re there, if you find any solutions please share!🙂

    • Haha I was doing field interviews yesterday morning and we crossed over to a region in my district (Karaga, in the Northern Region) that’s called “Overseas” because everything floods there and the roads become only accessible by canoe. It’s pretty intense, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture’s agents who support farmers can’t even get there for a few months during the rainy season, so flooding is definitely an issue in some region. Areas that are flooded every year to that extent are being used to cultivate rice, since the crop needs the flooding anyways. Some people also seem to create mounds of earth and then plant a row of crop (ex. groundnuts) on it. This way, the space between the ridges floods more and then the rest is safe. I think planting earlier is also a trick for maize and other crops. Right now the problem is still a lack of rain though, hopefully it’ll rain more in my region and less in the community of your sponsored child!

      Thanks for reading Jess, and I read that you’ll be extending your work at the Assembly of First Nations, sounds pretty epic!

      Marc-André

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