“Ooooo my hoe’s real’ dirty, what about yours?” says the young man to the closest boy.
“Oh yeah, real dirty! Yo just pass me your hoe, I’ll bang her with mine and it should be better.” responds the boy, as if this was a normal activity, while trying to catch his breath.
The young man passes the hoe, sighs ,stares off into the distance, and shares his new insight with the closest boy, “Man ok, but, I’m starting to feel light-headed… but we still have all’ this weed to go through.”
“Yeah, I know… soooooooo muuuuuuuuuch weeeeeeeeeed!” knowingly answers the boy.
It’s easy to have misconceptions about agriculture. Right?
If young Dagbani boys would speak like gangsters, this is exactly the conversation I would’ve had this weekend, on many, many occasions. We weeded a field of peanuts and corn for over 10 hours. It was hard, repetitive work. It was rewarding to see the work we had done, the ache in my muscles felt good, but I’m happy to be at the Minstry of Food and Agriculture office today writing blog posts, planning randomized testing of a communication tool, and designing workshops instead of weeding for the nth consecutive day. It’s much more stimulating. Yup, it’s easy to have misconceptions about agriculture from an outsider’s perspective. Personally, I’ve been guilty of this before.
“I hate exams. I hate, I hate, I hate exams. Why do we even need to go through this?” says the same young man to his friend.
“I don’t know man, we really should just get a small farm, you know?” dreamily answers his friend.
“Yeah, we totally should. We would spend time outside, breath fresh air, and it certainly wouldn’t be this stressful! Having a farm would be amazing!” naïvely answers the young man.
It’s easy to romanticize working with the earth. Small-scale rural farming is incredibly rewarding, but it’s also a lot of hard, repetitive work. From a comfortable desk in a stimulating university setting, it’s easy to see past the incredible opportunities we have to follow our passions, be it agriculture or something else, here in Canada. Many people in Ghana dream of being able to pursue secondary or tertiary education. And many adults have never even had the chance to go to school at all.
This weekend I went farming with my landlord and his children. Midday, we took a break to eat a mixture of corn, soybeans, and flour to give us energy for the rest of the day. Before going back to work, my landlord takes out a shiny aluminum pack from his pocket and proceeds to swallow a few pills. Since we can’t really communicate verbally, he proceeds to tell me “Chinese” while pointing at the pills, and then holding his back. As a generous Ghanaian, he then offers them to me so that I can take some too. I politely decline.
In the field, there’s no worker’s compensation. Your social insurance is your family, but when you have over twenty young children, working has to seem like the best option. Instead of worker’s compensation, you have small, white Chinese pills and you have your hard-work ethic. Farming is hard, and the repetition leads to injuries.
Nothing beats sitting on a wooden structure under a straw roof after a hard day at the farm. Simply sitting under a blanket of beautiful stars with other men who have done the same work as you with a filled stomach thanks to a shared collective meal, well, that’s powerful.
Foreign development organizations and other institutions seem to be focused on changing Ghana. It’s true that more freedom must be given to people. It’s true that it’s important to provide basic necessities like potable water. It’s true. It’s also true though that this starts by changing things like agricultural subsidies or foreign aid policies at home, so that my hard working landlord can have a fair price for his maize on a so-called free trade global market.
I think that true worldwide development will only come when we can incorporate the best from Ghana to Canada as much as we try to “Canadify” Ghana. If every Canadian and other so called “privileged” individual ate from the same bowl of maize paste, dipped into collectively shared bowls of vegetable soup, power dynamics would be set up so that my landlord could have a fair profit for his maize. Together, we would be powerful. It would be amazing.