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Form the Land – A conversation with a Ghanaian emerging farmer

November 25, 2012

When I first met Dr Raphael Avornyo I never guessed we had so much in common except as workers in HIV projects.

He is a lecturer of sociology at University of Cape Coast in Ghana. He is also a linguist fluent in French, English, German and three Ghanaian languages.  But he is also an emerging farmer not just because it brings him closer to nature but because he saw it as a way to supplement his income.

 

“When I came back from studying in Germany in 1988, I got a job as a co-ordinator for an HIV/AIDS organization,’’ he recalls.  “After seeing my first pay I decided I needed to supplement my income. I chose farming so that I could feed my family and the people around me.’’

 

His first venture in 1989 was crop farming – maize, cassava and pineapple farming until 2006 when he relocated with his work to Botswana. His farms were then neglected.

 

When he returned a year later, he chose egg production as a main venture but continued with his cassava and maize fields. His venture includes a few goats breeding of grass cutters, which I thought were oversize cane rats but he said they were “bush meat that is a delicacy in Ghana”.

I thought aha!!! I have found a kindred spirit. I asked him how he juggled an academic career, international consulting engagements and farming.  He agreed that if one is not a full time farmer to take care of day to day business one would have management and operational problems.

 

But unlike me, Raphael grew up in a subsistence farming family so he has better working knowledge of farming than I had when I ventured into bonding with the land. Also as an academic he is more structured and thoughtful in his approach.  When he introduced his layers in 2007 he started with 350 and increased to 750 the following year, last year his flock grew to 2000 and in 2010 he is aiming for 3000. His farm is about 45 minutes away from his home and he collects his harvest twice a week to supply in bustling Accra.

 

But I think his biggest treasure is Michael, his 90-year-old father, who lives on the farm and supervises two dedicated farm hands.

 

“My vision is to contribute massively to the poultry industry in Ghana, where we will not be relying on imported meat and eggs. Currently we import from Europe and USA,” he said

 

“Why can we not feed ourselves?’’ I asked. Africa has all the resources.

 That was the only time an academic in Raphael showed himself.

 His view is that:

  We have human resources – mainly strong, young people – to work the land but they need inputs so that they do not leave the land to chase white collar jobs that are scarce.  But there is need to modernise agriculture;

 

  We have fertile lands, most countries in the continent have abundant rain but we are harvesting water and not making good use of it. We must move away from rain fed agriculture and use irrigation to have significant growth;

 

We also have the market and as a continent, we need to produce and develop marketing strategies to ensure a lot of our produce does not go to waste. “We produce but cannot process, store and package and therefore we are unable to add value which is important for marketing in agriculture,’’ he said.

 

There is need for capital; however banks are not willing to support us.  Even agricultural development banks do not take the realities and peculiarities of seasonal income in account. They do not look for serious farmers and support them to be self sufficient.

 

I left Raphael’s plot smiling with the ever lingering guilt of abdicating my farming venture soothed. I was thinking I am not alone in this; even professors on the other end of the continent see value in agriculture and still face the same issues I face down south. There has to be a better way.

 

 

 

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