My village stay experience started on a regular Ghanaian Wednesday afternoon – it was hot and I was sweaty.
I left for Duuyin, a village about 15 km away from Tamale on the back of a moto. Razak, an AEA from the Tamale metro office of MoFA drove me out there and introduced me to Nom-naa who was going to be my guide and teacher for the next week. Nom-nah, as I learned, is very respected in both his and the surrounding communities. His father was the previous chief of the village and he was a district assemblyman for twelve years. He’s currently an opinion leader in Duuyin, meaning he, along with a few others, are sought out to solve social issues that might be happening or to dispense advice when needed. Beyond that, Nom-naa’s a model farmer, taking care of fifteen acres of maize, four of rice, and three of yam every year, mainly to feed his family which consists of sixteen people.
My main goals going into the village stay were to gain a better understanding of the realities faced by rural farmers in northern Ghana and to hopefully learn more about agriculture in general. Unfortunately, since it’s currently the dry season, there wasn’t too much actual farming to be done. Fortunately, Nom-naa is a pretty great teacher and was willing to entertain my basic questions for the week to make sure I learned as much as I could – even if I couldn’t put much into practice.
I won’t get into everything just yet. A lot of what I learned will probably come up at later dates in other posts when I’m talking about specific subjects or agricultural practices, but I will touch on two items that resonated with me throughout my stay.
The first pertains to the sense of hospitality that I’ve noticed ever since arriving in Ghana, which was highlighted by Nom-naa when we were talking late into the evening one night – bare in mind late for this village was past 10pm which seems really late when there’s no electricity for lights anywhere. He explained that to the Dagomba people, once you were a guest in someone’s house, you would never be turned away. They would always have a place for you to stay and be ready to share their food with you. As he explained it, even if you did something to lose their respect, they would still let you stay with them – they might just give you less food to eat. I sensed this hospitaility throughout my stay in Duuyin. Whenever we would walk around the village or meet new people, everyone would offer me something to eat. As an aside, one of the first things I learned how to say in Dagbani when I was there was “I’m not hungry” since I knew if I ate the food it just meant someone else would be eating less or not eating at all – this strategy seemed to work well. Whenever I’d meet them again they’d always stop and try to talk to me, even through the barriers in cross-cultural communication. This sense of community and general welcoming takes a little getting used to coming from someone from North America where these things are definitely not the norm. Having said that, it’s easy to see how these traits help strengthen the overall community for the better.
The second thing I wanted to highlight relates to the plight of smallholder farmers in northern Ghana. Again, during one of our many conversations, Nom-naa relayed some of his wisdom to me:
“In the north, small farmers will always farm. In the sun we will farm. In the rain, we will farm. We do this to feed our families, so we will always farm. Commercial farmers though, they farm for money. Once they make money, that’s it. They might not even visit their farms anymore, just have others do it for them. So, between those that farm to feed our families and those that farm for money – who should MoFA be helping?”
The answer should seem obvious if the goal of MoFA is to help lift smallholder farmers out of poverty. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Hopefully in the next few months and years, I’ll be able to gain a better understanding of why this is and help MoFA change to make sure that farmers like Nom-naa get the kind of support that they need and deserve.
To end on a lighter note: here’s a video of the kids in the village putting on an impromptu show in the middle of the day: