Yesterday I left the dirt road and journeyed into fields of northern Ghana—a mix of agricultural land and native grasses. I was in search of the focal person for the community that I would be staying with next week. This being harvest time he was in his fields and that is where we found him. Taking an oft hidden path through a tall grass prairie of sorts, and with the help of several farmers along the way we finally located him husking corn underneath a tree with two companions, their bicycles and pail lunches close at hand. As we talked the corn grew higher and higher on expectant piles waiting to be carried away, either in bags strapped to the racks of bicycles or on the heads of women—both a common sight on the dusty red roads. Agriculture here is carried out almost entirely by hand; corn is picked, husked, and shelled by hand and then left to dry in the middle of compounds, rice is cut with a sickle and processed entirely by hand. I feel I need to mention that down the street from where I live there is a old John Deere combine with a rice head on it, which I have seen move once but I feel like by the time it enters the fields there will be little rice left for it to harvest.
Reflecting on this I came to the realization that agriculture in the U.S. was not so different a hundred years ago—the main difference being the complete absence of horses in Ghana. While riding around the country side it seems impossible for farmers to either compete with or reach the level of western farmers. Modern American farming was born in the post Great Depression post WWII era. And it was largely driven by the federal government in the form of assistance to farmers, both veterans and those that farmed though the War. Through this massive influx of money, technology, and education American farming modernized and was able to feed the world. Taking a long approach to viewing development it is possible to see that in one hundred years Ghana could also be an agricultural center. People will lament the climate but a cold season is just replaced by a dry season; are the desolate winters of the upper Midwest any less forgiving than a long and hot dry season—both deserts? Like farm workers everywhere Ghanaian farmers are hard working and resourceful, they are just lacking assistance, the type of assistance that helped American farmers transform theirs and their communities’ lives. If the Ghanaian government could help farmers buy land, seed, fertilizer, equipment, and education and training they could easily feed the world.
So while it is possible for Ghanaian farmers to compete on the world market, the world market must remember where it came from and realize that the African farmer today deserves every assistance that was provided to the American farmer fifty years ago.
Visiting small farming communities, one or two room rural schools, and seeing whole families working in the fields together all against the stunning background of savannah land it is hard to compare it to the stories of Willa Cather set around the struggle of farmers in the American Midwest—a land that at the time seemed just as untamable as the savannah is today.