Agriculture

The Series: Genius Loci of the Volta Region

After my experience in Italy back in September of 2015, I became energized by the concept of genius loci. During my sojourn in Ghana in October of that same year, I wanted to explore what it meant in the culturally rich and ecologically fertile landscapes of my grandmother Adjoa's heartland, the Volta Region. Through family and community, my immersion into parts of the culture and environment enabled me to write up four brief synopses of what I encountered and heard in several cities and villages. These narratives became the series, Genius Loci of the Volta Region, for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's CoLab Radio blog. You can find all four entries here. Read on for my original chronicle of the agricultural landscape of the small town of Adidome and how the Adidome Farm Institute helps train a new generation of farmers, in an effort to promote food security and best farming practices across the region.

Lorry Park, the open air marketplace in Adidome.

Lorry Park, the open air marketplace in Adidome.

No Trained Farmer, No Future: Strengthening Local Agriculture in Ghana’s Volta Region

In conversations about plant life in Ghana, you may encounter this widely held idea: you can grow anything here. This is especially true in the Volta Region where alongside fishing, forestry and hunting, agriculture is one of the main economic activities.

This growing potential for Adidome, the small town and capital of Central Tongu District, is even more visible during the rainy season. The area’s popular crops of chilli pepper and starch-rich cassava thrive, creating vibrant patches of green and red across the landscape. Once the inevitable dryness of the Harmattan season sets in, crop cultivation and harvesting almost halts; food prices rise and supply is low, particularly in the months of January and February. But located in the heart of this community, the Adidome Farming Institute (AFI) generates a sort of galvanizing energy for local farmers.

The Institute, established in 1964 by the national Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA), is one of a total of eight in the country. Combined, the Institutes enroll an average of 800 students annually that apply from all over the country. Northerners and Voltarians primarily enroll at Adidome’s 83-acre campus. There they are offered a variety of year-long educational and technical training programs, along with free housing and accommodation. On-site work areas, including a greenhouse and a pineapple farm, support the teaching and learning of best farming practices as students move from theory to practice.

Joseph Kwesi-Sarpong, head of the Institute, describes this to me as we chat with other staff, including assistant headmaster Vincent Pomary and instructor Selina Amati-Doe. Their passion for the work of Adidome Farm Institute is palpable as we discuss their programs’ promotion of competency-based training (CBT) to support farmers in reaching their full potential.

 “One of the key things I have personally observed in agriculture is that it is the only vocation that people practice without the necessary skill, knowledge and attitude,” Mr. Kwesi-Sarpong states. He shares a recent example when a pair of farmers with years of experience, inquired of guidance on a fundamental step: the correct prep and nursing of seeds. Even though at least 78% of the district’s households are engaged in agriculture, food security he says, remains an issue. “What we are saying is come and learn before you practice.”

Assistant headmaster of the Adidome Farm Institute, Vincent Pomary, draws a handful of coco peat from a container growing tomatoes that staff members usually purchase. “Tomato suffers from soil-borne diseases, so we try to avoid that by planting in the coco peat," Mr. Pomary explains. "We are training the students how to crop in the greenhouse structure, which is good for high-value crops like tomatoes, cucumber, and green peppers. There’s no weeding and we use drip irrigation.” The sideshoots are removed so that the tomatoes lean in one direction, helping them grow taller and stronger.

Assistant headmaster of the Adidome Farm Institute, Vincent Pomary, draws a handful of coco peat from a container growing tomatoes that staff members usually purchase. “Tomato suffers from soil-borne diseases, so we try to avoid that by planting in the coco peat," Mr. Pomary explains. "We are training the students how to crop in the greenhouse structure, which is good for high-value crops like tomatoes, cucumber, and green peppers. There’s no weeding and we use drip irrigation.” The sideshoots are removed so that the tomatoes lean in one direction, helping them grow taller and stronger.

The AFI's department units are divided into multiple agricultural specializations that a single farmer or a group can choose from. Prospective students are presented a list of courses and customized trainings that cover tree and arable crops, livestock & poultry, fish farming, floriculture & landscape design, and naturally, vegetable production. By introducing newer crops to the district, like yams and pineapple, the Institute helps to create a shift in thinking around what is possible in Adidome’s agricultural landscape.  

“Yam is not a major crop here,” Mr. Pomary explains of the widely bought commodity. The starchy staple is farmed mainly in the middle and northern parts of the Volta Region. Last year when the Institute experimented with planting the crop, the trial-run proved successful. “We [want] to see if yam will catch here. We want to bring in some farmers to try their hands at it.”

The Institute’s training delves into non-traditional agriculture as well, like beekeeping, mushroom production and importantly, agribusiness. Introducing an element of commerce supports farmers in thinking about moving their practice from subsistence to large-scale production and marketing.

“One of the things we are promoting is the value chain concept in agriculture, where you have to look at the full cycle of the commodity,” Mr. Kwesi-Sarpong explains. “So these are some of the concepts that you have to learn here to have a full understanding of what it takes to grow a crop, so that as you think of production, you think of marketing.”

While the Institute makes available its educational services and training to prospective and practicing farmers at any age or skill level, garnering more attention from the younger generation is central to their work. Though youth as young as 16 are encouraged to apply, the heads of staff realize how hesitant the young rural population is when it comes to pursuing agriculture as a career path. They’ve noticed that young people in the area are increasingly interested in pursuing white-collar jobs with their urban counterparts.

But the idea here is to encourage the next generation to take up agriculture as a profession by presenting more options than the industry has historically offered, like site selection, land acquisition, wholesaling, and transportation. To peak their curiosity, Mr. Pomary believes that conveying the prospects of entrepreneurism and teaching about the value chain for a range of agricultural products will encourage younger students to enter the field. “The value chain of all these commodities are not well defined to them,” says Mr. Pomary. “They think agriculture is just tilling the land. But somebody can go into just marketing, and it’s within the agricultural value chain.”

Akpey Michael, one of the young people the Institute works with, completed the year-long training in 2015. Now, at the age of 23, he’s eager to get into the practice and become a manager of his own agribusiness that will specialize in bringing carrot, cabbage and lettuce varieties to market. “I like to plant a lot of vegetables and fruit, and that is why I went there,” Michael shares with me as we meet up next to the Lorry Park marketplace. He’d been introduced to farming through relatives who raised maize and potatoes, but farming didn’t initially appeal to him.

Instead, the ‘learning-by-doing’ educational perspective helped him realize that his passion for growing food could be profitable and provide him some economic independence. “My friends don’t like or want to do agric because most of them want to be in an office,” Michael says. “They say that farming is an easy thing. My advice for them is that they have to learn more about agriculture; it’s very interesting.” With the help and guidance of his uncle, Michael has set his sights on undertaking the process of land acquisition. Ultimately, he’s determined to start his business.

“Farming is the pivot on which every system relies,” Mr. Kwesi-Sarpong states with deep conviction. It’s impossible to ignore this in Adidome’s cultivated landscapes and local economy. The reemergence of a plenteous growing and harvesting season of the rain-fed crops have become for the area, a source of pride and revenue. While the staff and I continue to discuss the possibilities of a sustainable and economically viable food system, they’re aware that it may depend more than ever on the energy and enthusiasm of students like Michael who are afforded opportunities for more education and critical training in the sector. To keep that momentum circulating in Aididome, Mr. Kwesi-Sarpong remains committed to helping steer the next generation towards a better future in agriculture. “In this place, the potential is huge.”