Their huge forms lumber in the dust, pacing idly. The ground murmurs and softly trembles beneath their incredible mass. Monoliths, they dominate the landscape.
Suddenly excited and impatient, one pulls forward from the herd and bellows a shrill blast. Ears ringing, the ground seems to whimper in response. Growling like thunder, the bus begins to lumber through the station.
Speakers scream like monkeys and horns howl with territorial lust. Outside, a jungle of steel, rubber and exhaust refuses to be tamed.
Rolling through the station, tents and tarpaulins appear in huddled hegemony; foliage amidst a concrete savanna. Weary vans and beaten busses collapse beside, as if in an attempt to rest in the modest shade. But, in this challenging environment, the sun is as relentless as the constant demand to find one’s next meal. The wheezing herd is already beginning to weep under new loads – soon they will be beaten mercilessly back onto the roads.
Stomping farther through the station still, bicycles bound and dirtbikes dart like gazelles and waterbuck. Street traders are lizards: their mouths opening and closing as if to taste the air for their next potential customer. Their products perched on their heads, pacing, they search for the passengers droning away like flies – their next meal. And yet although their cries are pitched and penetrating, the shouting is lost as a mere note buried deep in the cacophony.
In Bawku, the landscapes are changing. The forests are being cut and sold, and the fear of desertification is substantial. Initiatives to plant trees do exist and are being implemented, but face a difficult struggle against the increasing population density in the Upper East Region of Ghana.
In Bawku, farmers should be harvesting their hunger-fighting crop, early millet, so named because it yields an early harvest and boosts local food supplies. Because of poor rains, however, the first millet crop has had very poor yields. As I am writing this, the rains seem to have finally begun their return to Bawku – but not without re-enforcing the vulnerability of food supply. If the rains stay consistent for the rest of the season, the farmers will be able to still have a good harvest of corn, peanuts, soyabean and other crops that are planted later in the season.
As my bus lumbers out of the Bolgatanga bus station and grumbles back towards Bawku, I am reminded of the elephants at Ghana’s Mole National Park, and how the landscapes in Ghana seem to be changing so quickly. What can farmers do to find security in their livelihoods, when the threat of desertification seems to be so real?