Wednesday, July 18, 2007


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?


Murray said...

Hi Ryan
Sounds like you have your work cut out for you there, with big challenges to overcome. Deforestation, draught etc.

The people really seem to rely on the seasonal rains. This is a major problem-- is there an irrigation solution?--possibly collecting and holding the water better once the rains do come?


Ryan Case said...

The challenges here certainly are myriad, although what strikes me the most is the vulnerability that people have towards these problems.

For example, the idea of irrigation. Dams are a huge goal here in the Upper East, as the White Volta river and some of its tributaries run through here - though the region is very dry. Dams seem to make sense in a lot of ways, but who will pay for them?

The benefits for a community could be massive, but is there any way for a community of poor subsistence farmers to raise the credit needed for such an undertaking? Would any bank ever consider lending so much to people with so little?

And yet, despite the many challenges, people seem to be upbeat and resiliant. They are proud, and many Ghanaians are quick to boast that their country is Free and Peaceful. So, despite the challenges, as they say here in ghana, we are managing...


Ryan Case said...

I also want to point out that the rains seem to be sticking around! It's too late for Nara (Early Millet), but the farmers should still be able to get a good harvest of Maize and Late Millet. The prices may rise next year, but I think (hope) most will be able to manage well enough and buy if they are in need.

Certainly not all will be as well as it could have been, and it will hit the poorest the hardest, but still - the rains have finally come.


julie said...

Hi Ryan,
I noticed you didn't include any mention of your bus accident. While I am so very thankful you were physically unscathed, it makes me wonder what healthcare the more unfortunate passengers got. It would seem, perhaps, the accidents themselves are only the beginning a bigger, potentially more serious complication.
I believe, from your early trip to the local hospital, healthcare as we know it does not exist.
How do these subsistant farmers pay for surgeries from accidents, or treatment for illnesses? Is there any system in place for those that simply cannot pay?


julie said...

hmm, sorry,got off topic there..
Why are all the trees being cut down? Is it to plant more crops, is it for fuel, housing?

Is there any evidence of solar power being used? With the flood of inexpensive imports from China and India, are there solar powered lights or any of the many things we take for granted in our camping equipment? Wouldn't this be a cheaper investment than the candles,firewood and other comsumables that families have to purchase?

Does your village have a rain collection system at all? I read somewhere that the Upper East actually gets more rainfall than the West Coast of BC, and we're a rainforest climate?! I guess they just get it all at once?

take care, julie

Murray said...

Hi Ryan
You mention Mole National Park which is a Nature erserve geared for on-foot safaries. Actually statistics show tourism accounts for the third highest foreign exchange earner for the country coming after cocoa and gold in that order. In 1988 for instance Ghana was just getting about 100,000 tourists per year but in 1999 they had arrivals around 300,000. What do people think about promoting tourism more? Would it have too many negative impacts?