“Why did you choose to study agric?”
It’s a question I have asked many of my students. With a variety of majors to choose from at the SHS level, I often wonder what prompts some students to purse agriculture in a country where farming is viewed as the “poor man’s occupation”. I was particularly curious to know why women chose to study agric and ultimately I was disappointed with their answers. Time and time again the response I received was the same.
“Madam, I study agric because it requires that we take chemistry. I want to go into the health field after I complete SHS if I do well on the WASSCE exam. That is why I study agric”.
Don’t get me wrong, the health sector is an extremely noble field to pursue and equally as important. Heck, some of my closest friends in the states are pursuing careers in the health field and I have a huge respect for them and the work that they do. I just couldn’t help but notice the potential in the agricultural field that many of my students overlook every day. As much as I could talk up agric in the classroom, I knew I wasn’t changing anyone’s minds but I didn’t know what else to do.
One of the first times I attended church in my community, I met a man named Zak. Like the other members of the church, Zak was very friendly and welcoming. Later that week, I ran into Zak when I was in town buying chop (the Ghanaian equivalent to fast food). Zak rolled up in a truck with the bed full of eggs. I learned that Zak managed a laying hen facility in a neighboring village about ten minutes from my community of Kumbungu. Knowing I was teaching General Agric at the local SHS, Zak was quick to invite me to his farm.
While most poultry in Ghana is raised free range, Zak’s set up was much different. His chickens were kept in a large cage and he mixed a very precise and efficient layer ration to increase their productivity. After he had showed me his facilities, I asked Zak if he would be willing to open up his farm for some members of the 4-H Club at Kumbungu SHS to tour. He readily agreed.
After some planning and preparation, on Tuesday, March 1st we loaded up 35 Kumbungu SHS 4-Her’s on the school bus and headed to Zak’s laying hen facility in King’s Village. The students were so excited for the tour and took turns leading chants and songs during our drive to the farm. Even my fellow 4-H advisor, Mr. Fatawu, would jump up from his seat and lead a chant or two causing the students to hoot and holler even louder.
Despite the carefree bus ride to the farm, the students were all business once we arrived. Without being prompted they pulled out notepads and pens and took notes as they listened to Zak explain his operation. He showed them where the laying hens were kept, explained the egg collection record keeping process and even demonstrated how to mix a balanced ration for the poultry. The students were surprised to learn that every day, Zak collects roughly 600 eggs from his farm. They were very attentive throughout the tour and asking great questions. It was so much fun watching them enjoy learning and being exposed to a type of poultry rearing that they were not familiar with.
Since King’s Village is located so close to the Botanga Dam, I had Zak arrange for a couple of his friend’s that farm around that area to come and meet us at the dam and show us some of their fields. The two farmers first took the 4-Her’s to the man-made lake, explaining how the water travels from the lake through a series of canals to irrigate their farms. Currently, we are in the dry season in Northern Ghana so many farmers in the area are unable to cultivate crops. Showing the students how access to irrigation can allow them to have up to 3 growing seasons (depending on the crop) in one year was very eye-opening to them. Despite the fact that the majority of my students live around the area, the large majority had never been to the dam before.
Next we were taken to the fields where the 4-Her’s observed the cultivation of a variety of crops including pepper, onion, rice, cabbage and more. They learned how the farmers used the canal system to irrigate their crops as well as best practices in the cultivation of these crops.
Just when I thought the day could not get any better, the coolest thing happened.
“Not all of you will pass your WASSCE exams,” one of the farmers began. I raised my eyebrows and thought, uh-oh, what will he say next and where is he going with this? “What I want you to realize is that money can be made farming. If you take agric seriously in SHS you can be using modern farming practices to improve your farm and earn you income. No matter what your results are on the WASSCE, farming is here and you can all do it and be good at it”. I nearly let out a loud whoop, I was ecstatic that the students were finally hearing a Ghanaian farmer tell them what I had been trying to tell them all term!
To drive the point home, the farmer asked, “What can you sell a head of cabbage for at the market in the dry season?” he asked.
“5 cedis,” the 4-Her’s confidently replied.
“And how many head of cabbage are in just this bed alone?” he asked, gesturing to just one of the many beds of cabbage on his farm.
After some quick counting the 4-Her’s estimated that there were about 50 head of cabbage in the one bed alone.
“So, let’s do some math. You have 50 head of cabbage that you are selling for 5 cedis each. What is 50 times 5?”
I watched as the 4-Her’s eyes widened “250 cedis!” they exclaimed.
“And that is just this one bed,” the farmer stated. “Just imagine how much of your school fees and expenses can be covered with 250 cedis. You no longer have to ask your family for the money to pay your school fees. If you are doing things right you can be making an income AND attending school at the same time.”
It was like I was literally watching the light bulbs go off in each student’s head. Finally, I thought, a perception has been changed! The students stood there for a moment, simply taking this idea in. The concept that farming can actually be profitable, a notion that seems so natural to me, is so entirely foreign to them that it literally took them seeing it to believe it. Sure there is still the idea of input costs that wasn’t addressed, but planting the idea that farming can and should be viewed as a business and more than just a poor man’s occupation was a huge step for my students. I am continually reminded that it’s these little victories that we aim to achieve as AgriCorps members that not only makes our job so fulfilling, but also so impactful.
That evening one of my student’s that attended the tour messaged me. The message read: Madam, I am learning so many things that will help me now up to the future. I just couldn’t stop smiling after reading his message. Knowing that the 4-Her’s themselves were seeing the value of the things they were learning now and understanding how it can impact their future was so rewarding to me.
The best part? I wasn’t even the one changing their perceptions, they did that all on their own.
Sarah Tweeten is an Agricultural Communications graduate from Iowa State University. Before becoming an AgriCorps Member, Sarah studied agriculture in Panama and worked with Iowa State Extension and 4-H.