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A few days ago I drove out to my oil palm farm near Kwame Adjei. My wife, Comfort, and my brother-in-law Nkrumah accompanied me. It is not far from our house – about a kilometre to New Edubiase, then another couple through the town, and east out of town for four kilometres on the Oda road (the one that the previous government promised to pave during the 2004 election – they delivered on the first one and half kilometres and then ran out of interest, or money, or both, or perhaps they hoped, against all evidence to the contrary, that the people would forget, which they did not when the electorate returned the opposition to power and in this constituency in overwhelming numbers).

At that point, the road arrives at the village of Brunikrom ( the name literally means “white man’s village”, although there are no white people for miles around and the origin of the name remains a mystery to me), and we branch to the right off of the unpaved but reasonably passable dirt road onto a logging trail for the next three kilometres. The trail is narrow and from time to time marked by large holes usually filled with water that hides who-knows-what lurking below. It crosses two low lying marshy areas where makeshift “bridges” consisting of large rough cut timbers and/or tree trunks have been laid to accommodate passing vehicles. These never appear particularly safe but one has little choice but to trust local wisdom and proceed to cross over. Presumably there would be a pile of deserted vehicles mired in the mud if other vehicles had encountered problems but we were the only sign of vehicular life on the trail that day.

We drove through the small village of Kwame Adjei, across another marshy area, up the short hill that marks the one side of my farm, and a brief distance further I parked the Land Cruiser in the turn off to the next village of Kwame Asare. We began strolling around to see how things were shaping up. The rains have just started, and as with farming everywhere, it is important to time operations well and in harmony with nature. Farmers around the globe face similar weather uncertainties these days – it is no longer as easy to predict the seasons as it once was. Global warming has turned the seasons inside out here and extremes have become the norm.

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The farm is approximately 32 acres in size, quite a large area by local standards. The land had been allowed to revert back to an original state for the fifteen years before I purchased it. In the first year, 18 acres were cleared, and oil palm seedlings were planted on 12 acres. Through various errors, two much was cleared and not enough seedlings purchased to plant the entire area, and so the remainder began to grow back. Last year, three acres of that remainder were cleared again and planted.

The remaining area of several acres has recently been cleared and burned. I will purchase oil palm seedlings the next time I get a chance and have them planted in time to take advantage of this rainy season. The man who has cleared the area will sow maize which will be harvested four months after planting. He will pay for the seed and keep two thirds of the maize crop as payment for his clearing of the land. At the same time, he will plant cassava (a starchy tuber which is one of the main stays in the diet), which will be harvested next year about this time. Half of the cassava crop will be his share and he will be responsible for keeping the area weeded until the cassava is harvested. By making this arrangement, I will minimize my cash outputs for the year. This is a similar arrangement which I made with the same man last year for the three acres.

Farming is farming, but farming in the tropics is not the same as dryland farming on the Canadian prairies. The past four years have taught me much, and there is still a great deal for me to learn. Unlike the arrangements which I just described, I tried a much different approach in the beginning. I was naïve enough to think that it would be better if I was in control of the inputs and outputs. I contracted people to clear the land, then to plant the seedlings and the corn and the plantain that were to act as cover crops. I was not there to monitor the work on a regular basis, and even when I did go, I really did not know what I should be expecting. It was a disaster!! I spent a considerable amount of money; many of the seedlings did not survive; the maize crop was abysmal; and the plantain developed legs and walked away… The man whom I had hired to oversee the work spent most of his time in the nearby forest reserve searching for kola nuts which he sold in the market for cash. The rest of his time was spent praying with his friends at the mosque in New Edubiase. He apparently was not praying for a successful harvest and as I say, the experience was a disaster and a rather expensive lesson.

Back on the farm, Nkrumah and Comfort and I continued our walk. I expressed to Comfort my disappointment with the way the farm was going. She listened sympathetically and reminded me that the new arrangements that had been made would yield better results. Of course, I was not particularly convinced that things would get better – at that particular moment I was wondering where I would get the money to buy some more seedlings.

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We were now entering the area that had first been cleared and planted in 2005. Nkrumah pointed out how the first oil palms that had been planted that year were now clearly showing above the undergrowth. He walked over to one of the oil palms and cleared away undergrowth with his cutlass as he walked. He pointed down to the base of the tree and showed me how the first bunch of palm kernels had already formed and was beginning to ripen to that deep red colour that is so distinctive of oil palms. Yes, I had to acknowledge – there was hope.

After returning to the car, we started to drive back past the farm. Nkrumah stopped me for a moment so that he could pick up a sack of cassava tubers which he had dug while I was taking photos earlier in our walk. He placed them in the back, beside the kuntumeri leaves (greens, much like the spinach grown in my mother’s garden on the farm) which he had gathered on the farm as we walked. I knew that these would later be cooked into a very nutritious and delicious stew, and the cassava would be cooked and pounded into fufu – my favourite meal. There has always been something about eating food that has been grown on your own plot of land – for some reason it always has more flavour and richer colour and better texture.

The thought of the coming meals put me into a better mood. The drive home was somehow brighter, and I relished a concept that is common to farmers back on the Saskatchewan prairie and that is the idea of “NEXT YEAR”. No matter how bad things seem on the farm at the time and how much money we seem to be losing, we farmers always cling to that one hope, and that is that NEXT YEAR things will be better…. As I say, once a farmer, always a farmer.

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