In the Field with Farmer Gladys Serwaa Adusah
In the Field is a series we’re running throughout the 2017 farming season, interviewing a diverse group of farmers around the country (and world!) about what growing food looks like from their perspective, what’s happening on their farm and what they’d like consumers to remember when they’re at the grocery store or farmers’ market.
In Ghana, West Africa, the Ecumenical Association for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (ECASARD) is way ahead of the recent trend towards sustainable agriculture: it has been promoting sustainable practices and supporting small farmers for over 40 years. In addition to trainings and technical support, the organization is the “mouthpiece of farmers,” taking the concerns of its 33,000 affiliated small farmers to the government and advocating for policies to better support small-scale agriculture. 57-year-old self-described peasant farmer Gladys Serwaa Adusah is the Women’s Leader of ECASARD, where she facilitates training programs, hosts events to raise the profile of smallholder farmers, advocates for migrant rights and much more.
In late July, Gladys and other ECASARD farmers attended the VII International Conference of La Via Campesina, the movement representing more than 200 million peasants and small farmers around the world. We talked with her there about her farm and her organizing work with ECASARD.
What do you grow?
I grow maize, cassava and cashew nuts, and I have sheep, goats and cows on the farm. The animals feed themselves on the leftover crops. They are very fat — and they are healthy because I don’t use chemicals on my crops. At Christmas and other occasions, people come from all over Ghana to buy my animals.
We also have a small machine to process cassava. We process our own; we buy other farmers’ cassava to process and sell; and people can come use it to process their own for their own uses.
My father and mother were farmers. My father left me a piece of land when he died, and I decided to cultivate it with cashew, cassava and these other crops.
Where do you sell your products?
The largest market in West Africa, the Kejetia market, is near where I live, in the middle of Ghana. The market is Tuesday through Friday, and people come to it from Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali, Togo, Nigeria, every week. So selling my products is not a problem; I bring them directly there.
What ‘s happening on the farm this week?
There are two seasons in Ghana, rainy and dry. The rainy season is from August to December, so it’s time for us to plant for that. We have finished preparing the land and started making the rows, and now we are waiting for the rains to plant beans and maize, which take three months to mature. After that, in December, we plant vegetables.
What’s hard about farming?
Several things. Climate change is affecting the pattern of the rains. Farmers don’t have easy access to credit. And better prices: we are working for our own market where we can sell our own produce. The big market has fees, and middlemen buy your crops for cheap and sell them for much more. They determine your price and they’re the ones to make a profit. This is very bad for farmers.
What do you love about farming?
I eat what I want to eat! I don’t have to worry about whether I’m eating contaminated food. I eat healthy food from my own farm, I have no health problems, even at my age. I enjoy walking around my farm. When the new yam tubers come, I cook and eat them — I love that.
What do you wish people knew about what it takes to grow food?
Every year, I put on the programming for World Rural Women’s Day in Ghana, to recognize the effort of rural women in agriculture. The government and the states host a commercial farmers’ day, where they give out awards like cars or even a house to large commercial farmers, but smallholder peasant farmers are neglected.
ECASARD represents the needs and importance of rural people, so we host this alternative to let the world know what peasants are doing. Peasant farmers make up the largest number of farmers in the world, and it is the smallholder farmer who sells food to the teacher, to the policeman … everybody. And so we want the government also to take up World Rural Women’s Day also, to recognize the efforts of the rural women. We want a space in the planning and implementation of agricultural policies in the country.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.