Posted by: mhirdyounger | June 16, 2012

Home Away From Home

In a little town in rural Ghana, thousands of miles away from my own farm and family, I have found a new home away from home, as Sistah Adwoa, the newest member of the Appiah family in Bipoa.

I don’t think I have yet felt so close to home as I did driving to Mr. Appiah’s farm last weekend. It was last Friday morning and I was riding down a small, washed out back road to an even smaller back, squished beside Mr. Appiah and two cousins in the front seat with a load of younger family members riding in the back. This ride brought me back to riding in the tractor or truck down the back lane to our own fields back home. The same sounds of an old diesel engine and branches scraping the windshield, the smells of diesel, dust and green growth, and the familiar steering around potholes that you’ve known forever. That lane back home is one of my favorite places to be, and what a treat to be getting a taste of it here in Bipoa.

Bipoa is a little community about an hour outside of Kumasi, where I spent part of last week learning more about the agricultural sector in Ghana. Bipoa was no exception to the outstanding hospitality that I have witnessed since coming  to Ghana. I was introduced to the Appiah family from a friend that is a local extension agent. Right away the family took me in as their newest sister. My Ghanaian parents and siblings all called me Sistah Adwoa (my Ghanaian name – for being Monday born, pronounced Adjua) from the first morning.  I  learned so much about farming and rural livelihoods during my time in Bipoa, about how the extension system works and how farmers interact with the public sector.

Let me go back a minute and introduce you to Mr.Appiah. Mr. Appiah is a farmer. In fact, a very good farmer. Last year he was awarded the Famer of the Year award in his district and he also acts as a chief farmer. He explained to me that he farms on land that used to belong to his grandfather and is now parcelled between many cousins and uncles and brothers. As his farm has prospered, he’s expanded to other plots of land, and I think he has at least 6 different plots now, with plans to continue expanding. He farms palm nut, plantain, banana, maize, oranges, cocoa yam and cassava and also has a few goats and sheep. However, his main crop, and his main source of income is farming cocoa. The other crops bring in a small profit, but also play an important role in subsistence for the family and intercropping with the cocoa (eg. plaintain and palm are used to shade cocoa seedlings until they are matured, then the plantain and palm will be cut down to let the cocoa take over).

Mr. Appiah, harvesting some cassava

Each day in Bipoa I went to the farm with Mr.Appiah and some of his labourers and kids. We harvested, maintained plants, weeded, applied chemicals and prepared food. It was hard work – all done by hand and cutlass. I was exhausted from just walking to the farm (walking is an understatement, it was a 40 minute hike through thick brush). This week cocoa farmers in Bipoa were participating in a training program to increase their business skills in order to have more profitable, sustainable and food secure farms. I attended the trainign on Monday with Mr.Appiah and learned a lot that will be useful for our own agribusiness training that we do! At home I played with by new sisters and brothers, ate amazing food and met many, many, many community members. The kids in the community were especially excited to see me. In church, one kid leaned over in his pew so far to see me that he fell over the in the middle of the service.

Getting ready for the hike to the farm

Kofi (host brother) sharpening his cutlass for weeding

Can you spot the people weeding?

Planting cocoa seedlings

Lunch on the farm! Akao (cocoa yam) and Kontumbre (cocoa yam leaves ground with veggies and palm oil) – yuummm!

And what did I learn?

The main purpose of my stay in Bipoa was to spend some time learning more about agriculture and rural livelihoods, trying to understand the extension system better.  Extension is how farmers access information, and it is the area in which my team works. One of the objectives of our work at the colleges is to ensure that students that will become extension agents graduate from agricultural colleges with the skills and attitudes required to give high quality advisory services to farmers.

So, what did I learn? Well, I was expecting to learn about how Mr. Appiah got his information on farming, and actually ended up finding out that he himself is a huge resource of information for other farmers! Let’s back up, to say, December 2011, when Mr. Appiah was chosen as his district’s Farmer of the Year! This is a huge honour and recognizes his excellence in farming and his contribution to the agricultural development of Ghana. Agricultural Extension Agents (AEAs) that I met this week all praised Mr. Appiah’s farming, saying that he is an extremely innovative farmer and always the first to adopt any new technology that will improve his farms.

AEAs see him a key resource for their own efforts. They think that farmers trust information coming from other farmers more than from AEAs, so having role models like Mr.Appiah is a great incentive for other farmers to learn about and adopt new technologies. And I really saw this in action: other farmers really respect Mr.Appiah and often discuss farming best practices with him.  Other farmers rely on him for advice, and even to help with inputs, such as cocoa seedlings.

The fact that Mr. Appiah is so hard working, innovative and  generous allows him to play a role in strengthening the agricultural sector in Bipoa – leading farmers throughout his community to make good decisions for the growth and sustainability of their farms, the food security of their family and the development of their community.

So all in all, a pretty amazing week. Learning so much about extension and agriculture, learning lots of Twi, visiting farms and making myself at home with my new Ghanaian family as their newest Sistah Adwoa!

Drying cocoa! 100% cocoa – yumm!!

Appiah family (Kofi, Ebenezer, Thomas, Mme. Sewaa with Alice, Mary, Mr. Appiah, Janet and Dickson)

Mr. Appiah with his youngest daughters, Aunty Alice and Mary

With the newest member of the family, Sistah Adwoa!



  1. Awesome post!
    Can you explain what exactly Agricultural Extension Agents do/who they are? I’m starting to realise that my placement in Senegal may have been with an org that does something similar. They were called Conseiller Rural et Agricole!!

  2. […] to me that he was district best maize farmer in 1981, over 30 years before. My host farther, Mr. Appiah, was district best farmer in 2011 and is known in all the neighbouring communities for this […]

  3. […] experiences of my time here, mostly because of the personal relationships that have been made. My first one was to stay with Mr. Appiah and his family, a Kuapa Kokoo farmer based three hours outside of […]

  4. […] I spent the morning harvesting cassava on one of Mr. Appiah’s farms. Mr. Appiah is a farmer I often visit to learn more about farming and rural livelihoods in Ghana. Mr. Appiah will introduce himself to you […]

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