Posted by: mhirdyounger | June 10, 2014

Are farms in Canada too sanitized?

Looking at Mr. Appiah’s farm, you may think it doesn’t look like a farm at all, more like a jungle. You’d be mistaken. Through the diversity of this farm, Mr. Appiah not only gets an income, he also strengthens his family’s food security and nutrition and helps to nurture the land. 


Back home, in Canada, farms are more and more organized, mechanized, specialized and ‘sanitized’. We process the land until what we plant is the only thing that grows. We plant huge stretches with a single crop. We often don’t even touch the ground but let the tractor dig into the dirt. We don’t feed our cows anymore, that’s done by a computer chip and an automated feeder. The small family farm of some cash crops, vegetables, chickens, goats, cattle, pigs and you name it is becoming something your grandma tells you about.

Today, 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 as a proud cocoa farmer. He’s a member of the Kuapa Kokoo fair trade cocoa cooperative and darn proud of it too. (Check out this post where I argue how important pride is for agricultural development.) But today I realized how diverse Mr. Appiah’s farm really is. Mr. Appiah has about seven different farms, or plots of land, all of which have cocoa planted on them at different stages of maturation.

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On this particular farm, the cocoa is still young (2 year), it is growing and maturing and will start to bear pods in about three years. While it matures, Mr. Appiah is growing other things on the same plot of land. On this one plot he grows: banana, plantain, cassava, coco yam, komtumbre (spinachy leaves) and pineapple. Some of this food he eats, and he sells the excess. Today we harvested half a truck load of cassava, which will put an extra 30ghs (roughly $12) in his pocket this week and also help feed the family. For his big expenses, Mr. Appiah uses the income from harvesting his cocoa (a much more financially profitable farming enterprise).2014-06-08 12.04.37

This ‘jungly’, chaotic, forest-like farm of Mr. Appiah’s serves a lot of purposes. First, it provides food security for the family. They don’t solely rely on the income from a cash crop to always buy their food in the market at uncertain prices. The farm provides a lot of the food that they eat. Talk about eating locally! It also contributes to a more nutritious diet, with a diversity of starches, fruits and greens that come from the food grown on the farm. The farm diversifies his income, providing supplementary financial support. It’s also a pretty environmentally sustainable farm. The farm reminds me more of a forest, with an ecosystem of animals, plants and decomposing matter on the floor. I saw no less than a dozen species of butterflies this morning.  Finally, the forest farm supports the strong growth of his cocoa, which is shaded and nurtured by the plants around it. This is a resilient and profitable farm, especially when you balance it with Mr. Appiah’s other farms, all at different stages of the cocoa’s lifespan.

Our increasingly over sanitized, overly mechanized, disjointed massive farms can learn a thing or two from Mr. Appiah’s forest farm of food.

2014-06-07 15.18.37


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